Thursday, July 12, 2012

Senator Yee gets an offer he can't refuse

High-speed rail supporters: Ma, Brown, and Yee (Getty Images)

Matier and Ross tell us how the financially ruinous $4.6 billion in high-speed rail bonds were passed in the State Senate last week:

It took a big behind-the-scenes push from the governor and organized labor---plus a slew of calls from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to fellow Democrats---to pull off the state Senate's squeaker approval of high-speed rail Friday. There wasn't a lot of arm twisting---just a final offer that 21 Democratic senators couldn't refuse.
"That having something was better than nothing," said state Sen. Leland Yee.
Yee, D-San Francisco, was among the many senators who got a one-on-one over the phone from Pelosi, who told them that "nothing" was pretty much what California could expect---instead of $3.4 billion in federal stimulus funds for the project---if they didn't approve the deal as is.
"She made it clear that there was no alternative plan that Washington, D.C., looks on in a favorable way," Yee said.
In other words, get the 130-mile demonstration track going in the Central Valley, or forget about all the sweetener funds---like the $61 million for San Francisco's Central Subway, the $140 million for new BART cars or the $106 million to upgrade Caltrain.

The "something" Senator Yee voted for will require the state to pay more than $300 million a year in interest just to service the $4.6 billion bonds. Voting for high-speed rail is essentially voting for nothing but more debt for state taxpayers, since it's unlikely to ever get built. The close senate vote is bad news for supporters of high-speed rail, since it shows how little public support the project has. The Feds are not going to pick up the $300 million expense; that will be up to the state's taxpayers. Nor will they pay for the inevitable cost overruns to build the 130 miles of tracks to nowhere; it won't be a train, just the tracks. The state's taxpayers will pick up that tab, too. 

Too bad that Yee didn't have enough spine to call Pelosi's bluff. It's not credible that the Obama administration would have dumped those pet Bay Area projects if Yee voted against the bonds. Besides, those projects should stand or fall on their own merits without being linked to high-speed rail. But those were the "sweeteners" the Democratic Party honchos used to get Yee and other senators to vote for the stupid high-speed rail project. 

In any event, the Central Subway, Caltrain, and BART payments are arguably illegal under the high-speed rail Proposition 1A passed by voters in 2008, which will be sorted out by the many lawsuits against the high-speed rail project. 

What do new BART cars have to do with high-speed rail? Nothing much. [Later: I was wrong about this. Re-reading the implementing legislation, new BART cars can be legally justified. See AB3034, 2704.095 on page 10] Ditto for the Central Subway money, which is different than money for the downtown terminal, which is supposed to be a high-speed rail station. The city already gets $500 million of the high-speed rail money for that.

The Caltrain money is justified under the sketchy "blended" idea whereby high-speed rail and Caltrain will share tracks. That too is dubious, since that plan will surely slow the high-speed trains way below the legally required two-hour-and-forty minute trip between LA and SF, not to mention the fact that Union Pacific owns the right-of-way and shows no interest in giving it up.

Yee is quoted in the LA Times during the debate:

"The ridership is not in the Central Valley," said Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), speaking Thursday night. "The ridership is along the 101 corridor," referring to the U.S. highway stretching from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.

Well, yes. So why vote for the Central Valley segment? Because his political career as a Democrat would have been over if he voted against the bonds. No party or union support---the unions are major hogs at the trough on both the Central Subway and high-speed rail---next time he runs for office, and the ambitious Yee is always running for something.

Yee's office usually turns out a press release every time he wipes his butt, but there's been nothing released about his vote for the high-speed boondoggle. Gee, I wonder why?

CalWatchdog on California's dismal financial situation.

Here's a sample of the issues that are being litigated from the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail.

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17 Comments:

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How in the world do nits like Leland Lee, the guy that "forgot" to pay for his sunscreen, get elected???

 
At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Caltrain money is justified under the sketchy "blended" idea whereby high-speed rail and Caltrain will share tracks. That too is dubious, since that plan will surely slow the high-speed trains way below the legally required two-hour-and-forty minute trip between LA and SF, not to mention the fact that Union Pacific owns the right-of-way and shows no interest in giving it up.

