California Watch: High-speed rail en Bullet train bidder has history of cost overruns <p>SACRAMENTO &ndash; The lowest-bidding partnership for the first segment of California&rsquo;s high-speed rail line includes a firm with a history of cost overruns and costly lawsuits.</p><p>The California High-Speed Rail Authority on Friday announced that the American joint venture of Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons was the &ldquo;best apparent value&rdquo; with a low bid of $985 million &ndash; below the $1.09 billion bid by the next-lowest bidder.</p><p>On construction projects in California, the lowest bidder has a strong advantage in the eventual selection process. Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the authority, declined to comment on bidders as the matter is finding its way to the authority&rsquo;s board of directors.</p><p>&ldquo;Five world-class teams competed for this opportunity, and the process is ongoing,&rdquo; Wilcox said.</p><p>The first segment of the estimated $68 billion system is proposed to run 28 miles from Madera to Fresno in the San Joaquin Valley.</p><p>According to <a href="" target="_blank">an August report</a> by <a href="" target="_blank">The Bay Citizen</a>, sister site of California Watch, 11 major projects in the San Francisco Bay Area completed by Tutor in the last dozen years cost local governments $765 million more than they expected, or 40 percent above the initial bids.</p><p>A company spokesman did not return a message seeking comment. CEO Ron Tutor said in the August report that attacks against him were unfounded and overruns were caused by contracting agencies changing the projects in midstream.</p><p>At San Francisco International Airport, the city alleged in a 2002 lawsuit that the company purposely bid low to win a $626 million expansion contract, then charged $980 million for the job. Tutor said there wasn&rsquo;t &ldquo;a single fact&rdquo; justifying the city&rsquo;s position but eventually agreed to pay $19 million to settle.</p><p>The company&rsquo;s list of projects includes an extension of Bay Area Rapid Transit to the San Francisco airport, the Alameda Corridor rail line and the San Diego Convention Center.</p><p>In 1993, the Port of San Diego paid the company $17 million to settle a $53 million lawsuit over the convention center project. In the lawsuit, the company blamed port-hired construction managers for delays that cost the company money.</p><p>Kevin Williams, a former San Francisco contracting officer who has testified in court against Tutor, said his experience with the company goes back decades.</p><p>&ldquo;Tom Bradley, the late mayor of Los Angeles, said it best: Ron Tutor was the change-order artist, the king, and he&rsquo;s proven himself to be just that,&rdquo; Williams told U-T San Diego on Monday.</p><p>Williams said Tutor &ldquo;is going to make up the difference somehow by lowballing. That is as old as history itself in the construction industry.&rdquo;</p><p>Kevin Dayton, president and chief executive of Labor Issues Solutions and a critic of the bullet train project, said the rail authority is going to have to monitor change-order requests very closely.</p><p>&ldquo;People are always accusing each other in the construction industry of pulling the change-order racket: winning the low bid and then piling up costs afterward,&rdquo; said Dayton, a former lobbyist for Associated Builders and Contractors Inc. &ldquo;Sometimes, it is a matter of architectural errors, but everyone always blames everybody else for it, saying, &lsquo;The drawings were bad; the engineering was bad, et cetera.&rsquo; &rdquo;</p><p>Dayton also questioned whether the four losing teams &ndash; who are eligible to be paid a $2 million stipend to cover their costs for seeking the contract &ndash; might now be required to sign statements agreeing not to publicly challenge the process.</p><p>The next-lowest bidder was Dragados/Samsung/Pulice. Officials there could not be reached for comment.</p><p>In a statement posted on its website before the announcement, the team said with a combined value of $8 billion in executed design-build projects in the last five years, it offers the authority and building communities &ldquo;a proven successful record of compliance, execution and on time delivery of complex infrastructure projects all over the world.&rdquo;</p><p>Five teams submitted proposals to design and build the first segment. The proposals were evaluated and ranked based 70 percent on cost and the remainder for technical merit. Officials said factors such as an understanding of the project, schedule capability, approach and safety were part of the technical scoring.</p><p>The lowest-bidding partnership &ndash; Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction Corp. of Texas and Parsons Corp. of Pasadena &ndash; received the highest overall score of 90.55 out of 100.</p><p>The trio received a perfect 70 percent for its price proposal and received the lowest score &ndash; 20.55 &ndash; for its technical proposal.</p><p>Rail officials say they expect to present a contract to their board of directors in the coming weeks. The agency&rsquo;s cost estimate for the first segment was $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion.</p><p>If they are unable to award the contract to the best-value bidder, they may proceed with the next most highly ranked, officials said.</p><p><em>This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority construction high-speed rail Ron Tutor High-speed rail Tue, 16 Apr 2013 17:24:26 +0000 Christopher Cadelago 18862 at California High-Speed Rail Authority Winning bid to start high-speed rail far below estimates <p>A trio of American companies outbid four other teams of contractors vying for the contract to build the first segment of California&#39;s proposed high-speed train system in the San Joaquin Valley &ndash; and for several hundred million dollars less than state engineers estimated.</p><p>The consortium of Tutor Perini Corp. of Sylmar, Zachry Construction Corp. of Texas and Parsons Corp. of Pasadena offered the low bid of less than $1 billion. Five construction teams submitted bids in January to the California High-Speed Rail Authority for the first stretch of the rail line from east of Madera to the south end of Fresno.</p><p>Engineers for the rail authority &ndash; the state agency in charge of developing the statewide train system &ndash; had at one time estimated that the 28-mile portion would cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion to design and build. More recent estimates suggested the bids would likely come in at $1.2 billion to $1.8 billion.