Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The left and high-speed rail

Seems like the only people left supporting the California high-speed rail project are editorial writers, Democratic Party leaders, and of course unions, since even bad projects create jobs.

The Chronicle's John Diaz is still on board, but, like his poorly-informed editorial on cycling in the city, he doesn't deign to deal in specifics, even though the Devil is in the details on this project. It's easy for windbag editorialists and other supporters to defend high-speed rail in the abstract. Gee, a fast train between LA and SF! What a great idea!

The Bay Guardian supports the project, which is in line with a recent public opinion poll showing that liberals and the Occupy Movement are the boondoggle's strongest supporters, as if the liberal/prog left was determined to verify the tax-and-spend label pinned on them by conservatives. But Californians overall now oppose the project by a 2-1 margin. 

I understood how poorly conceived the project is after looking at the alleged sources of capital to build the system as per the CHSR authority's 2009 business plan:

State funding: $9 billion from Proposition 1A
Federal funding: $17‐19 billion
Local funding: $4‐5 billion
Private funding: $10‐12 billion
Total: $45 billion

According to the latest CHSRA business plan, the total cost of the project is now estimated to be $99-118 billion. But the project only has $3.3 billion in federal money and $2.7 billion in state bonds authorized by Prop. 1A in 2008. 

The Peer Group recommended last week that the legislature not authorize the $2.7 billion in bonds the CHSRA is asking for. Obviously, more money from the federal government is highly unlikely, and can anyone think that local governments are going to contribute $4-5 billion to build high-speed rail? Nor has any "private funding" materialized, since return guarantees to private investors to build the system are prohibited by Prop. 1A.

Beyond Chron published a piece the other day by Michael Bernick on the job creation numbers claimed by the project, with a final paragraph as a murky disclaimer:

The Mercury News is correct that the project stands or falls on criteria beyond employment. The main decisions should be made on the project’s role in meeting transportation mobility and environmental policies. The draft 2012 Business Plan does correctly set out its projections in “job years,” though greater precision in language is warranted in the Plan’s final version.

Okay, but while CHSRA's jobs projection---like ridership forecasts and ticket prices---is an interesting and contested subject, the fact that the authority doesn't even come close to having enough money to build the system makes the issue of only academic interest.

For thorough discussions of all these issues, see this website.

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Parking in San Francisco

Mr. Anderson,

I am a fellow SF resident (and reader of your blog) and was wondering if you were aware of the MTA’s SFpark plan? The plan calls for the installation of adjustable rate metered parking all over the city (where there is currently no metered parking, or only residential parking).

Unfortunately, my neighborhood of Dogpatch/Potrero is one of the targets for the “pilot” program. I am unfortunately familiar with the way city agencies function. By the time the citizens find out about their plans, they can’t be stopped. I know you were successful in holding up the implementation of the citywide bike plan (also MTA?) and was wondering if you had any advice for a strategy to delay or derail the MTA’s plan.

Is legal action the only real alternative?

Ari Benderly

Rob's comment:
Yes, I'm afraid so. I don't know if the city did any environmental review of this plan, but since it's called a "pilot" project the city may assume it doesn't have to. Sounds like your neighborhood will be guinea pigs for the program. 

As you know, the city's official ideology is anti-car. SFPark is ostensibly created to make it easier for motorists to find parking in SF, but it will also make money for a city where motorists are considered primarily as a source of revenue for a city increasingly desperate for money to maintain its bloated payroll and employee benefits, even as it pours money into the bottomless Central Subway pit.

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