President Trump Doing California a Bullet Train Favor

At last count, California’s Democratic political leadership had filed four dozen lawsuits against President Donald Trump’s administration, reflecting differences on policies large and small.

For the most part, California’s legal allegations have been on target. However, Trump is on solid legal and logical ground in the latest conflict over the state’s disastrous foray into high-speed rail transportation.

Nine years ago, the Obama administration gave the state a $3.5 billion grant to finance a big share of the initial bullet train segment, more than 100 miles of track from a point north of Fresno to the outskirts of Bakersfield.

The federal money was to be matched by state funds from a $9.95 billion bond issue passed by California voters in 2008 and the San Joaquin Valley stretch was to be completed by 2017. Later, before Trump became president, the feds gave California an extension to 2022, but only tiny portions have been built.

Late last year, the state’s auditor, Elaine Howle, told the Legislature that meeting the 2022 deadline would be nearly impossible, citing the High-Speed Rail Authority’s “flawed decision making regarding the start of high-speed rail system construction in the Central Valley and its ongoing poor contract management for a wide range of high-value contracts.” Howle said the problems “have contributed to billions of dollars in cost overruns for completing the system.”

A couple of months later, Gavin Newsom succeeded bullet-train booster Jerry Brown as governor and told the Legislature in his first State of the State address, “Let’s be real. The project as currently planned would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency. Right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”

He said he would concentrate on finishing the San Joaquin Valley segment and extending it on both ends to piece together a three-system pathway for traveling between San Francisco and Bakersfield.

After Newsom’s address, President Donald Trump declared on Twitter: “California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars. They owe the federal government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now. Whole project is a ‘green’ disaster!”

Last week, the Federal Railroad Administration, in a 25-page letter, formally rescinded about $1 billion dollars not yet given to California and hinted again that it would claw back the other $2.5 billion.

“It is now clear that California has no foreseeable plans, nor the capability, to pursue that statewide High-Speed Rail System as originally proposed,” wrote Ronald Batory, the federal railroad administrator, adding that the state “is chronically behind in project construction activities and has not been able to correct or mitigate its deficiencies.”

“The Trump administration is trying to exact political retribution on our state,” Newsom responded in a statement. “This is California’s money, appropriated by Congress, and we will vigorously defend it in court.”

That’s not really true. The money was part of an overall appropriation by Congress for rail projects and California was given a piece of it by the Obama administration under a contract.

It has not met its contractual obligations and cannot, as Howle said late last year, meet the 2022 deadline due to poor management during Jerry Brown’s administration.

The bullet train utterly lacks a rational purpose, has been ill-managed from the onset and is a black financial hole. If the Trumpies strangle it, they would be doing California a big favor.

This article was originally published by CalMatters

High-Speed Rail Construction Continues as California Sues Trump

California’s high-speed rail agency remains determined to complete about 119 miles of bullet-train construction in the central San Joaquin Valley, even as a confrontation with the Trump administration over promised federal funds escalates into a lawsuit.

“We are looking for a ramp-up in activity for construction,” said Tom Richards, vice chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, adding that he expects the pace of work to accelerate this summer. Richards, a Fresno businessman, said Tuesday at the agency board’s meeting in Sacramento that the state remains mindful of “the requirement to abide by all of the commitments we have” under a pair of federal grant agreements dating to 2010 and 2011 for about $3.5 billion to support engineering and construction in the Valley.

Tuesday’s board meeting came on the heels of California filing suit challenging the Federal Railroad Administration’s termination of the grant agreements. …

Click here to read the full article from the Fresno Bee

L.A. Politicians Want to Spend Bullet Train Funds

In a sign of frustration over the state’s transportation priorities, several board members with the high-profile Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority have made the argument that it makes far more sense to use money that Gov. Gavin Newsom wants to spend on a bullet train route in the Central Valley on Los Angeles-area projects instead.

Newsom made international headlines in February when he pulled backfrom predecessors Jerry Brown’s and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s commitment to have the California High-Speed Rail Agency build a statewide high-speed rail network. Instead of continuing to try to secure all the funds needed for the $77 billion project, Newsom said the state should focus on completing a 110-mile segment from Merced to Bakersfield that is expected to cost $12.2 billion.