</p><p>The Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons bid of $985,142,530 was deemed the &quot;apparent best value&quot; by the rail authority, based on a total score that considered both the price and the technical expertise of the competing companies. While Tutor/Perini/Parsons had the lowest technical score of the five bids &ndash; 20.55 out of 30 possible points &ndash; it also racked up 70 out of 70 points in the financial assessment.</p><p>The other four bids were:</p><ul><li>$1,085,111,111 by Dragados/Samsung/Pulice, a joint venture of Dragados SA of Spain; Samsung C&amp;T America, a subsidiary of South Korean multinational Samsung Group; and Pulice Construction Inc. of Arizona</li><li>$1,263,309,632 by California High-Speed Rail Partners, composed of Fluor Corp. of Texas, Swedish-based Skanska and PCL Constructors of Canada</li><li>$1,365,770,098 by California Backbone Builders, a consortium of two Spanish construction firms: Ferrovial Agroman and Acciona</li><li>$1,537,049,000 by California High-Speed Ventures, made up of Kiewit Corp. of Nebraska, Granite Construction of Watsonville and Comsa EMTE of Spain</li></ul><div>Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for the rail authority, said a contract proposal will be presented to the agency&#39;s board within weeks in anticipation of awarding a contract in time for construction to begin this summer.<p>&nbsp;</p><p>By that time, Wilcox said, the rail authority expects to have begun acquiring the land it needs for the right of way. About 75 parcels are needed by the end of September, and a total of 356 pieces of property will be needed &ndash; in whole or in part &ndash; for the entire Madera-Fresno section.</p><p>Once a contract is awarded, he added, &quot;there will be a ramp-up of hiring&quot; by the contractor for workers. Detailed reports from 2011 estimated that rail construction would be directly responsible for about 1,300 jobs each year in the Valley during the four- to five-year construction period, with additional spin-off jobs resulting from the activity.</p><p>One component of the contract will be a goal adopted by the rail authority that small businesses &ndash; including companies owned by minorities, women and disabled veterans &ndash; be hired as subcontractors to perform 30 percent of the work.</p><p>The Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons bid pencils out to about $35.2 million per mile from Avenue 17 near the BNSF Railway freight tracks east of Madera to American Avenue at the south end of Fresno. The construction section will include a bridge over the San Joaquin River; elevated tracks over Herndon Avenue; a tunnel under Belmont Avenue, Highway 180 and a freight railroad line; an elevated railway to cross over Highway 99 at the south end of Fresno; and 12 street or road overpasses.</p><p>Not included in the contract is the relocation of a 2.5-mile stretch of Highway 99 between Ashlan and Clinton avenues through west-central Fresno. That&#39;s where the six-lane freeway snuggles up against a Union Pacific Railroad yard, leaving no room to shoehorn the new high-speed tracks into their planned route. The rail authority has agreed to pay Caltrans up to $226 million to handle the chore of moving the freeway 100 feet to the west.</p><p>The Madera-Fresno section is the first of five major construction contracts for the high-speed railroad infrastructure in the San Joaquin Valley. The next three contracts cover pushing the line to the northwestern outskirts of Bakersfield, and the fifth pays for laying steel rails spanning the entire 130-mile Madera-Bakersfield section. Together, the five construction packages were originally estimated to cost about $6 billion &ndash; including more than $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation money from the Obama administration that must be spent by Sept. 30, 2017.</p><p>For months, rail authority CEO Jeff Morales and other officials with the agency expressed hope that a competitive construction climate would bring bids that were lower than engineers&#39; estimates. Last month, Morales suggested that if those hopes materialized, there could be enough money left to extend construction of the Valley section northward to downtown Merced.</p><p>The Merced-Bakersfield line is proposed to be the backbone of a 520-mile, $68 billion passenger rail system linking San Francisco and Los Angeles with electric trains capable of traveling at up to 220 mph. Trains are not expected to carry passengers until 2022 at the earliest, when the authority hopes to operate between Los Angeles and Merced, where passengers would connect on existing Amtrak or other commuter train lines to the Bay Area.</p><p>Obstacles remain in the railroad&#39;s path, however. Two lawsuits are pending against the rail authority in Sacramento County Superior Court. The first, which will be heard by a judge Friday, alleges that the agency violated the California Environmental Quality Act in May 2012 when it approved the Merced-Fresno section. That suit was filed by the Farm Bureau organizations in Madera and Merced counties, the Chowchilla Water District, the grassroots agriculture organization Preserve Our Heritage, and the Fagundes farming family which owns land in Madera and Merced counties.</p><p>The second case, lodged by Kings County, farmer John Tos and Hanford resident Aaron Fukuda, charges that the rail authority&#39;s plans are illegal under Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008. That suit, which hopes to block the sale of bonds, will be heard in Sacramento in late May.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p></div> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail High-speed rail Mon, 15 Apr 2013 17:14:02 +0000 Tim Sheehan 18861 at High-Speed Rail Authority Rail authority says revised report won’t slow construction <p>The California High-Speed Rail Authority says it&rsquo;s still on track to start construction in early 2013 on the first stretch of its proposed line in the Fresno area &ndash; even though it essentially reset a major portion of its approval process.</p><p>A revised draft environmental report issued Monday for the authority&rsquo;s Fresno-to-Bakersfield section will endure two months of public comment and hearings. After that, consultants will prepare responses and write a final version, which is not likely to be certified by the authority&rsquo;s board until at least January.</p><p>Agency spokeswoman Lisa Marie Burcar said the authority anticipates getting bids from would-be contractors in September, and hopes to pick the winning bid and award a contract in late 2012 for its first construction package &ndash; from southern Madera County to American Avenue south of Fresno.</p><p>Burcar said that because the agency approved its Merced-to-Fresno environmental documents in May, construction could begin north of downtown Fresno soon after a contract is awarded. Until the authority certifies the Fresno-Bakersfield stretch, however, the contractor won&rsquo;t be able to do any work south of downtown.