That Mayor Lee isn't the sharpest blade in the drawer is clear by now, especially after his ill-advised attempted takedown of Sheriff Mirkarimi and his tone-deaf stop-and-frisk proposal. But his latest brain-storm may be his dumbest:
Mayor Ed Lee is floating the idea of tearing down the stub end of Interstate 280 in San Francisco in hopes of creating a new neighborhood and speeding up the arrival of high-speed rail service downtown. The idea, laid out by the mayor's chief transit planner, Gillian Gillett, in a memo to the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission, would be to knock down I-280 before 16th Street---eliminating the ramps both at Sixth and Brannan streets and at Fourth and King streets. It would be replaced by a street-level boulevard akin to those built after the Embarcadero and Central freeways were knocked down. The plan also calls for clearing out the adjacent rail yard to make way for a high-speed rail line. "The mayor is a big proponent of high-speed rail," said Lee's spokeswoman, Christine Falvey. "And the mayor is interested in looking at that concept if it can bring high-speed rail to San Francisco faster, better and cheaper." She added, "It could be a big boon to the city if we develop a neighborhood in the process."
Like others who try to defend the Octavia Blvd. fiasco---more than 45,000 cars a day coming through the heart of Hayes Valley!--- Lee tries to conflate taking down the Embarcadero freeway with taking down the Central Freeway. The difference between the two is huge: there was already a wide traffic boulevard on the Embarcadero, which, unlike Hayes Valley, isn't in the middle of a densely populated residential neighborhood. The part of the Hayes Valley neighborhood fronting on Octavia Blvd. is now essentially a commercial wasteland, with few businesses and no foot traffic on what is a lot like a freeway, since Octavia Blvd.'s main function is to funnel traffic to and from the freeway ramp on Market Street to Fell and Oak Streets, a function that the Central Freeway used to perform.
Mayor Lee flunked the high-speed rail IQ test back in 2011, when he joined four other mayors in a mindless tub-thumping for that poorly conceived pork barrel project. A typical bit of idiocy in that op-ed that reads like it was written by the High-Speed Rail Authority:
Our high-speed rail system is expected to make money and attract private investment similar to systems in Europe and Asia. Twenty-two different funds have shown investment interest in financing part of the system's capital costs. Demonstrating our commitment by beginning major construction and finalizing all the approvals will minimize investor risk and net the best terms for the taxpayers.
Funny, but almost two years later there's still no private investment in California's high-speed rail project. Back in 2008, those investors told the CHSR Authority this: "Several firms stressed that they would participate only after a strong commitment from State, federal, and local funding sources." There is still no such commitment. The feds are unlikely to provide any more than the $3 billion they've already committed. California doesn't have that kind of money---$68 to $100 billion, depending on how the pricetag is calculated---and of course local governments don't either. Governor Brown dreams about using the state's cap-and-trade income for high-speed rail, but that's of dubious legality and, in any event, it's not clear there will be enough income from that new program to build the system.
But the biggest falsehood is that high-speed rail systems around the world make money. The opposite is the reality, since they are built with taxpayers' money and then continue to be subsidized after they are built. Prop. 1A specifically prohibits the California high-speed rail system from being subsidized after it's built. That's how it was sold to the state's voters in 2008.
The pricetag, the route, the estimated ridership, the ticket prices, the jobs created---essentially every important issue underlying this project---have all been changed since voters passed Prop. 1A in 2008. The litigation against the project may force supporters of this project---including the governor---to put it back on the ballot for voters to approve. Since public opinion has turned against the project in the last two years, voters would then be able to finally kill this boondoggle.
Labels: High-Speed Rail, Mayor Lee, Octavia Blvd.