Major Win for High-Speed Rail

As reported by the Sacramento Bee:

In a major setback to foes of the California high-speed rail project, a Sacramento judge rejected claims by opponents in Kings County that plans for the bullet train system violate state law.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny, who heard verbal arguments from attorneys Feb. 11, issued the ruling late Friday but the court didn’t release it to the public until Tuesday morning.

The ruling is a major setback to efforts to stop the project, and boosts California’s $64 billion plans to develop a system of high-speed electric trains to ultimately connect Los Angeles and San Francisco, by way of Fresno and the San Joaquin Valley, but Kenny’s ruling is almost certain to be appealed to a state appellate court.

Attorneys for Kings County farmer John Tos, Hanford resident Aaron Fukuda and the Kings County Board of Supervisors argued …

Swapping Fantasy Bullet Train for Real Water Storage

RB DroughtLike rampaging Godzilla in all those Japanese monster movies, the unpopular and expensive bullet train has proven almost impossible to kill. However, the project’s critics may have a new weapon that will stop it dead in its tracks. Using the initiative process, opponents hope the public will be willing to trade the train for an increased and more reliable water supply, a seemingly attractive proposal after years of drought.

Looking back, it is clear the 2008 campaign that convinced voters to approve a $10 billion bond to kick off the bullet train, was a con. It was built on fantasy. You can almost hear the cigar chomping carnival barker calling out, “Step right up, get on board, we’ll whisk you between Los Angeles and San Francisco in only a couple of hours for the inconsequential sum of just 50 bucks.”

Additionally, voters were promised the entire project would come in at less than $35 billion, the balance of which would come from private sector investment and the federal government.

An independent study of the project, The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report by the respected Reason Foundation, clearly documented that the actual cost of the project would be closer to $100 billion and serve far fewer riders than claimed by backers of the bullet train. Turns out that all the negative predictions about High Speed Rail set forth in that study have not only come to pass, the project is even worse than thought.

Although the critical report was released before the election it was not enough to change the outcome. The duplicitous campaign in favor, paid for by labor unions and contractors that expected to benefit from the project, was augmented by the title and summary for the ballot measure, which were prepared by the Legislature – the same politicians who placed the Proposition 1A bond on the ballot. The title and summary were so over the top favorable to the bond proposal that alert taxpayers sued over its misleading content. The court agreed that the Legislature’s sleazy manipulation of the ballot process violated the Political Reform Act. But the decision was months too late to have any real effect because voters had already approved the new bond.

Over time, the public came to realize that they had been had. Previous support turned to dismay as it was revealed that the train would not be high speed; it would be a “blended” system that would nearly double promised travel times and the cost for tickets would double as well.

When Jerry Brown was returned to the governor’s office in 2010, he adopted the train project as his own legacy. His father, who served as governor from 1959 to 1967, is still revered in many quarters as the great builder of universities and highways. But it proved impossible to entice the private sector to participate because no sane investor thinks the project is based on a sound business model. And when the federal government turned off the spigot, the governor was forced to convince the Legislature to divert cap-and-trade funds to keep his pet project on life support.

But now, thanks to an initiative authored by George Runner, a member of the State Board of Equalization, and Senator Bob Huff, voters in November may have the option of trading in the $8 billion that remains unspent from the bullet train bond, for new water storage facilities and other programs to increase supply.

Of course, like any measure that spends billions of dollars that must be repaid by taxpayers, voters will want to carefully vet this measure. Still, with water consumption limits imposed by state and local agencies that have Californians taking fewer showers and replacing their lawns with rock gardens, voters may be willing to trade the bullet train fantasy for the security of knowing, when they open the tap, water will be there.

Jon Coupal is president of the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association — California’s largest grass-roots taxpayer organization dedicated to the protection of Proposition 13 and the advancement of taxpayers’ rights.

Originally published at HJTA.org

New Initiative Would Divert Money From Bullet Train to Water Storage

High Speed RailIt has often been said that in life, timing is everything. Those supporting an initiative to divert money dedicated from high-speed rail bonds to water storage projects likely will embrace that bit of wisdom with the revelation that the Central Valley segment of the bullet train is now facing a potential cost overrun of $260 million, or a 5 percent increase, over projected costs.