</p><p>The first construction package is expected to be worth $1.5 billion to $2 billion. The project includes building 12 street overcrossings or underpasses, two elevated viaducts, a tunnel and a bridge across the San Joaquin River. Laying the tracks will be done later under a separate contract.</p><p>The high-speed line will follow the BNSF Railway freight tracks east of Madera before veering toward the Union Pacific Railroad line and Highway 99 just north of the San Joaquin River. Across the river and through Fresno, the tracks generally will follow the UP tracks through downtown, before curving south to rejoin the BNSF corridor south of the city.</p><p>Monday&rsquo;s revised Fresno-Bakersfield draft environmental impact report represents the agency&rsquo;s second swing at the process.</p><p>The first version was released in August 2011 but recalled two months later for retooling, including a new bypass alternative west of Hanford in Kings County and a more thorough evaluation of the train&rsquo;s effects on agriculture, homes and businesses.</p><p>The authority continues to face pressure to meet a planning and development schedule in the San Joaquin Valley that is ambitious under the best of circumstances.</p><p>When the Obama administration awarded about $3 billion in stimulus and transportation funds to California to begin construction in the Valley, the strings included starting construction by September 2012 and completing the work by September 2017.</p><p>In early 2011, September 2012 became a target not for starting construction, but for awarding contracts. That date now seems certain to pass with no contracts in place.</p><p>The fall of 2017 continues to loom as an unchanging deadline for completing $6 billion in construction on the Valley portion of the line to Bakersfield.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter.&nbsp;This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority Fresno high-speed rail High-speed rail Thu, 19 Jul 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Tim Sheehan 17175 at California High-Speed Rail Authority Ex-bullet train booster calls new plan 'mangled,' perhaps illegal <p>Even as the state Senate voted last week to approve California&rsquo;s $68 billion high-speed rail plan, opponents filed yet another lawsuit to stop the controversial construction project.</p><p>Former California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Quentin Kopp, who led a 20-year fight for the bullet train, said he believes this latest lawsuit poses a real threat.</p><p>The compromise high-speed rail plan crafted by Gov. Jerry Brown and <a href="" target="_blank">approved Friday</a> is a &ldquo;mangled&rdquo; &ndash; and probably illegal &ndash; version of the project state voters enacted in a 2008 initiative, Kopp said in a phone interview.</p><p>&ldquo;They have distorted high-speed rail and twisted it into (providing) money for commuter rail services,&rdquo; he&nbsp; said.</p><p>Kopp is not a party to the suit but said he was familiar with its assertions. His comments are of note because for decades &ndash; first as a San Francisco legislator and then as rail authority chairman &ndash; he was among the California&#39;s leading advocates for high-speed rail.</p><p>&ldquo;I can&rsquo;t say it was unnecessary to get the votes, but it&rsquo;s not high-speed rail,&rdquo; Kopp, who also is a retired judge, said of the compromise plan. &ldquo;It violates (the initiative) in at least four respects and maybe five.&rdquo;</p><p>In a statement, rail authority CEO Jeff Morales said the rail plan enacted last week &ndash; including its expenditures on commuter rail service in the Bay Area and Southern California &ndash; was &quot;fully in compliance&quot; with the bullet train law enacted by voters, called Proposition 1A.</p><p>&quot;This is now a truly statewide vision that is born directly from the funds made available when the voters passed Prop. 1A,&quot; he said of the new rail plan.</p><p>Morales declined to comment on&nbsp;the latest lawsuit, filed in Sacramento County Superior Court by the County of Kings Board of Supervisors. Central Valley farmers fear that rail construction will wreck vast stretches of prime agricultural land.</p><p>The suit accuses the state of illegally spending public funds on the bullet train, arguing that Brown&rsquo;s reconfigured or <a href="" target="_blank">&ldquo;blended&rdquo; plan</a> for the rail system simply cannot produce what voters authorized.</p><p>On four earlier occasions, judges have rebuffed similar lawsuits, saying they were filed prematurely. That might no longer be the case now that the Legislature has voted to issue $4.5 billion in state bonds to begin construction of the first segment, a line between Merced and Fresno.</p><p>Michael Brady, Kings County&rsquo;s lawyer, said he was in the Capitol on Friday to watch the Senate vote. As approval neared, he said he went to the courthouse and filed the lawsuit, which seeks a court order stopping all spending on the project.</p><p>&ldquo;The vote by the Senate doesn&rsquo;t make any difference,&rdquo; he contended. &ldquo;The Legislature cannot approve a project that violates the law passed by the voters.&rdquo;</p><p>The system approved by voters in 2008 is supposed to link San Francisco and Los Angeles with electric trains traveling more than 200 mph, whisking travelers between the two cities in two hours, 40 minutes.</p><p>Passengers aren&rsquo;t supposed to have to change trains, and the state is barred from paying operating subsidies to the rail line. Those and many other provisions are written into state law.</p><p>Earlier this year, after construction costs ballooned to an estimated $98 billion, Brown <a href="" target="_blank">slashed $30 billion</a> from the project&rsquo;s budget. To save money, the project was reconfigured into what is called a &ldquo;blended&rdquo; rail system, in which the bullet train would share tracks with commuter rail systems on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the Los Angeles basin.</p><p>The $8 billion spending package approved by the Legislature includes an anticipated $3.2 billion in federal funding. The measure passed the Assembly easily. But in the Senate, the vote was 21 to 16, with four Democrats refusing to endorse the measure. Republicans were uniformly opposed.</p><p>In an apparent attempt to attract support, the governor&rsquo;s measure included about $2 billion for transit improvements for San Francisco&#39;s Muni system, BART, Caltrain and Los Angeles&rsquo; Metrolink service.</p><p>The governor hailed the vote, saying, &quot;The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again.