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January 25
1915 - Death of pre-Mentry oilman & San Francisquito vintner Ramon Perea [story]
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The California Legislature’s audit committee has voted unanimously to audit the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s budget and expenditures on a 119-mile stretch of the massive bullet train project.

In a committee hearing in Sacramento January 30, the motion to order an audit passed by 13 aye votes and zero no votes, according to David Creager, chief of staff for Assemblyman Dante Acosta (R-Santa Clarita), who serves on the joint legislative audit committee. All members voted aye except Sen. Mendoza who was not in attendance, Creager said.

The audit approval follows the Authority’s January 16 announcement that the first phase of the San Francisco to Los Angeles line, a 119-mile segment from San Jose to Bakersfield in the Central Valley now under construction, will now cost an estimated $10.6 billion, a 35 percent jump over the original estimate.

The legislature’s bi-partisan audit committee includes members of both the state Senate and Assembly, and members’ approval of the audit reflects frustration among majority Democrats as well as minority Republicans about the project’s years of delays and huge overruns of estimated costs.

Dante Acosta on SCVTV Newsmaker of the Week

“We’ve been after the Republican caucuses to try to audit the high-speed rail broadly because of cost overruns,” Acosta told SCVNews.

“I know people hate this work, but it’s appropriate,” he said. “I consider (the high-speed rail project) a boondoggle in general. But when you particularly look at this segment, this 119 miles in the Central Valley and the huge cost overruns on what should be the easiest section to actually get completed — that’s a flat, straight area — we actually were able to get buy-in from some our Democratic colleagues to audit the high-speed rail, in terms of purchasing and procurement and contracting for this section.”

Audit’s Initial Focus: Central Valley
Acosta said he attempted to ensure the audit covered all phases of the project, not just the Central Valley segment.

“I tried to get an audit of the actual viability of the entire project to make sure it can run as stated in the ballot proposition voters approved – without any subsidies from the taxpayers,” he said. “We did not get that, but this will give us kind of a glimpse into their processes, and maybe we can get a nose under the camel’s tent, so to speak, so we can actually start to look at whether this is going to even work once it’s built.

“There’s no question that we can build something,” he said. “It’s a question of at what cost and does it make sense to even do it at this point.”

When California voters approved Proposition 1A in 2008, the architects of high-speed rail in the state estimated the project’s overall price tag at $45 billion. That estimate to build rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles has risen sharply in the decade since, to $67 billion, and the cost continues to increase.

“Let’s look at what was sold,” Acosta said. “The route was San Francisco to eventually San Diego, but the LA to San Diego segment was eliminated. A trip from LA to San Francisco would take just a couple hours. Now, my colleagues and I, those of us who commute every week north to south, are the quintessential commuters and users of something that would be like the high-speed rail.

“But why would my constituents in Simi Valley, northwest San Fernando Valley, and particularly the Santa Clarita Valley, drive 30 miles south, past Burbank Airport, to the closest high-speed rail station, when they can fly from LA to the Bay Area in an hour?” he said. “Southwest Airlines has a sale on right now — $29 one way. Even if it’s not on sale, let’s just call it $59 to $100 each way if they buy in advance, and they get free peanuts and a soft drink while they’re at it.

“And you know it’s not truly high-speed rail – it’s morphed into a blended system now,” Acosta said, with more stops and a more time-consuming trip than originally proposed.

“So the audit is vital now,” he said. “We need to find out what’s really happening. And by the way, if the money’s being spent dutifully and there’s not going to be another nickel of crossover funding, which I highly doubt, then maybe I’ll change my mind.

“But until and unless that happens, then I believe we have much better ways to spend our money on things, like commuter rail, improving transportation bottlenecks like the Interstate 5/Highway 14 interchange,” he said.

“Look at the 5 to the 405: It bottlenecks both north and south, and slows people down,” Acosta said. “If we can get traffic moving, we’re going to spend less time in traffic, save money, and improve the environment because cars that are idling get zero miles per gallon and still pollute and contribute to the pollution that we all produce.”

Commuter Rail Service More Viable
“I’m all for rail, but I want regional rail,” he said. “I want a rail line that goes from, say, Newhall all the way down through the North Valley, cuts down through the 405, keeps people off the 405 freeway, gets you down to LAX. At this point, with the billions of dollars we’re spending on high-speed rail, we’re never going to have a regional transportation system like that that actually would make some sense.

“And until or unless we can get people to be comfortable with the speed, efficiency, safety, cost of a commuter rail system, like maybe the subways in New York, we are not going to get people out of their cars,” Acosta said. “They are not going to put up with getting stranded in downtown LA because Metrolink doesn’t have a train that runs past 10 o’clock or midnight.”