The Los Angeles Time article, reporting on this news, noted that experts agreed, “The increase, coming so early in construction, is a warning sign that costs will continue to rise.”

Cost projections already are more than double the $33 billion figure promised California voters when they went to the polls to narrowly approve the high speed rail bonds in the 2008 election. That thin support has melted away like the Wicked Witch of the West under a deluge of troubling financial exposes.

The signature gatherers attempting to secure the 585,000 valid signatures needed to put the measure before voters can wave this new development of increased costs at potential petition signers and deliver a simple message: “We told you so – the costs are only going up!”

That message could well carry through to the November election. A Stanford poll from the Hoover Institution recently asked about transferring the bullet train money to water projects. In the midst of a prolonged drought, poll respondents generally thought that was a good idea.

While the rail authority argues the talk of increased cost is only adding to a contingency fund, the fact that the disclosure of higher costs only a short time after rail authority officials told a legislative hearing that costs were under control will further undermine any confidence in the cost numbers presented to the public.

Big money could prolong the battle over the high-speed rail if the measure qualifies for the ballot. Well-off construction companies want the track laid so that they may grab a piece of the money pie. The California Water Alliance, which represents the agriculture industry that desperately wants water, is backing the initiative’s proponents, state Senator Bob Huff, and Board of Equalization member George Runner.

How much this measure could be affected by news seven months from now is unknown. If the drought is declared over, or at least manageable, because of winter storms, would recent memories of the drought keep voters concerned about making water more available?

Will the rail authority find a way to save money or will more cost overrun stories throw barriers across the tracks.

Looking back over the promises made to voters eight years ago and the way cost questions have played out since, the new revelation of a possible cost overrun probably has the public ready to make the decision to kill the bullet train.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

High-Speed Rail Needs More Oversight, Audit

high speed rail trainThe Jan. 27, 2016, Assembly Budget Subcommittee hearing labeled “Oversight of High Speed Rail” turned out to be anything but a hearing on oversight.  (Video of Hearing)

The hearing, prompted by pressure from Republicans when an explosive LA Times article reported the Authority had failed to include and ignored cost increases predicted by its prime contractor, Parsons Binkerhoff (PB), while the 2014 business plan was developed and published.

The cost increase predicted by the PB report was about $9 billion, a 31 percent increase for the Merced to Burbank segment.  The report also showed an overall increase of about 5 percent for the whole Phase I of the project, with a net increase of about $3.5 billion to the baseline project for the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment.  Indeed the 2014 business plan, simply incorporated the 2012 business plan cost estimate of $68 billion. 

Reading the staff report prepared for the hearing, it was easy to predict the result of the hearing. The staff report included “cut and paste” excerpts from the Authority’s business plan, but no such excerpts from the LA Times’ article.  The only speakers were to be from the Authority, Dan Richard (Chair) and Jeff Morales (CEO).  From the Authority’s Peer Review Group Lou Thompson appeared.

Thus the whole hearing was setup to be a “white wash” of the issues the Times’ article raised.

Richard spent about 10 minutes telling the world (again) how well run and open the Authority has been in carrying out this project.

Then Morales gave his input, essentially seeking to discredit the Times’ article by claiming the PB report included going all the way to Burbank whereas the comparison cost routing would stop at Sylmar (about 16 miles shorter in distance). Morales claimed about $4.5 billion of the cost difference was due to the PB report extending the segment to Burbank. Claiming this extension would cost $4.5 billion to go only 16 miles on level surface when a corridor like the San Fernando road could be used, is simply not believable. The other $4.5 billion of the PB projected cost increase was simply discarded by the Authority by claiming elimination of elevated structures in the PB estimate with building on berms would save this $4.5 billion.

This brings up the question of why pay PB to produce cost estimates, when the Authority can just claim we will build the segment differently and substitute our own costs? All of this testimony from Morales came without his producing any data for his testimony, since all of this is labeled “DRAFT.”

The Authority surely needs more oversight. Lou Thompson echoed this need in his testimony. The Authority resists additional oversight with all its might.