&rdquo;</p><p>The lawsuit contends that the latest version of the project is so fundamentally different from what voters authorized that it should not be allowed to proceed.</p><p>The bullet train is supposed to be electric-powered, but as the project is now devised, it doesn&rsquo;t provide for electrification, the lawsuit claims.&nbsp;</p><p>State spending isn&rsquo;t supposed to begin until after the project obtains its environmental permits. But the project hasn&rsquo;t gotten its permits and instead faces multiple environmental lawsuits, the complaint says.</p><p>Meanwhile, the shared-tracks plan will require the bullet train to go so slowly that it won&rsquo;t be able to meet its travel time requirement, the suit says, and passengers probably will have to change trains twice between San Francisco and Los Angeles.</p><p>The lawsuit also contends that the project will not meet its promised completion date of the year 2020 and is likely to require &ldquo;hundreds of millions&rdquo; of dollars in subsidies.</p><p>Kopp said he was disappointed that there were no plans to electrify the Central Valley segment.&nbsp;Planners wanted to start construction in the valley because it&rsquo;s a good place &ldquo;to test the trains at 220 miles per hour,&rdquo; Kopp said.</p><p>Without electrification, trains can&rsquo;t attain that speed, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not what I fought for,&rdquo; Kopp said of the project. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s a different system, and therein lies legal problems.&rdquo;</p> Money and Politics Daily Report County of Kings high-speed rail Jerry Brown Quentin Kopp High-speed rail Wed, 11 Jul 2012 07:05:05 +0000 Lance Williams 17007 at Great Valley Center/Flickr Former California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Quentin Kopp  Some senators want dramatic shift in bullet train plan <p>Three months ago, Gov. Jerry Brown hit the reset button on the California bullet train, slashing $30 billion from its $98 billion budget and promising to reorder the controversial project&rsquo;s priorities.</p><p>Now, some Democrats in the state Senate want to hit the reset button again.</p><p>They have proposed dramatically shifting the high-speed rail project&rsquo;s focus by cutting back on planned construction in the Central Valley and<strong> </strong>instead spending billions on immediate rail improvements in Los Angeles and San Francisco.&nbsp;</p><p>It is not clear whether what lawmakers call &ldquo;Plan B&rdquo; &ndash; a proposal devised by state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Transportation and Housing Committee&nbsp; &ndash; has a real chance of being substituted for the governor&rsquo;s proposal. The issue will be settled soon, as the Legislature is expected to vote this week or next on whether to issue $6 billion in bullet train construction bonds.</p><p>The Senate Democrats&rsquo; skepticism about the present high-speed rail plan was first reported by <a href=",0,1518893.story" target="_blank">the Los Angeles Times</a>.&nbsp;</p><p>Boosters say Plan B would spend money now to achieve high-impact upgrades of rail service in the state&rsquo;s busiest transportation corridors while building infrastructure that would accommodate bullet train service later on.</p><p>According to rail advocates who have been briefed on the idea, Plan B&rsquo;s top priorities include:</p><ul><li>A $2 billion tunnel through downtown San Francisco to bring commuter rail service &ndash; and, eventually the bullet train &ndash; into the city&rsquo;s new <a href="" target="_blank">Transbay Transit Center</a> from the Caltrain station more than a mile away.</li><li>$1.5 billion in Los Angeles-area rail improvements, including a <a href="" target="_blank">redesign of Los Angeles Union Station&#39;s rail access</a> and construction of rail overpasses. Together, the projects would speed rail service for hundreds of Amtrak and Metrolink trains each day and end chronic traffic bottlenecks.</li><li>A $1.5 billion Central Valley bullet train line between Fresno and Madera &ndash; but with no immediate connections to Merced or Bakersfield.</li></ul><p>In a statement, Dan Richard, chairman of the state High-Speed Rail Authority, asserted that Plan B couldn&#39;t be done.</p><p>&quot;There are no legal, practical or contractual ways to move the money out of the Central Valley,&quot; he wrote. &quot;The Authority&rsquo;s revised plan already makes major investments to rail across the state.&rdquo;</p><p>Californians for High Speed Rail, an organization that promotes the bullet train project, expressed alarm at the Plan B idea, warning that federal rail authorities might pull back $3.3 billion in promised project aid if the approach is pursued.</p><p>In a statement today, Kevin Thompson, associate administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, said federal funds &quot;must go to the Central Valley segment of the project.&quot;</p><p>California voters approved the bullet train project in 2008. It would link San Francisco and Los Angeles with trains traveling more than 200 miles per hour and provide what advocates call an eco-friendly transportation alternative to air and car travel. Once it is built, the rail line will turn a healthy profit, the state High-Speed Rail Authority has promised.</p><p>Construction of a 100-mile Central Valley segment is supposed to get under way as soon as the Legislature approves the sale of the bonds.</p><p>But some critics say the state has no idea where most of the construction money for the project will come from. Other critics call the Central Valley line a &ldquo;train to nowhere&rdquo; that would provide little benefit to most Californians.</p><p>Still others say the project&rsquo;s revenue forecasts are unrealistically upbeat and mask the reality that the bullet train will need heavy annual subsidies.</p><p>Meanwhile, the project faces lawsuits from opponents who claim construction would wreck residential neighborhoods on the San Francisco Peninsula and prime farmland in the Central Valley.</p><p>After installing a new management team at the state High-Speed Rail Authority and whacking its budget, the governor embraced the project.</p><p>The state Assembly is expected to approve Brown&#39;s plan. But in the Senate a group of Democrats who had become uneasy with the project&rsquo;s costs and priorities began searching for an alternative plan, according to interviews.</p><p>In addition to DeSaulnier, they include Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, long a critic of the project&rsquo;s finances, and Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, who has opposed the project on environmental grounds.