What fact? The Caltrain right of way is owned by Caltrain. You always ask other people for facts and research when you not only do not do research, you do fake research and post it as fact.

 
At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"The ridership is not in the Central Valley," said Sen. Leland Yee (D- San Francisco), speaking Thursday night. "The ridership is along the 101 corridor,"

Because you know, Fresno has nobody and King City is a major metropolis. And no, you can't run the train through SLO or Santa Barbara, the topography won't work not to mention it would require going through Vandenberg.

The ridership is in SF, and LA. To get from one to the other, you have to go through the Central Valley. Yee is not very bright when it comes to actual policy, that's been proven over and over. If we want to get from SF to LA, we have to build the whole thing. Let's get going.

 
At 3:08 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Starting in the Central Valley is counterintuitive if most of the projected passengers are in SF and LA. Why not start there? It's supposedly being started---I don't think it ever will be started anywhere---in the Central Valley for political reasons. If the state already had the money to build the project, starting in the Valley would make sense. Instead, the Feds required the state to start there for a couple of reasons: to help elect a Democratic Party Congressman and because they mistakenly thought there would be less political resistance there. Wrong!

The project is dumb for a lot of reasons, but the main objection: there's no money to do anything but start the Central Valley segment. California has a $16 billion deficit and is cutting important state programs, like schools and social services, and these start-up bonds will require state payments of $300 million a year to service the bonds.

But proponents of big projects get them going based on bullshit and keep them going based on political considerations. Too much invested to stop now, etc.

On the Caltrain/Union Pacific issue: they have a complicated contractual relationship that, at the very least, will have to be renegotiated if Caltrain and the high-speed rail authority make some kind of agreement.

Linking the electrification of Caltrain to high-speed rail is another purely political move, since that improvement can be justified on its own.

I think Yee understands all this, but not voting for the bonds would have threatened his political future. The Democratic Party and the unions would have been furious if he had been the deciding vote to defeat the bonds.

 
At 3:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The ridership is in SF and LA, and wants to go from ... watch it this is tricky - FROM SF TO LA AND LA TO SF.

Let's say we start in SF, and the first chunk of tracks goes to Merced. It's still a train to nowhere. It doesn't matter where we start because it isn't worth it until we are finished. However, the section they are planning on starting is already part of the San Joaquin's line and will improve that train line.

And the Caltrain issue isn't complicated at all. The "blended" part of the "blended system" is from San Jose to San Francisco which is completely owned by the Joint Powers Board.

The part of the Caltrain line owned by UP is from Tamien to Gilroy, which has nothing to do with the blended system. Nobody in San Martin or Morgan Hill is throwing a fit about this train line.

 
At 4:41 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Okay, but this issue is moot from the beginning, since there will never be a high-speed rail line built anywhere near the Peninsula---or anywhere else in California. The whole misbegotten project will wither and die during the litigation.

 
At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Okay, but this issue is moot from the beginning, since there will never be a high-speed rail line built anywhere near the Peninsula---or anywhere else in California. The whole misbegotten project will wither and die during the litigation.

Did you think that was true about bike lanes?

 
At 2:33 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

What? That the Bicycle Plan would wither away during the litigation? No, since City Hall always seemed determined to screw up city streets on behalf of your small minority. With a determination usually seen only in religious fanatics, the city tried to lift the injunction three times while it was working on the court-ordered EIR.

But the EIR verified our fears about what the Plan would do to city streets: screw up traffic for everyone but the bike people. But that hasn't dimmed its Terminator-like determination to do so.

 
At 3:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

So you knew the bike plan would end up being implemented but you went through with the lawsuit anyway. The net effect was just spending money.

Oh right, we also "verified our fears about what the Plan would do to city streets: screw up traffic for everyone but the bike people". What is the tangible net effect of that? Nothing.

Same thing will happen with this train. A lot of money will be wasted in the process of building it by people who want to kill it for whatever reason, but it will get built. There were plenty of people claiming that SMART would not get built, and they put a lot of effort into making that happen, but the rails are being laid already.