Morales had written the Chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee a letter in which he was opposed to the approval of an audit of the Authority proposed by Senator Andy Vidak.

Let me give you a personal example for this need.

I commented on the need for an audit of the Authority previously. Since that article was published, additional information has appeared.

The reply from the Authority on Sept. 18, 2015, to my public record request of Sept 8th 2015, stated:

The June 30 Funding Contribution Plan (FCP) is expected to be posted in the near future.When it is available, it will be posted to the following website:  http://www.hsr.ca.gov/About/Funding_Finance/funding_agreements.html

The June 30 FCP was indeed finally posted on Jan. 21, 2016. That is about 4.5 months after my request. But what is really interesting is an inspection of the FCP reveals it was produced on July 28, 2015 (see the properties snapshot of the FCP) the FCP was available well before my initial request. Public Record Requests are mandated by law to be filled within 10 days, not 4.5 months later.

Los Angeles Times reporter, Ralph Vartabedian, has authored another article since the Jan. 27 committee hearing. It explains a lot.

The High Speed Rail project is the largest such endeavor in the nation. It needs more oversight and it needs an audit from the non-partisan State Auditor now. It is time for the Democratic  legislative leadership and the Authority to stop denying such an audit.

esident of Menlo Park and Founder of DERAIL, a grassroots effort against the California high-speed rail project.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Brown’s Big Projects Renew North/South Rivalry in CA

Delta TunnelsCalifornia’s historic north/south rivalry appears to be writing a new chapter over Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposed big legacy projects: the bullet train and delta tunnels.

The rivalry is sure to heat up over both a report that the California High-Speed Rail Authority is reconsidering running the bullet train route north to San Jose before heading south to Burbank as was originally planned, while efforts intensify to stop the tunnels and prevent more water flowing south.

In the Los Angeles Times account of the possible switch of the rail plan, reporter Ralph Vartbedian noted, “With the project already behind schedule and facing estimates of higher costs, the Bay Area option could offer a faster, less risky and cheaper option. Getting even a portion of the project built early would help its political survival.”

The key phrase here is “political survival.” The train is facing mounting pressure from citizen lawsuits, financial uncertainties, and flagging support from the general public. Suggested routesfor the train from the Central Valley to the San Fernando Valley have run into hot resistance. There is urgency for the authority to get something done, to get the project up and running so that it would seem imprudent and unreasonable to stop it.

Yet, the threat to undo the project is there. A ballot measure redirecting bullet train money to water projects is in the offing and the idea enjoys some support in a recent poll — certainly more support than the train itself has seen in polls.

While plenty of Californians — north and south — object to the bullet train being built at all, Southern California transportation advocates are incensed at the possible change in plans favoring the north.

Meanwhile, the other big Jerry Brown legacy project, the delta tunnels, to bring water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta to the central and southern parts of the state is also facing opposition.

An initiative already qualified for the ballot would require voter approval of revenue bonds over $2 billion. There is no secret the proponents of this measure are taking aim at a major revenue source to build the tunnels. Revenue bonds, unlike General Obligation bonds that are backed by taxpayers, do not require a vote and are paid by the users of a development. Revenue bonds are considered to be part of the financing structure for the delta tunnels.

Some northern California legislators propose having voters decide if they want the tunnels. Many supporters of the idea think a statewide vote would scuttle the project.

Nearly 35 years ago an effort to construct a peripheral canal to bring water from the delta south was defeated at an election. Southern voters supported the canal but it was overwhelming rejected by voters in the north.

Which brings up important differences in the north-south rivalry.

Despite Southern California being the home of a larger proportion of the electorate, northern Californians vote in greater percentages. That gives the north a political advantage. One reflection of that advantage can be seen in those who hold statewide offices. Of the eight statewide elected constitutional offices, all are filled by northerners except for Treasurer John Chiang.

Like professional sports teams — think Giants and Dodgers – public policy too can produce bitter rivalry and loyal supporters by dint of geography.

Originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Audit the California High Speed Rail Authority

high speed rail trainThe California High Speed Rail Authority once again opposes oversight of its actions. On Tuesday the Joint Legislative Audit Committee held a hearing on the request by state Senator Andy Vidak to have the State Auditor conduct an audit of the Authority’s activities.