</p><p>Also interested in the alternative is state Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. According to a spokesman, Yee supports high-speed rail but thinks it unwise to begin construction in the Central Valley.</p><p>A big advantage of Plan B is that it&rsquo;s &ldquo;shovel ready,&rdquo; said Nadia Naik, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a group that opposes the present project.</p><p>The San Francisco tunnel project already has its environmental permits, according to a spokesman for the transbay center. The Los Angeles Union Station project underwent federal environmental review years ago,&nbsp;said Paul Dyson, president of the Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada.</p><p>By contrast, the bullet train&rsquo;s permits are tied up in litigation.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re having problems getting anything through the environmental process,&rdquo; said Richard Tolmach, president of the California Rail Foundation and a project critic. &ldquo;There are five lawsuits now and more coming.&rdquo;</p> Money and Politics Daily Report bullet train california DeSaulnier high-speed rail Jerry Brown High-speed rail Wed, 27 Jun 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Lance Williams 16794 at Official photo State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord Governor backs away from bullet train fight <p>Gov. Jerry Brown backed away from a fight with environmentalists yesterday, abandoning a plan to exempt the $68 billion California bullet train project from environmental laws.</p><p>Brown had hoped to fast-track construction of the controversial project by sidestepping key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act.</p><p>But the idea had put him at odds with most of the state&rsquo;s green groups.</p><p>The Sierra Club, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Planning and Conservation League were among the organizations that in recent days had strongly criticized Brown&rsquo;s plan.</p><p>The Sierra Club had called Brown&rsquo;s idea &ldquo;dangerous&rdquo; and &ldquo;a political mistake.&rdquo;</p><p>Most of the state&rsquo;s environmental groups backed Brown in his 2010 campaign for governor. Several green groups have been firm supporters of the rail project, which would link San Francisco and Los Angeles with trains traveling more than 200 miles per hour.</p><p>Environmentalists said they were informed that Brown was abandoning the plan by Ken Alex, director of the governor&#39;s Office of Planning and Research.</p><p>Brown&rsquo;s press office referred questions to the state High-Speed Rail Authority, which declined to comment.</p><p>Brown&rsquo;s decision removed potential roadblocks to environmental lawsuits aimed at stopping the bullet train.</p><p>But the move also might shore up legislative support for the project. For construction to begin, lawmakers soon must approve the sale of billions of dollars in state rail construction bonds.</p><p>Kathryn Phillips, executive director of Sierra Club California, said her organization wants the bullet train built. But first, she said it needs an extensive review under environmental laws.</p><p>Brown&rsquo;s decision was &ldquo;very good news,&rdquo; Phillips said. But she said she worries that lawmakers will make further attempts to carve out exemptions from environmental review for projects that need close scrutiny.</p><p>&ldquo;I frankly would like the governor and the Legislature to spend less time trying to dismantle environmental review and more time working with us to solve the most critical environmental problems in the state,&rdquo; she said.</p><p>Bruce Reznik, executive director of the Planning and Conservation League, said his group hadn&#39;t yet decided whether it would now support the bullet train.</p><p>The governor&rsquo;s office floated the exemption idea earlier this month. According to environmentalists, the governor&rsquo;s aides had portrayed the idea as limited and technical in nature: They mainly wanted to block judges in environmental lawsuits from issuing stop work orders on the bullet train project. Delays of that sort might cost California billions in federal aid, the administration says.</p><p>The environmental groups support high-speed rail as an eco-friendly transportation alternative to more freeways and airports, while the construction industry and labor unions say the project will create thousands of jobs.</p><p>But opponents on the San Francisco Peninsula and in the Central Valley have sued to stop the project, claiming construction would wreck residential neighborhoods and prime farmland.</p><p>So far, four lawsuits have been filed under terms of the Environmental Quality Act, a 40-year-old-law that requires developers to write comprehensive reports describing the pluses and minuses of big construction projects. These environmental impact reports also must propose strategies for blunting projects&rsquo; effects on air and water pollution and urban sprawl.</p><p>If critics believe that a report doesn&#39;t accurately describe a project or address its problems, they can sue, and the legal process can be prolonged.</p><p>When developers lose &ndash; as the rail authority already has, twice, in Bay Area lawsuits &ndash; they may be required to redo their reports, which takes still more time. The law gives judges the power to issue stop work orders to force legal compliance.</p><p>Development interests long have complained about the process. In recent years, the state Legislature has <a href="">granted exemptions </a>for prison and highway projects, as well as for a proposed professional football stadium in Los Angeles.</p><p>But no exemption so far has been as expansive as what Brown&rsquo;s office had envisioned for the bullet train, said Oakland lawyer Stuart Flashman, who represents Peninsula-based opponents of the bullet train in two lawsuits.</p><p>Its purpose was &ldquo;to wipe out all the environmental challenges,&rdquo; he said in an interview before Brown dropped the idea.</p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority Environment Gov. Jerry Brown high-speed rail Los Angeles San Francisco transportation High-speed rail Thu, 21 Jun 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Lance Williams 16723 at High-Speed Rail Authority Judge's first ruling leaves door open for Kings County rail suit <p>A Sacramento County Superior Court judge&#39;s tentative ruling appears to lean against a legal challenge of California&#39;s high-speed rail plans, but also gives Kings County and two of its residents a chance to fix deficiencies in their lawsuit against the state.</p><p>&quot;I guess you could say the court split the baby,&quot; said Michael Brady, a Redwood City attorney representing Hanford farmer John Tos, homeowner Aaron Fukuda and the county. &quot;The worst news would be if the court (ruled against us) without leave to amend our complaint.