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Commentary by Betty Arenson
| Friday, Mar 16, 2018

It’s hard to believe we’ve been haunted by Jerry Brown’s “Unicorn Legacy of the Bullet Train” for 10 long years.

In keeping with Brown’s typical fairy-tale wishes, this toy had no reasonable plan, or candor, in mind as to practicalities in building it or in operating it. The only concrete part of the scheme is that it was to be sold to voters so the sycophants could declare, “hey, it was voter-approved.”

Once again, the public was deceived by Sacramento’s lies of Proposition 1A.

Gullible people liked the “feel” of high-speed rail transporting people from L.A. to San Francisco. Others knew better.

Nearly four years ago, I wrote and gave these facts on how Jerry Brown Inc. sold his maniacal legacy:

* Before promotion 1A began, somebody with the checkbook had already spent $58 million on consultants, impressive brochures and European travel (enamored with Japan’s system and others) without “one inch of track.”

* $33 billion final cost for 800 miles of track;

* (to be) completed by 2020;

* no increase in taxes, yet “appropriates money from the general fund to pay bond principal and interest;”

* travel time from L.A. to San Francisco in 2 hours, 40 minutes, for $50 (per ticket);

* no subsidies necessary for operational expenses;

* all funding and environmental approvals will be obtained before construction starts.

* Shortly the reported cost tripled. Channel 7-NBC San Diego covered a news conference as late as Nov. 6, 2011, giving a figure of $98.5 billion with completion stretched to 2033.

* Mysteriously, the number shrank to $68 billion; the $33 billion vanished.

An October 2015 Los Angeles Times headline read: “$68-billion California bullet train project likely to overshoot budget and deadline targets.” There have been numerous negative headlines about this massive taxpayer onus since that time. The latest projected figure is $77.3 billion, with expectations of the cost being $100 billion.

That’s about right. The politicians sell it at $33 billion but it’s really $100 billion. That cost is now coupled with a completion date of 2033.

Inarguably, this project was ill-conceived. The crux of the debacle was the absence of any credible explanation on building it. Other components causing skyrocketing costs are:

* Continuing changes; more here, less there;

* Needed land has not been acquired timely and property values are increasing;

* More land is needed;

* More necessary utilities are needed;

* Safety barriers are required keep the bullet train from crashing with private freight trains;

* “so-called third-party negotiations were difficult;”

* Lawsuits exist, and more are threatened (taxpayers must pay those bills).

One contractor, “Spanish construction giant Dragados, was hired in 2014 and as of six months ago, had not started construction. They are “seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in additional payments.” They are contracted to build only a 65-mile section.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office gives a dismal report about funding risks. Attracting outside investors would need California to offer ridership-revenue guarantees. However, back in 2010, the LAO opined that “appears illegal.”

Quentin Kopp, retired judge and Bay Area politician, was once chairman of the High-Speed Rail Authority and helped sell the bullet train to voters. He’s now suing to stop it, saying, “It is foolish, and it is almost a crime to sell bonds and encumber the taxpayers of California at a time when this is no longer high-speed rail. … And the litigation, which is pending, will result, I am confident, in the termination of the High-Speed Rail Authority’s deceiving plan.”

One year ago, the state Legislature allowed the Rail Authority to sell “voter-approved” bonds, calling it a “milestone.” The angered Kopp responded: “It’s deceit. That’s not a milestone, it’s desperation, because High-Speed Rail Authority is out of money.”

Baruch Feigenbaum, an assistant director of transportation policy at Reason Foundation, agrees with Kopp. The Rail Authority’s own hired analyst reports this system will not be self-sustaining but will require “massively high-ticket prices” or $100 million of taxpayer money annually.

Environmental attorney Stuart Flashman, co-litigant with Kopp, says the “often-promised environmental benefits” won’t happen. Other countries have shown no decrease in cars on the road, and initial construction alone of the system will generate “more greenhouse gases that the train could recoup in 80 years.”

A rowdy taxpayers’ revolt is long overdue in California.

Betty Arenson is a Valencia resident who believes in the Constitution in its entirety and that laws should be upheld and apply to everyone equally.

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3 Comments

  1. Quentin L. Kopp says:

    Ms. Arenson is perhaps half accurate in her diatribe about the “Crazy Train Gets Crazier.” Do not be deceived by her references to me. I support, and have since 1994 as a State Senator, genuine high-speed rail. The present plan is conventional diesel rail, not high speed. High-speed rail is electrified by definition, and usually runs on dedicated tracks. That means dedicated to high-speed rail and not shared with commuter or freight trains. It would be helpful if Ms. Arenson understood those points. Jerry Brown did not “sell” high-speed rail in 2008, as voters approved Proposition (not “promotion”) 1A. After becoming Governor in 2011, he embraced the project and has done so since, disregarding the present plan’s violation of Proposition 1A and promises to voters and taxpayers.

    I am a plaintiff in a pending lawsuit in which Stuart is not a “co-litigant” with me. He is co-counsel for eight other plaintiffs and me, together with Mike Brady of Redwood City. The basis of the suit is legislative action in 2016 to appropriate without voter approval $715,000,000 from the Proposition 1A general obligation bond issue of $9,950,000,000 to defray the $2,000,000,000 cost of electrifying the Caltrain commute train from San Francisco to San Jose. I am a plaintiff not because I have soured on high-speed rail, which operates successfully in 11 other nations in Europe and Asia, or I oppose the electrification of Caltrain. I support the electrification of Caltrain, but not using money voters approved for a specific purpose, and not Caltrain electrification as such. Parts of Ms. Arenson’s column which are accurate is that further federal funds are prohibited by House of Representatives legislation, which although never adopted by the U.S. Senate, as a practical matter means no federal funding until another Obama-type becomes President and Pelosi becomes Speaker again. Arenson is wrong in stating: “One year ago, the State Legislature allowed the Rail Authority to sell ‘voter-approved’ bonds . . .” I explained above the nature of such legislative action which is the subject matter of the above-mentioned lawsuit.

    I recommend Arenson interview people who know the subject matter before writing such inaccuracies as if she’s a version of Donald Trump.

  2. C.R. says:

    Came here to say what Mr. Kopp said. Please fact check Ms. Arenson’s “columns” before posting.

  3. Denny NNWofLA says:

    C’mon guys, Betty has a long history of presenting her conservative nonsense and being critical of anything she deems as progressive. Facts, not so much. She is a living example of what watching FOX NEWS does to the mind.

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