Five L.A. Metro board members – Hilda Solis and Kathryn Barger, both Los Angeles County supervisors, Inglewood Mayor James Butts, Los Angeles Councilman Paul Krekorian and Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian – think that’s a bad idea.

At a recent Metro board committee meeting, Solis said that “many, many projects” in the Los Angeles region would be more helpful in meeting state transportation goals.

In a motion they crafted for the Metro board’s consideration, they wrote that the Central Valley segment “has little value for public transportation and limited greenhouse gas reductions. Regional rail transit improvements in the Los Angeles region would be more cost effective with more substantial mobility benefits.”

The Curbed Los Angeles website reported that the five decided not to ask the full Metro board to endorse the motion, evidently after being reassured that the state would help fund some of the local projects that Solis had praised. But the sharp criticism from five board members of Metro – one of the nation’s largest transportation agencies, serving 10 million people in a 1,400-square-mile region – is a powerful reminder that even with Newsom’s scaled-back version, the state’s bullet-train project faces considerable skepticism.

Cost, viability of Central Valley segment questioned

The Central Valley route faces two of the same key criticisms that the statewide project did under Brown.

Its initial cost estimate of $6 billion has more than doubled, just as the statewide plan’s cost soared from $34 billion to $77 billion.

Under Proposition 1A, the 2008 ballot measure providing $9.95 billion in bond funding for the project, every segment is supposed to generate enough revenue to be self-supporting, with taxpayer subsidies banned. But assumptions that linking Merced, population 83,000, with Bakersfield, population 380,000, will lead to ridership that is heavy enough to cover the cost of bullet-train operations is tough to square with the fact that presently, there are only six conventional train trips daily between the cities with an average ticket price of $27.

Questionable assumptions about ridership have been common from the state rail authority. For example, in 2015, the Los Angeles Times reported that the authority projected annual ridership of up to 31 million passengers after the Los Angeles-San Francisco route was complete. That’s about the same number of annual riders as Amtrak, which operates in 46 states.

On Wednesday, the rail authority is expected to release more detailed plans from the Newsom administration for the Merced-Bakersfield segment.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Central Valley Angered by Newsom’s Bullet-Train Plans


High speed rail constructionGov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement in his State of the State speech in February that he didn’t believe California had the resources to complete its $77 billion statewide bullet-train project produced a backlash that Newsom didn’t seem to expect. Within hours after the speech, his aides said the media was inaccurately reporting that Newsom’s only commitment was to build a $12.2 billion, 119-mile high-speed link between Merced and Bakersfield in the Central Valley and nothing more. They said he remained a supporter of the full project.

But nearly two months later, the initial reaction to Newsom’s speech remains the enduring takeaway for most Capitol watchers: He’s off the bullet train bandwagon. Building unions and green lawmakers who believe in the statewide project’s potential to help in the fight against climate change remain among the most upset.

Yet easily the most intense reaction is in the area where Newsom still wants the project to proceed: the Central Valley.

Coverage from The Bakersfield Californian, the Los Angeles Times and small newspapers in the region reflect anger over how the valley has been treated. Valuable farmland and family homes have been acquired with eminent domain for a project that no longer will link the area with the rest of the state – despite promises from Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

‘My mouth was just open with shock’

“I don’t want to talk political because I don’t do it very well,” Fairmead resident Vickie Ortiz told the Times. “But you know, you had a governor that was pushing-pushing-pushing for the high-speed train, and we started getting used to the idea that we can’t stop a train but maybe we can use it to help the community. But then you get another governor and he says: ‘No, I don’t want to do that any more.’ My mouth was just open with shock.”

In the Antelope Valley Press, retiree Bill Deaver, a former official in the Federal Railroad Administration, blasted the “politics and ignorance” of project critics who he blamed for Newsom’s decision.

“Politicians used [high-speed rail] to score political points rather than supporting something that will be able to handle huge increases in traffic projected in coming years. That sort of behavior is one of the biggest barriers to progress.”