&quot;</p><p>The tentative ruling doesn&#39;t take effect until after both sides present oral arguments in a hearing June 22 in Sacramento.</p><p>Tos, Fukuda and the county are suing the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Gov. Jerry Brown and other state officials in hopes of derailing the start of construction of the statewide high-speed train system in the central San Joaquin Valley. Unlike other lawsuits over the $68.4 billion project &ndash; which focus on whether there has been sufficient analysis of the system&#39;s environmental effects on cities, homes, businesses, farms and wildlife habitat &ndash; this case attacks the legality of the project under Proposition 1A, the $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond approved by voters in 2008.</p><p>The suit, filed last November, contends that the high-speed rail plan is ineligible to receive money from Prop. 1A because it fails to live up to the law&#39;s requirements.</p><p>Among the complaints: that the system cannot meet Prop. 1A&#39;s mandate for a two-hour, 40-minute nonstop ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles; the lack of electrification on the proposed first section to be built between Madera and Bakersfield; the lack of money to complete a $20 billion, 300-mile operating segment from Merced to the San Fernando Valley; incomplete environmental certification for work between Fresno and Bakersfield; a plan for completion of a statewide system in 2028 that fails to meet the requirement for &quot;no later than 2020&quot;; and that Prop. 1A forbids subsidizing train operations, but the plaintiffs don&#39;t believe the system can pay for itself without taxpayer support.</p><p>In her tentative ruling, Superior Court Judge Shelleyanne W.L. Chang ruled that Tos, Fukuda and Kings County do have legal standing to sue over the project, against the objections of the state attorney general&#39;s office. But she also agreed with arguments put forth by the attorney general that the suit fails to show that the rail authority either has or will receive the permission it needs to spend Prop. 1A funds for construction in the Valley.</p><p>Chang also agreed with the attorney general that the individual defendants &ndash; Brown, state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, Finance Director Ana Matosantos, acting Transportation Secretary Traci Stevens, Controller John Chiang and state Sen. Mark Leno &ndash; cannot be sued for exercising their discretion in their duties, and also lack the authority to spend money for high-speed rail construction.</p><p>But Chang declared that Brady will have a chance to address the deficiencies by filing an amended version of the lawsuit by June 29.</p><p>&quot;Since we filed the complaint in November of last year, a lot of things have happened, and I think we&#39;ll be able to make an even stronger case,&quot; Brady said yesterday. &quot;I think we&#39;ll be able to show that state funds are about to be imminently spent.&quot;</p><p>Legislators in Sacramento continue to wrangle over the state&#39;s 2012-13 budget. Brown and the High-Speed Rail Authority have asked for about $2.7 billion in Prop. 1A money to start construction in the Fresno area later this year or in early 2013. That money would be used in combination with about $3.3 billion in federal transportation and stimulus money that the Obama administration has committed to starting work on the train system.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 5590441-6319, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail Kings County lawsuits High-speed rail Fri, 15 Jun 2012 14:58:04 +0000 Tim Sheehan 16645 at California High-Speed Rail Authority 'No document exists' on bullet train's speed, lawsuit claims <p>California&rsquo;s $68 billion bullet train is supposed to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than two hours and 40 minutes.</p><p>That speed &ndash; an average of more than 140 mph, including stops &ndash; is a legal requirement, written into the state voter initiative that gave the project the go-ahead in 2008.</p><p>Boosters continued to promise that the train would attain those speeds even after Gov. Jerry Brown <a href="" target="_blank">cut $30 billion</a> from the project&rsquo;s budget earlier this year, forcing a reconfiguration that seemed likely to slow down the train.</p><p>But according to a lawsuit filed by project opponents, the state High-Speed Rail Authority has not done any studies or written reports to verify that the trains actually will go fast enough to follow the law.&nbsp;The suit, filed by the County of Kings Board of Supervisors, quotes a May 31 email from a project official as saying that &ldquo;no document exists&rdquo; to verify that the train can meet its travel time deadline.</p><p>Instead, the rail authority&rsquo;s promises are backed up by &ldquo;verbal assertions based on (the) skill, experience and optimism&rdquo; of project engineers, the rail official wrote in response to a request for public information.</p><p>That statement &ldquo;casts great doubt on the credibility&rdquo; of the claims the authority is making about the bullet train, Kings County says in the lawsuit, which seeks a court order to cut off state funding for the project. The county claims constructing the rail line will wreck thousands of acres of prime Central Valley farmland.</p><p>In a statement, rail authority Chairman Dan Richard said the reconfigured or &ldquo;blended&rdquo; project will comply with the law.</p><p>&ldquo;The law requires that the system be designed to achieve speeds of 200 miles per hour and a travel time of two hours and 40 minutes,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We embraced the blended approach based on our experts&rsquo; determination that the blended system can achieve these goals.&rdquo;</p><p>The state attorney general&rsquo;s office has asked a Sacramento judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that opponents have presented no evidence that the rail authority is making illegal expenditures on the project. A hearing on the issue is set for Friday.</p><p>Last year, judges tossed two similar lawsuits that sought to have the project stopped on the grounds of illegal or wasteful spending.</p><p>In an interview, Michael Brady, lawyer for Kings County, contended that the rail authority has little hope of meeting its travel time requirement.</p><p>In April, when the governor slashed the project&rsquo;s $98 billion construction budget, the rail authority unveiled the blended rail network plan in which high-speed trains would share tracks with Caltrain on the San Francisco Peninsula and Amtrak and Metrolink in the Los Angeles basin.