The Committee, on a strictly party line vote, denied the request. The request was triggered by the explosive Sunday, Oct 25th L.A. Times article, which disclosed a previously undisclosed report by the Authority’s contractor, Parson Brinkerhoff (PB).  The report projected a $9 billion increase in construction costs of the initial Merced to Burbank segment. (The article also disclosed from interviews with experts, that time lines, and budget targets would not be met.) 

The Times article, authored by Ralph Vartabedian, noted the cost increase report was delivered months before the 2014 business plan was released. The 2014 business plan did not include the projected $9 billion cost increase and instead continued to use cost projections from the 2012 business plan.

The first responses from the Authority to the Times article were: We don’t know about such a report, followed then by a blunt statement from Authority Chair Dan Richard, stating the article was “bunk.”

The Authority’s often-restated position is that the Authority is the most transparent of public agencies. Yet its actions reveal a completely different picture.

The Times article, was followed by numerous Freedom of Information act requests, which belatedly forced the Authority to release the report. The report was in the form a PowerPoint presentation, and was presented several months before the 2014 Business Plan was released.

Assemblywoman Toni Atkins then announced that a hearing would be held on the issues raised in the article. The hearing is now set to take place on Jan 27th.  Indeed the argument used by Democrats at the JLAC hearing to deny the audit was that an audit by the State Auditor was unnecessary and would be redundant to what would be revealed at the Legislative hearing.

But there is a whole world of difference between an audit conducted by the non-partisan State Auditor, and any legislative hearing being conducted by a Democratic controlled committee. Indeed, already announced by Atkins was that subpoenas would not be issued by the committee conducting the hearing.

Transparency and oversight in the Authority’s view, have many restrictions. The Authority denies many public record requests using one excuse or another. Many times disclosure comes only after immense pressure is exerted on the Authority. This was certainly the case which finally caused the release of the Powerpoint report disclosed in the LA Times article. This was also the case regarding final disclosure last year to the public, of the responses from private investors to the Authority’s request for Expressions of Interest in the project. (None of the finally revealed 36 responses indicated any willingness to invest.)

The Authority, throughout its existence, has used many tactics to avoid oversight. During 2010 to 2012, when the state Senate Housing and Transportation committee was led by Democrats, Senators Alan Lowenthal and Joe Simitian, numerous hearings were held and on many occasions the committee had to fight very hard to obtain needed information.

Last year the Authority managed to get the Legislature to remove the Authority’s obligation to report twice yearly and instead only reporting once every 2 years; removing one more level of oversight.

During the JLAC hearing on Tuesday, the State Auditor, Elaine Howle, presented her plan for the audit. She disclosed the audit would take about 2,100 hours and would need 5 months to complete. Considering the Authority has now spent almost $2 billion, the cost of this modest audit was hardly a consideration. Nevertheless, the Democrat-controlled committee rejected the request.

The Authority has stopped releasing the Funding Contribution Plans. These reports are mandated by the funding agreement between the Authority and the Federal Railway Administration (FRA). The reports are due quarterly within 30 days after the end of a quarter. The last report disclosed was the March 2015 report. Thus, as of this date, the June and Sept. 2015 reports are delinquent, and at the end of this month, the Dec. 2015 report will also be past due. These are the key reports showing how the Authority is performing on its project. Apparently the FRA has quit worrying about the Authority’s compliance with the funding agreement. The FRA has thus far not replied to my Freedom of Information request concerning the missing Funding Contribution Plans.

A just released poll from the Stanford University Hoover Institution reported “53 percent of Californians would vote for a ballot measure ending high-speed rail and using the unspent money on water-storage projects.” (poll details) The poll also reveals only 20 percent strongly approve, whereas 33 percent strongly disapprove of the California HSR project.

esident of Menlo Park and Founder of DERAIL, a grassroots effort against the California high-speed rail project.

This piece was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Embarrassing Details Threaten to Derail High-Speed Rail

A new special report conducted by the Los Angeles Times has thrown very cold water on the California High Speed Rail Authority’s plans for bringing a bullet train to the Golden State.