Newsom’s decision didn’t surprise some in the Central Valley who never believed a statewide bullet train would get built. “People lost their homes and businesses. And for what?” Visalia farmer Randy Van Eyk told the Times.

Some see commitment to help region

But other remarks the governor made about the Central Valley have resonated more positively – and created an expectation that he will do more than past governors to help the region.

“The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better,” Newsom said in the same speech in which he outlined his views on the bullet-train project’s future.

Bakersfield Californian columnist Robert Price said if Newsom was serious, he should help Kern County diversify its economy away from “two industries under assault in the Central Valley: agriculture and, especially, oil and gas.”

Anna Smith, another columnist for the Californian, also said Newsom should promote economic diversification. But she also called on him to address the Central Valley’s social ills, including “high rates of illiteracy and obesity, lack of access to quality education and health care (especially in rural communities), water contamination and extreme poverty.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Proposed legislation would redirect federal funds away from California high-speed rail


High speed rail constructionTwo House bills introduced this month by Republicans from California seek to redirect federal funds from the state’s high-speed rail project and use the money for other purposes. The Trump administration in February demanded funds back from the controversial project, which has been plagued by cost overruns and delays.

A bill introduced by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy would “repurpose” about $3.5 billion worth of federal funds for the rail system to water infrastructure projects to help the state cope with future droughts. A second piece of legislation, dubbed the “High-Speed Refund Act” and introduced by Rep. Doug LaMalfa, requires that any funds the Transportation Department provided to the high-speed rail development go instead to “important freight and highway projects.”

“The California high-speed rail project is a boondoggle that California and American taxpayers must move on from,” McCarthy said earlier this month. “Since its inception, the project’s costs have ballooned while oversight and accountability within the California High-Speed Rail Authority has been nonexistent.” …

Click here to read the full article from CNBC

Battle Over Federal Funds for California Bullet Train Intensifies


High speed rail constructionThe battle between California and the Trump administration over $3.4 billion in federal funding that was committed nearly a decade ago to the state’s bullet-train project escalated last week when a key state leader rejected federal criticisms of the project’s progress.

California High-Speed Rail Authority Chief Executive Brian Kelly sent two letters defending Gov. Gavin Newsom’s January remarks that he would focus on completing a 119-mile segment now being built in the Central Valley – backing away from a promise to state voters in 2008 and to the federal government in 2009 and 2010 to build a statewide bullet-train system. Kelly said the state was comporting with key federal regulations.

The limited segment linking Bakersfield and Merced is expected to cost up to $18 billion. Were it ever built, the costs of the originally envisioned statewide bullet-train system – ranging along the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles to San Diego and inland to Sacramento – could have been 10 times as much or more. The cost of each end of the Los Angeles to San Francisco segment was so extreme that in 2012, the rail authority gave up on true high-speed rail in those links – opting for a “blended” system that relied on regular rail to cover the final 45 miles or so into each of the population centers.

The Trump administration has already canceled a $929 million grant issued to the project in 2010 by the Obama administration. It has indicated it hopes to recover $2.5 billion the federal government has already allocated to California as part of the 2009 economic stimulus package on the grounds that the project is far behind schedule and no longer meets promises of sound planning and financial viability made to secure the $2.5 billion.

But Kelly argued that the Federal Railroads Administration under the Obama administration and for the first two years of Trump’s administration concluded that the project was meeting minimum benchmarks to qualify for federal funding.

“Any clawback of federal funds already expended on this project would be disastrous policy,” Kelly wrote. “It is hard to imagine how your agency – or the taxpayers – might benefit from partially constructed assets sitting stranded in the Central Valley of California.”

LAO questioned project’s finances in 2010

Kelly’s letter hinted at but did not explicitly suggest the DOT’s attempts to recover the $2.5 billion were motivated by President Donald Trump’s two-year-plus war of words with California’s governors, which began under Jerry Brown and has continued with Gavin Newsom. In that span, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra has filed or joined in nearly 50 lawsuits against the Trump administration. Newsom has called the targeting of California’s project politically motivated.