Audit Also to Look at Federal Funding
“We have to take a look at how the federal money is going to be spent,” Acosta said. “You’ve got a Congress right now that is not likely to continue funding any kind of high-speed rail. Keep in mind, this project was sold as state, federal and private money, and the private money hasn’t happened. We’re way over cost. The federal government’s cutting it off. Governor Brown and others in this legislature said, “Oh, we’re going to tax you through regulation on the greenhouse-gas-reduction fees that are coming in through the cap-and-trade scheme.

“And now the cap-and-trade scheme has been renewed last year; I voted no,” he said. “Now some of that is being redirected to high-speed rail, billions of dollars of California taxpayer’s money, and we have to make darn sure that it’s being spent appropriately.”

Same Auditor as 2012
The audit committee assigned State Auditor Elaine Howle to spearhead the 2018 probe. She last audited the project in 2012.

“That lends itself to some consistency and continuity because you have someone who’s familiar with the process and the players,” Acosta said.

“The new head of high-speed rail, Brian P. Kelly, was very open and seemed like he was very interested in cooperating, and I’m looking forward to that being the case. And I’m looking forward to when we actually get this audit completed. We tried to fast track it, we weren’t successful in doing that, to get it pushed a little faster. But we’ll have it sometime this year.”

The Route from Palmdale to Burbank
In its January 24 project update on the Palmdale to Burbank section, January 24, the Authority continued its environmental review of three proposed routes, one of which would run through the Santa Clarita Valley.

“We have some meetings on the routes coming up and I’ll be able to give you a more definitive answer soon,” Acosta said.

“But I will tell you this: Since day one when this proposal was announced, I’ve been a leading opponent of it going through the Santa Clarita Valley,” he said.

“Think about it: the Santa Clarita Valley, 300,000 people roughly and growing, won’t have a station, but yet we’d still have all the negative impacts of noise, traffic and pollution,” Acosta said. “And we’re still going to have to drive 30 miles north or 30 miles south to Palmdale or Burbank to pick up the high-speed rail.”

Acosta reminds us a station in the SCV was never part of the proposed line.

“So it isn’t a matter of they didn’t give us a station because of our opposition,” he said. “And I will continue to fight along with our colleagues in the San Fernando Valley, the city of San Fernando, the people of Shadow Hills, whose communities are going to be dissected by this high-speed rail.

“The proposed route through the SCV called for it to go through churches and schools,” he said. “Disney has got to be concerned because they’re going to be tunneling underneath the Disney Ranch in Placerita Canyon, and if they want to build sound studios there, what’s the impact going to be there?”

Acosta said input from local representatives did result in the High-Speed Rail Authority considering two additional routes for the Palmdale to Burbank stretch.

“Those involve tunneling underneath the San Gabriel Mountains there, under the National Forest,” he said. “Of course, you do have some environmental concerns there, a little bit more tunneling. But we also have to consider, people are part of the environment. Our schools and churches and noise and pollution must be taken into consideration, just like the wildlife and the trees and anything else, because we’re part of that environment. So, if we’re going to be looking at environmental impacts, we need to look at the whole picture, and I’ll continue to push and strive for that.”

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15 Comments

  1. Let’s see if’s it’s honest.

  2. Dan says:

    Thank goodness. I’ve watched this project since its inception and not only are the cost overruns and delays outrageous, but I feel like the High Speed Rail Board has not been truthful and forthcoming about these matters. I will go so far as to say they are corrupt.

  3. Stil says:

    I’m looking forward to reading the audit, though I’m wondering if it’s even necessary. Hopefully, it’ll help make construction go faster so that we can ride the system sooner.

  4. Dean Botton Dean Botton says:

    About time. When they finally realize it was a scam, they will need to reimburse every Californian for the taxation robbery at the gas pump etc.

  5. Stil says:

    I really don’t understand why they had to do another audit. The California High-Speed Rail Authority already conducts internal audits every month during its board meeting, and all of the materials are available to the public to read.

    The High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group and the Legislative Analyst’s Office also provide reviews of the ridership projections used in the business plans of the Authority.

    In addition, the Government Accountability Office conducted an audit of the project already in 2013, and found that the methodology of projecting ridership for the system was sound.

    It really seems like this new audit is just going to be duplicative of all of the previous audits that were already done.

    Nevertheless, conducting another audit would provide the benefit of potentially identifying weaknesses in the Authority’s delivery of the project. The Authority would then be able to correct those weaknesses so that the project can be built quicker.

    http://www.hsr.ca.gov/Board/monthly_fa_committee_meeting.html
    http://www.cahsrprg.com/documents.html
    http://www.lao.ca.gov/reports/2016/3394/HSR-Draft-Business-Plan-Review-031716.pdf
    https://www.gao.gov/assets/660/653401.pdf

  6. ja says:

    WE DO NOT NEED A HI SPEED TRAIN IN EARTHQUAKE COUNTRY. COME ON RIGHT OVER THE SAN ANDREAS FAULT EVEN BETTER THE PACIFC AND NORTH AMERICAN PLATES! STOP THE CROOKS!

  7. What a waste of money and resources.

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