Through an in-depth investigation, the paper revealed embarrassing details of the train’s lurching progress toward an apparent morass of spiraling costs, spooked investors and — worst of all — an engineering disaster in the making.

Heads in the sand

In one particularly galling example of misfeasance, when California’s main project management contractor, Parsons Brinckerhoff, raised the alarm years ago, it was simply ignored by the authority’s top brass. A document obtained by the Times revealed that Parsons Brinckerhoff had briefed state officials on the spiraling cost projections in October of 2013. “But the state used a lower cost estimate when it issued its 2014 business plan four months later,” noted the Times. “Jeff Morales, the rail authority chief executive, said he was not aware of the Parsons Brinckerhoff projection. A spokeswoman for the authority declined to discuss the differences in the estimates.”

Opposition to California’s high-speed rail project has been strong since Gov. Jerry Brown first threw his weight firmly behind the idea. Critics have predictably held up the Times report as proof that they saw its failures coming from a figurative mile away. As the Reason Foundation suggested as early as 2008, “cost overruns were likely, state and federal funding would not be sufficient to cover the costs of the project, the state would have to spend more money, and private investors would not be making up the difference,” as Scott Shackford noted at Reason.com.

A policy earthquake

The challenges revealed by the report go far beyond those objections, however, raising the specter of dangerous environmental damage done virtually blind. “It will be the most ambitious tunneling project in U.S. history. Crews will have to cross the tectonic boundary that separates the North American and Pacific plates, boring through rock formations and earthquake faults, some of which are not mapped,” the San Francisco Chronicle noted. James Monsees, “one of the world’s top tunneling experts and an author of the federal manual on highway tunneling,” said the plan was unrealistic. “Faults are notorious for causing trouble,” he cautioned.

That trouble could well become calamitous — especially given California’s propensity for large earthquakes affecting populations centers. As the Los Angeles Times added:

“A 2012 report by Parsons Brinckerhoff, obtained by The Times, warned the rail authority that the ‘seismotectonic complexity … may be unprecedented’ and that the rail route would be crossing faults classified as ‘hazardous.’”

But the tunnel trouble arose from the authority’s inability to surmount public criticism to easier, more direct routes. “The original plan was to build the train route up along the 14 Freeway, but a host of nearby residents from Pacoima to Acton, many freaked out about a high-walled train corridor cutting through their towns,” according to Curbed Los Angeles. “Angry citizens in San Fernando even interrupted an informational meeting in on the rail project to protest its dangers to the local economy and the ‘death wall’ that would split the town in two along the route.”

That led the authority toward the current, disparaged tunneling plan — and, last month, a request for “permission to test-drill deep beneath the Angeles National Forest to determine the feasibility of digging a rail tunnel through the rugged San Gabriel Mountains near Santa Clarita,” as the San Gabriel Valley Tribune noted. Among officials, the fear of another public outcry has yet to abate. “In what only can be described as an unusual process, the U.S. Forest Service is asking the public for their thoughts on whether to allow the rail authority to proceed with its tunnel study,” the Tribune added.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

On Bullet Train, Voters Finally May Get to Apply the Brakes

high speed rail trainPencils have erasers. Computers have the undo command and the escape key.

If you had it to do over again, would you vote for the bullet train?

It was called the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act” on the 2008 ballot, and it authorized $9 billion in bonds — borrowed money — to “partially fund” a high-speed train system in California.

The ballot measure required that there would be “private and public matching funds,” “accountability and oversight” and a focus on completing “Phase I” from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Anaheim. Bond funds could not be spent on the other corridors, like Fresno to Bakersfield, unless there was “no negative impact on the construction of Phase I.”

Today the estimated cost is over $68 billion, private and federal funds are not in sight, and accountability has been cut back — instead of two spending reports to the Legislature every year, only one report every two years will be required. And “Phase I” broke ground in Fresno.

Place your finger on the escape key and stand by. State Sen. Andy Vidak, R-Fresno, has introduced a bill, co-authored by Assemblyman Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, to put the bullet train before the voters again. If Senate Bill 3 (SBX1-3) can muster a two-thirds vote in the state Senate and Assembly, it will be on the June 2016 ballot.