Kelly’s argument that the “clawback” of that much in federal funds would be unprecedented appears correct. But the state’s arguments are weakened by the difficulty it will face in asserting it acquired the federal funds while acting in good faith. Despite telling the U.S. Department of Transportation repeatedly, beginning in 2009, that the bullet-train project was in good shape financially, rail authority officials couldn’t persuade state watchdogs that was the case in the same time frame.

In January 2010, the Legislative Analyst’s Office warned the authority didn’t have a legal business plan because it anticipated that revenue or ridership guarantees could be provided to attract private investors to help fund the project. Because such guarantees amounted to a promise of subsidies if forecasts weren’t met, they were illegal under Proposition 1A, the 2008 state ballot measure providing $9.95 billion in bond seed money for the then-$33 billion project.

The LAO and the California State Auditor’s Office have been uniformly critical of the project for a decade.

Rep. McCarthy: Move $ to other transportation projects

If the Trump administration takes steps to recover the $2.5 billion by withholding unrelated federal dollars bound for California, the dispute seems certain to end up in federal court.

Meanwhile, the California congressman whose district has arguably been most affected by early construction of the bullet train on Thursday introduced a bill that would “repurpose” all $3.4 billion in federal funds for the project to water infrastructure projects in California and other Western states. The measure by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, faces long odds in a chamber in which Democrats retook control in January.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

This Train Won’t Leave the Station


High Speed Rail ConstructionGovernor Gavin Newsom has canceled the bulk of the state’s long-proposed high-speed line between Los Angeles and San Francisco, leaving only a tail of the once-grand project — a connection between the Central Valley’s Merced and Bakersfield, not exactly major metropolitan areas. “Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.” The project’s cost, originally pegged at $33 billion, ballooned over the last decade to an estimated $77 billion (or maybe as high as $98 billion), with little reason to assume that the cost inflation would end there.

This effectively puts an end to former governor Jerry Brown’s “legacy” project, the lone tangible accomplishment for a second gubernatorial stint that had been far better at raising taxes and imposing draconian legislation than building things. Brown wanted to build his beloved train in a state with some of the nation’s worst roads (despite its second-highest gas taxes), a deteriorating water-delivery system, and massive pension debt. With Brown finally in retirement, Newsom took the opportunity to free up billions of dollars that his Democratic allies would like to spend in other ways.

Perhaps the most critical national casualty may be the Green New Deal proposed by New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Much of her platform for a ten-year transformation of the American economy centers on transportation. In her bid to kill the internal-combustion engine, Ocasio-Cortez apparently seeks to eliminate both cars and planes. Her favored solution for cross-continental travel: a massive network of high-speed trains.

Some of this must seem fanciful even to the democratic-socialist heartthrob from the Bronx. In contrast with Western Europe, where several high-speed rail lines operate, the United States has huge distances between cities; its average population density is generally lower than that of the European continent. Even on the California coast, a 450-mile high-speed rail trip from  Los Angeles to San Francisco would have taken nearly four hours, compared with a one-hour plane ride. Imagine taking high-speed rail from Los Angeles to Chicago: a three-hour trip by plane becomes a 15-hour or longer trek across vast, empty spaces. During that time, the traveler would cover more high-speed rail mileage than the current length of the entire French system.

Even fervent supporters of the Green New Deal must recognize what California’s cancellation means: if high-speed rail is not feasible in the state with the three densest major metro areas in the nation, and the highest overall urban density, it is not feasible anywhere else in the United States. (And not just here: Britain’s proposed high-speed rail megaproject, HS2, also appears on the verge of cancellation. Sounding like Governor Newsom, a senior government official told Channel 4’s Dispatches public affairs program: “The costs are spiraling so much we’ve been actively considering other scenarios, including scrapping the entire project.”) It also suggests that the costs for a national network would be formidable and would require the printing presses at the Treasury to work overtime. Of the many high-speed rail lines built in the developed world, only two (Tokyo-Osaka and Paris-Lyon) have ever been profitable, and in each case highway tolls for the same routes exceed $80 one-way, making high-speed rail in those cases an economical consumer choice. California, the green heart of the resistance, has met fiscal reality; reality won.