</p><p>Some rail experts, including advocates of the California project, questioned how bullet train speeds could be maintained.</p><p>&ldquo;All over the state &hellip; they&rsquo;re going to use commuter trains, Caltrain, light rail in Stockton,&rdquo; Brady said. &ldquo;You&rsquo;re not going to be able to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in six hours.&rdquo;</p><p>That would violate state law. But if the train is too slow, the project is doomed anyway, many experts say, because most passengers will buy a plane ticket instead.</p><p>In discussing the revised plan, Richard has been emphatic that the train will achieve the speeds the law requires.&nbsp;In a <a href="c" target="_blank">presentation</a>&nbsp;in April in Fresno, he said:&nbsp;&ldquo;The reason we are confident the blended-approach system, which costs $30 billion less, can work is that our engineers have told us it will achieve the performance standards the voters insisted on in the ballot measure.</p><p>&ldquo;And so that means trains that can go from Los Angeles Union Station to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco in two hours, 40 minutes. &hellip;</p><p>&ldquo;This plan will achieve those standards.&rdquo;</p><p>After that, Kathy Hamilton of the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, a San Francisco Peninsula group that opposes the project, said she filed a Public Records Act request for the data underlying Richard&rsquo;s claim.</p><p>There wasn&rsquo;t any, she was told.</p><p>In an email, rail official Kyle Wunderli wrote:&nbsp;&ldquo;I have an answer on your request for some documented proof of the assertions the engineers made to Dan Richard. The answer is that no document exists. These were verbal assertions based on skill, experience, and optimism and so Dan Richard went with the expertise of the engineers offering these assertions.&rdquo;</p><p>Train speeds are among the most important aspects of the project, Kings County lawyer Brady said. It &ldquo;makes them look ridiculous&rdquo; to base their claims about train speeds on the engineers&rsquo; optimism, he said.</p><p>Brady said he suspected that there is no written material on the topic because it&rsquo;s simply not possible for the reconfigured train to go fast enough to comply with the law.It would be illegal for the state to spend money on the project if that&rsquo;s the case, he contends.</p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority Community Coalition on High Speed Rail high-speed rail Kings County High-speed rail Wed, 13 Jun 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Lance Williams 16573 at Simon Pielow/Flickr Experts say rail plan improved, but still flawed <p>An independent panel of transportation and finance experts says the latest business plan for California&rsquo;s proposed high-speed train system is a big improvement from last fall, but still gives cause for concern.</p><p>Uncertainty over money to finish the 520-mile system between San Francisco and Los Angeles after initial construction and lingering doubts over what it will cost to operate the train line are among warnings to legislators by the High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group.</p><p>If the project falters after building a $6 billion section from Madera to Bakersfield &ndash; where construction could start this year or early next year &ndash; California would have a partial system of limited use, wrote Will Kempton, the panel&rsquo;s chairman and CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority.</p><p>&ldquo;It would be a poor use of resources and an embarrassment,&rdquo; he added, &ldquo;but not a financial disaster.&rdquo;</p><p>The panel&rsquo;s sharpest criticism was aimed at the authority&rsquo;s ability to oversee such a big project.</p><p>&ldquo;We continue to believe that management resources are inadequate to supervise the enormous contracting effort,&rdquo; said Kempton, who is also a former state director of the California Department of Transportation, &ldquo;and that attempts to launch a massive construction program in response to federal completion deadlines will only make the problem worse.</p><p>&ldquo;We believe the project should not proceed until a plan for resolving this challenge is prepared&rdquo; and accepted by the rail authority and Gov. Jerry Brown.</p><p>The review group was established by Proposition 1A, a $9 billion high-speed rail bond measure approved by voters in 2008. It is to evaluate the California High-Speed Rail Authority&rsquo;s business and financing plans and offer recommendations to the Legislature.</p><p>The authority&rsquo;s board chairman, Dan Richard, said Thursday that the agency takes the review panel&rsquo;s recommendations seriously and is working to address the management concerns.</p><p>Last week, the authority&rsquo;s board voted to offer its vacant CEO position to Jeffrey Morales, a former Caltrans director who now works as an executive with the authority&rsquo;s biggest contracting consultant.</p><p>In a response letter to legislative leaders, Richard said the authority has hired 23 new staff members over the past 11 months.</p><p>The agency also expects to fill its vacant chief finance officer and chief risk officer posts this month.</p><div>Richard added that Morales, whose contract is expected to be formally approved by the authority board this week, will fill other senior positions &ldquo;as quickly as possible.&rdquo;<p>The April version of the business plan calls for building a &ldquo;blended&rdquo; train system that includes dedicated high-speed tracks through the San Joaquin Valley while sharing tracks with existing but upgraded commuter train lines in the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin. It estimates the cost of construction over the next 16 years at $68.4 billion &ndash; about $30 billion less than building high-speed-only tracks for the entire length of the system, as proposed in a November draft of the business plan.</p><p>The plan calls for construction to begin late this year or early next year on a 120-mile stretch between Madera and Bakersfield using $2.7 billion in Prop. 1A money and $3.3 billion in federal transportation and stimulus funds pledged by the Obama administration. That would become part of an initial operating system of electric trains that could carry passengers between Merced and the Los Angeles Basin by 2022.</p><p>The plan includes an expectation that the federal government would provide most of the money needed to extend construction north past Madera and south from Bakersfield over the next decade. As a backstop, however, rail officials and the Brown administration said California&rsquo;s new carbon cap-and-trade program &ndash; which will sell pollution credits to industries in the state through auctions &ndash; can plug any funding gap.