The measure would freeze spending on the bullet train and direct unspent funds to the Department of Transportation to be used for roads, which would come in handy because California needs $59 billion just to maintain the freeways for the next 10 years. Gov. Jerry Brown has called a special session of the Legislature to look for revenue to fill the state’s transportation budget pothole after signing a “balanced” budget that left that item out.

The non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office offered some suggestions that illustrate the difference between what tax increases can raise and what the bullet train costs.

• Raising the tax on a gallon of gasoline brings in $150 million per 1 cent increase.

• Raising the tax on a gallon of diesel fuel collects $30 million per 1 cent increase.

• Raising the vehicle registration fee nets $33 million per $1 increase.

• Doubling the vehicle weight fees raises about $1 billion.

• Raising the vehicle license fee hauls in roughly $3 billion per 1 percent increase.

There are other options. The LAO says lawmakers could prioritize the budget to use money from the general fund to maintain and construct roads. Billions in cap-and-trade revenue, collected from fees now levied on gasoline and diesel fuel, could be used for highway projects that reduce traffic and improve mileage.

Additionally, $900 million that was loaned from state transportation accounts to the general fund could be repaid and used for roads. “Efficiency and effectiveness” could be improved by prioritizing cost-effective maintenance projects, increasing accountability and oversight, and examining Caltrans’ “capital outlay support” program to see if it is “operating efficiently.” Hint, hint.

The scrimping, saving and tax hikes needed to maintain the freeways can’t begin to address all the other transportation infrastructure needs, and we still have to pay for the rising costs of Medi-Cal, unfunded pensions and health benefits for state employees, and desperately needed water projects.

In 2008, the ballot argument for the bullet train promised high-speed rail “without raising taxes,” but it’s a shell game if tax revenue is spent on the train while taxes are raised for the roads.

Sen. Vidak’s bipartisan bill ought to have the support of every lawmaker. Voters deserve a chance to undo the bullet train and escape from this mess.

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Reach the author at Susan@SusanShelley.com or follow Susan on Twitter: @Susan_Shelley.

SoCal Backlash Against HSR Getting Heated

High Speed RailPERSPECTIVE – Farmers and family businesses in the San Joaquin Valley have been fighting the High Speed Rail Authority’s efforts to acquire property through eminent domain.

That battle will continue.

Now, local residents of communities along the foothills of the Angeles National Forest and Monument are opposing all route options for the Palmdale-Burbank leg of the expensive project. They have allies in key elected officials at all levels of government, including Congressman Adam Schiff and State Senator Carol Liu.

It is not that these two representatives are against the project as a whole, but their reticence on HSR’s route through this strategic passage could force planners into studying equally controversial routes, including one through the Tejon Pass following I-5.

The in-fighting between communities will create political havoc for the HSRA. Undoubtedly, courts will become involved.

This is actually good news.

The more obstacles the bloated project faces, the longer the delays and the more likely support and money will dry out before the state blows the full $68-billion that could be applied to far more critical capital improvements. Regardless, $68-billion is probably a lowball estimate with or without the cost of extensive tunneling through the Angeles Mountains.

Already, the prospects of long-term federal financial support are weak. While Congressman Jeff Denham’s amendment that would force the HSRA to prove they have the funds required for federal matching against the current commitment may or may not make it through the US Senate, it is evidence that future federal support will not be forthcoming.

Diversion of cap-and-trade tax revenue – an important piece of the state’s funding plan – will not be enough to complete the train in anyone’s lifetime. The only benefit will be to whisk untold thousands of commuters between the vital Bakersfield to Modesto corridor.

Don’t get me wrong – I like trains. Some of my commutes through the greater LA metro area have relied on MTA, Metrolink and Amtrak.

But as I pointed out in a widely-read article a few years ago, capital investments in intra-regional rail systems will yield a far greater reduction in road congestion and pollution.

HSR is simply Governor Brown’s vanity project, but we are the ones paying for it.

