- Written by Katy Grimes
05 Jun 2012
CALWATCHDOG - Californians don’t want to pay for high-speed rail, nor do they trust the state government to build it, despite the aggressive push from Gov. Jerry Brown.
A new poll found that the majority of voters have buyers’ remorse when it comes to High-Speed Rail.
A new USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll found that 59 percent of voters would oppose building high-speed rail if the measure was placed on the ballot again.
Yet Brown announced on Friday that California’s strict environmental laws could be bypassed in order to build the train system. The mandatory Environmental Impact Report for the train system is not complete, and current law calls for certified Environmental Impact Reports for each segment of the system.
Brown’s announcement collided with the filing of an environmental lawsuit by Central Valley farmers and farm groups in state Superior Court. The farm groups include the Madera and Merced county farm bureaus as well as Madera County, and are seeking a preliminary injunction to stop rail construction.
There are already several lawsuits against the high-speed rail project, and several more Central Valley agriculture groups are planning to sue.
On Sunday a press teleconference was held to discuss the latest public opinion poll on high-speed rail. Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at USC, said the results were very striking, especially with Brown’s hard push to get the project started.
Support for the project appears to be coming primarily from labor unions, which would greatly benefit from the rail construction projects. Even with union leaders’ support, 56 percent of union employees now reject the state funding plan, according to the poll.
But voters find the concept “a bit of a luxury,” according to Schnur, as only 5 percent of poll respondents said they would even use the rail monthly, and “zero percent said they would use it weekly.” Most respondents said they would not use high-speed rail at all, preferring to drive or fly when traveling in the state.
Schnur said that the poll was not divided along party lines or ethnicity. Most voters said they don’t want the statewide project to be built using taxpayer funds, and would prefer that any transportation funds be spent on local transit projects.
Voters were more concerned about the economic future of the state, according to Schnur, and lack confidence in government to execute the construction of high-speed rail properly.
High-speed rail redux
Fifty-five percent of the voters want the bond measure put back on the ballot, and 59 percent say they would vote against it.
The cost to build the rail project has more than doubled since the bond measure was passed in 2008.
In the hands of the Legislature
Without another ballot measure to vote on, the future of high-speed rail rests in the hands of the Legislature. Lawmakers can choose to fund the project, or not.
But despite pressure from Brown and labor unions, state lawmakers are feeling heavy pressure from constituents to withhold funding of the rail project.
If voters “connect the dots” between a tax increase and spending on a controversial bullet train, “it could completely undermine support for Brown’s initiative,” said Schnur during the teleconference.
Schnur said that Brown sees himself as a visionary and believes that California needs the high-speed train as key component of the state’s infrastructure in the future. But he also said that it’s voters who don’t want to spend the money right now to build the train.
The $240 round-trip fare is another reason voters appear skeptical of the plan, especially with low-cost airfare available.
Proposition 1A Mandates
With Brown’s latest push to get construction of high-speed rail started, mandates from the original 2008 ballot measure seem all but forgotten:
* The California High-Speed Rail Authority must have all of the funding ahead of time, before any construction starts on a new segment.
* The high-speed train system must operate on its own entirely, and in the black. That means operating profitably, and includes caveats of no government subsidy. But the current plan unrealistically relies heavily on a projection of 100 million users by 2030, a notion that was created with manipulated data.
* Prop. 1A stipulates 11 requirements that must be met before funds can be released for the construction of a “corridor” or “usable segment.” Specifically, some of these requirements include actual high-speed train service, ridership, revenue projections and planned passenger service.
Brown’s meeting on Friday included several leading environmental organizations. With California Environmental Quality Act laws being tossed out for this project, injunctive relief will also be banned, according to rail expert Rich Tolmach, impacting all of the lawsuits.
Tolmach said that superficial, one-page program Environmental Impact Reports will become the only required environmental documents. Project EIRs can be anything, Tolmach said, don’t have to be tied to program work, and can be revised without consequences. Piece mealing will become completely legal. This will not just apply to Merced-Fresno or Merced-Bakersfield, but to the entire state for the duration of the project, said Tolmach.
Bypassing environmental laws appears to be the wave of the future by state lawmakers for pet projects. Last September, Los Angeles legislators jammed a bill through the Legislature allowing a Los Angeles stadium to be built without adhering to California’s strict environmental laws.
Voters should be concerned because it appears that Brown is doing the same thing with high-speed rail in order to provide the union jobs he obviously promised he would deliver. Voters need to ask if Brown can legally bypass state laws and stop lawsuits, or if he is just running roughshod over the process in order to deliver to the unions.
(Katy Grimes writes for CalWatchdog.com where this article first appeared.) –cw
Tags: Katy Grimes, California High Speed Rail, CHSR, Environment, voters, Superior Court, farmers, Merced County, Governor Brown, lawsuits
Vol 10 Issue 45
Pub: June 5, 2012