Some greens and train enthusiasts, such as the deep-blue Los Angeles Timeseditorial board, have criticized Newsom’s move, and others remain adamant in their support of the plane-to-train trope. But California, which has embarked on its own Green New Deal of sorts, has seen these results:  high energy and housing costs, and the nation’s highest cost-adjusted poverty rate, and a society that increasingly resembles a feudal social order. Attempts to refashion global climate in one state reflects either a peculiarly Californian hubris or a surfeit of revolutionary zeal.

Of course, Newsom and the bullet train’s supporters justify spending billions more on the Central Valley line as a way of reviving the terribly challenged, impoverished economy of that region. Yet greens and their allies have already shown what comes of putting their ideas into practice—cutting water supplies to farmers, blocking new energy production, and leaving Route 99, the Valley’s main thoroughfare, in such awful shape that it has been named the country’s most dangerous highway. The Valley does not need a bullet train to nowhere. It needs, rather, policies that allow for its basic industries, such as agriculture, manufacturing, and energy, to expand and provide desperately needed jobs. Oil-rich California has been replacing in-state production for imported petroleum, to the enrichment of Saudi Arabia but to the detriment of California workers.

Newsom’s pullback from Brown’s Olympian high-speed rail vision may reflect growing concerns about the state’s economy. After several years of fairly robust growth, California’s job machine is now producing employment at mediocre rates, and worse than that in its biggest urban area, Los Angeles. The real-estate market, which was driving some of the revenue gains, appears stuck, with sales down and prices headed in that direction, though the regulatory environment is skewed to facilitate price escalation. If stock performance is weak, California could see its greatest source of revenue—capital gains from Silicon Valley—reduced. The last quarter saw falling tax collections, and any hiccup in the tech money machine, or even a mild recession, could prove devastating, as Brown himself warned before leaving office.

In Washington, Ocasio-Cortez and others will continue to push their fantastical Green New Deal, at least until the Senate votes on it. With the utterly predictable demise of California’s high-speed rail project, however, the Golden State may prove the unlikely place where would-be planetary redeemers were brought back to earth.

Trump Administration Demands California Pay Back Over $2 Billion for Bullet Train

High Speed Rail FresnoThe Trump administration announced on Tuesday that it is exploring “every legal option” to reclaim $2.5 billion in federal funds spent by California on its now-defunct high-speed rail project, and also that it intends to cancel $928 million in federal grants not yet paid for the project to link Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area.

The move was a dramatic escalation in the ongoing war of words and policy between California and the White House. California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, declared during his State of the State address last week that he was shelving plans for the $77 billion rail project that had been championed by environmental groups, admitting that “as currently planned, [it] would cost too much and take too long.”

In response to the Trump administration’s legal threat Tuesday, Newsom vowed that he would not sit “idly by” as the White House engaged in what he called “political retribution” against California. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News

Trump demands $3.5 billion back from ‘disaster’ high-speed rail project


donald-trump-2President Donald Trump is demanding California return billions of dollars to the federal government following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to scale down the state’s costly high-speed rail project.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Trump called the project a “’green disaster.’”

California has been forced to cancel the massive bullet train project after having spent and wasted many billions of dollars,” Trump added. “They owe the Federal Government three and a half billion dollars. We want that money back now.”

Newsom at his State of the State Address on Tuesday put the brakes on the $77 billion high speed project, an endeavor that voters authorized at the ballot box in 2008 with a plan to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco. …

Click here to read the full article from the Mercury News

California to pull plug on billion-dollar bullet train

High Speed Rail ConstructionCalifornia Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Tuesday he is pulling the plug on the state’s massive high-speed rail project from Los Angeles to San Francisco that was more than a decade behind schedule and billions in the red.

“Let’s be real,” Newsom said in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and respectfully take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”

Newsom added that while California has “the capacity to complete a high-speed rail link between Merced and Bakersfield,” “there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A.”

The embattled $77-billion bullet train has been an embarrassment for the Golden State and has been plagued by problems almost from the start.

The idea, long championed by Newsom’s predecessor, Jerry Brown, is years behind schedule with the latest estimate for completion set for 2033. …

Click here to read the full article from Fox News