Originally published by CityWatchLA.com

(Paul Hatfield is a CPA and serves as  President of the Valley Village Homeowners Association.  Heblogs at Village to Village and contributes to CityWatch.The views presented are those of Mr. Hatfield and his alone. They should not be construed to represent the opinions of the VVHA or the residents of Valley Village, individually or as a group. He can be reached at: phinnoho@aol.com. )

Bullet train puts California’s future in the hole

high speed rail trainThe California High Speed Rail Authority is in damage-control mode in Southern California.

Planning is underway for the Palmdale-to-Burbank section of the $68-billion bullet train, and the rail authority is required to solicit community input on proposed routes. On Monday, Team Bullet Train was at the Santa Clarita Activities Center to comply with that legal mandate.

The strain was evident. “Santa Clarita has been very effective at vocalizing its concerns to the High Speed Rail Authority,” a rail official stated with cool irritation.

“I will lead the City Council to file a lawsuit if it goes through Santa Clarita,” Councilmember TimBen Boydston said later.

Public meetings usually feature members of the audience asking questions of a panel of officials and experts. Everyone can hear the answers.

Not this time. The rail authority’s meeting took place in two large rooms, with chairs set up in one room and computer displays in the other. Two officials gave a presentation in the room with the chairs but would not take questions from the people sitting in them.

“We prefer that people ask their questions individually of the experts at the open house,” an information officer said, referring to the room where engineering and environmental consultants stood near their displays like bored vendors at a trade show.

So none of the other people attending the presentation heard the experts tell me that the automobile was “a 50-year experiment that did not work out well,” or that “Ansel Adams opposed the Golden Gate Bridge, and one day opposition to high-speed rail will seem just as ridiculous,” or that “we will learn from the Europeans” how to safely evacuate train passengers from a tunnel 60 feet underground in the event of a fire or explosion.

Actually, automobile sales have been rising since 1892, Ansel Adams was a photographer of nature’s untouched beauty, and the CHSRA’s own literature on project pros and cons lists “Fire & Life Safety” as one of the “cons” of the “HSR deep tunnel.”

In another questionable assertion, the team insisted that the bullet train is financially viable and won’t need taxpayer subsidies to operate. They offered up a stack of year-old letters from private sector companies as evidence.

But the letters are about construction loans, not financial self-sufficiency. In the very first letter a CEO writes, “we believe that long-term funding by the State is needed.”

The second letter says the project could be completed “with funds from the state” in combination with private financing, if the state provides “a multi-year source of repayment.”

The would-be private sector partners were offering to help us borrow money, which we would then give to them to build the bullet train. They were pleased that the state would be able to make loan payments using money collected from cap-and-trade fees assessed on gasoline, diesel fuel and industry.

At a news conference in May, Gov. Jerry Brown was asked about the cap-and-trade spending. A reporter wondered if he had a long-term plan, “because as pollution goes down, the revenues will go down.”

“No, not quite,” Brown answered. “Pollution — we’re not as successful with reducing carbon pollution as we are with what they call ‘criteria’ pollutants, like sulfur, carbon monoxide, NOx, things like that. Carbon pollution is still rising. Worldwide. And so one of the principal strategies is to put a price on carbon. And a price that will rise. To increase the burden of using carbon.”

The reporter asked again, “But these revenues will taper off at some point and begin to go down, yes?”

“I don’t think so,” Brown answered.

“Spending will continue,” the reporter said.

“Spending will continue,” Brown confirmed. “There will be a gradual rise. And I would imagine as, assuming climate change becomes more evident, there will be efforts to ramp up even further the price of carbon.”

The governor is widening the definition of pollution so the penalty fees can go up. The only way to maintain public support for this scheme is to incite guilt and panic with endless warnings that climate change is about to become “more evident.”

Meanwhile, production and transportation will grow more expensive, and California will lose businesses, jobs and revenue. But limits on greenhouse gas emissions can always be tightened further to generate higher penalty fees. Spending will continue.

The bullet train is worse than an unnecessary expense. Funded by debt and fines, it will be a permanent leech on California’s economic lifeblood.

Save the future. Take Southwest.

Susan Shelley is a columnist for the Los Angeles Daily News.