Hell, even the not very useful Central Subway looks like it will be built.

I'd bet you a sawbuck that HSR gets built but you won't live long enough for me to collect.

 
At 5:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Does anyone know the statistic that was published somewhere a while back of how many air tickets could be given yearly to every resident of the L.A. area and S.F. Bay area for free air travel instead of CHSR funds? I think I read somewhere it was 5 or 10 round trip tickets a year for every person for 200 years? In that same article I think they mentioned the rail tickets would be DOUBLE the cost of air travel.

 
At 5:53 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"So you knew the bike plan would end up being implemented but you went through with the lawsuit anyway. The net effect was just spending money."

I hoped that, as the EIR showed, that people in SF would somehow reject screwing up our streets on behalf of you folks. But, as I point out in my comment, the city showed such fanatical determination to implement the 500-page Plan, that I realized that the litigation had done nothing to deter City Hall. Only reaction in the neighborhoods can stop it now, but of course the people of SF have never had a chance to vote on the Bicycle Plan and never will if City Hall and the Bicycle Coalition get its way.

It's the city that's wasted money. First, by not doing the legally required environmental review of the Plan. And then by trying three times without success to get Judge Busch to lift the injunction before the EIR was completed and certified by the court.

The City Attorney also wasted everyone's time and money by filing frivilous motions on the administrative record. The end result: it ran up our lawyer's bill, which the city had to pay when the litigation was over.

You keep insisting the HSR system will be built, but you show no knowledge of the real legal issues that are likely to be successful, like in this document.

Yes, the SMART system is being built, but it's another dumb project that will be a sure money-loser that will have to be permanently subsidized by taxpayers in Marin and Sonoma Counties.

And, yes, the Central Subway is likely to be completed only because of our Congressional delegation. It' another dumb project cooked up by Willie Brown and Rose Pak.

 
At 8:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous - how many runways and airplanes would we have to build to meet you scenario?

 
At 8:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe in meritocracy. It's pretty easy to conclude that a 2 bit hack who himself claims he doesn't have a car because he's made it to his mid 60's and is too poor to even buy a car, isn't really the brightest bulb on the block. Better to let people who have actually accomplished something drive the decisions.

Furthermore, things like HSR and Bike plans and what not are overwhelmingly supported by the younger parts of the population. They are the ones who are going to have to live with the decisions, not you. If there are bills to be paid, they will pay them while we are in our graves. I suggest that they sell the bonds to the Chinese then inflate the currency to pay off the bondholders. We can borrow at 3-4% right now, and pay back with inflated money. If it "screws up traffic", it's there problem, not ours. Let them decide for themselves their future. We did not inherit this country from our anscestors, we borrowed it from our children.

 
At 3:06 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

"things like HSR and Bike plans and what not are overwhelmingly supported by the younger parts of the population. They are the ones who are going to have to live with the decisions, not you."

In San Francisco---which, at any one time has more than 100,000 college students---the young, well-off white guys and gals in the bike movement, after screwing up city traffic with bike lanes on busy streets and working on their Mommy and Daddy issues, will head for the suburbs when it's time to have a family and a SUV, leaving the rest of us with their trendy, anti-car "improvements" to our streets.

 
At 1:22 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"the rest of us" will be dead, or priced out of SF

 
At 11:56 AM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, because the anti-car crap is part of the pro-development, gentrification ideology known as "smart growth" championed by the Big Thinkers in City Hall. 40-story residential highrises at Van Ness and Market with market-rate condos! 19,000 people on Treasure Island!

 
At 8:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Talk about playing the fiddle while Rome burns to the ground! How did we end up with a city that has America's most expensive rental housing, dirtiest streets, most aggressive homeless population, and slowest public tranist? Meanwhile our city "leaders" worry about "parklets", banning private cars from Market Street, a new subway line that does not connect to the rest of the system or locates stations where people want to go, and of course pushing High Speed Rail. Could this get any worse?

 

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