</p><p>The Kempton panel said the changes between November and April made the plan better &ldquo;in a number of significant ways.&rdquo; By making earlier investments in the Bay Area and Southern California, the review group said &ldquo;services currently carrying the most passengers will be improved at the outset.&rdquo;</p><p>The group remains skeptical, however, over the plan&rsquo;s long-range reliance on the federal government. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives has pledged to block any future money for high-speed rail, and winning any long-term federal commitment &ldquo;will clearly be a challenge in today&rsquo;s constrained economic climate,&rdquo; Kempton wrote.</p><p>The panel is also wary about whether the new cap-and-trade program can generate enough money to plug the funding gap if the federal government fails to come through.</p><p>The review group said completion of the Madera-to-Bakersfield stretch could be used to increase the speed of Amtrak&rsquo;s existing San Joaquin passenger trains through the Valley. It would &ldquo;provide valuable design and construction experience &hellip; that would form the basis for future cost estimates&rdquo; on later portions of the system.</p><p>But an abridged system that falls short of reaching either the Bay Area or Los Angeles would leave California on the hook for repaying $2.7 billion in Prop. 1A bonds &ldquo;on a segment that &hellip; could clearly carry fewer passengers than originally planned.&rdquo;</p><p>The panel also warned that &ldquo;work could become so snarled in litigation or cost overruns that it would never be completed.&rdquo; The rail authority already faces a lawsuit over its proposed route through Kings County. On Friday, the Madera and Merced county farm bureaus joined other opponents in filing a lawsuit against the agency in Sacramento over its recent environmental certification of the Merced-to-Fresno section.</p><p>Richard didn&rsquo;t address the review group&rsquo;s funding concerns in his response, but acknowledged that the rail authority &ldquo;is committed to working constructively with (the peer review group) and others to continue to refine and improve our work.&rdquo;</p><p>It remains to be seen how state legislators will respond to the review group&rsquo;s report and Richard&rsquo;s response. Assembly members and senators continue to wrangle over the state&rsquo;s 2012-13 budget, in which Brown has requested the $2.7 billion California must put up to receive the $3.3 billion from the federal government for initial construction in the Valley.</p><p>Staffers for several Valley legislators, including Assemblymen David Valadao, R-Hanford, and Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, said Thursday that their bosses were unaware of the peer group&rsquo;s report before The Bee sought their comments.</p><p>Republicans in both the Assembly and Senate have typically opposed the high-speed rail plan. And key Democrats, including Sens. Alan Lowenthal of Long Beach, who leads the Senate&rsquo;s select committee on high-speed rail, and Joe Simitian of Palo Alto, a member of the budget and transportation committees, have repeatedly expressed frustration with the authority&rsquo;s leadership, concern over the program&rsquo;s cost, and skepticism over the agency&rsquo;s ridership and revenue estimates.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p></div> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail High-speed rail Mon, 04 Jun 2012 13:38:22 +0000 Tim Sheehan 16465 at California High-Speed Rail Authority High-speed rail authority offers top job to former Caltrans exec <p>Jeffrey P. Morales, a former executive director of Caltrans, is the California High-Speed Rail Authority&#39;s choice to become the agency&#39;s new CEO and executive director.</p><p>The rail authority&#39;s board voted yesterday to offer the job to Morales, 52, who now works for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the international consulting company that is serving as the authority&#39;s project management firm on the statewide rail program.</p><p>&quot;I think we&#39;ve made a great choice here, folks,&quot; board Chairman Dan Richard said after the vote in Sacramento. &quot;I think it&#39;s the right person to move us to the next level.&quot;</p><p>If the contract details can be worked out, Morales will take the agency&#39;s helm from Thomas Fellenz, the authority&#39;s chief counsel. Fellenz has been filling in on an interim basis since Roelof van Ark left in March.</p><p>Morales led the California Department of Transportation from 2000 to 2004. After stepping down from the state job, Morales was hired by Parsons Brinckerhoff as a senior vice president.</p><p>The authority&#39;s vice chairwoman, former Congresswoman Lynn Schenk of San Diego, was instrumental in Morales&#39; hiring at Caltrans when she was then-Gov. Gray Davis&#39; chief of staff.</p><p>The choice comes at a critical time for the rail agency, which faces growing skepticism among the public &ndash; and concerns in the Legislature &ndash; over its ability to build the proposed 520-mile, 220-mph passenger train system to link San Francisco and Los Angeles.</p><p>Legislators in Sacramento are debating whether to allocate $2.7 billion from Proposition 1A, a high-speed rail bond approved by voters in 2008, for the 2012-13 budget year to begin construction in the San Joaquin Valley. The state money is required to match more than $3 billion in federal transportation and stimulus funds committed by the Obama administration for the project.</p><p>Among the concerns: a price tag that has wobbled from about $45 billion in 2009 to more than $98 billion last fall, and back down to about $68 billion this year; and uncertainty over where the money would come from to finish construction once the first $6 billion stretch is built between Madera and Bakersfield.</p><p>In choosing Morales, the authority&#39;s board opted to stick with someone it knows well. Morales, who lives in Sacramento, was chosen last summer to head up efforts by Parsons Brinckerhoff to develop a new business and funding plan for the rail authority.</p><p>Parsons Brinckerhoff holds the single biggest contract with the authority: seven years and $199 million.</p><p>As the project management company, Parsons Brinckerhoff oversees regional engineering and environmental contractors, each of which is being paid tens of millions of dollars. Yet another consultant, San Francisco-based T.Y. Lin International, has an $8 million contract to monitor the work of Parsons Brinckerhoff.</p><p>Before joining Caltrans, Morales was the executive vice president of the Chicago Transit Authority.</p><p>Over the past two weeks, the board has held at least two closed-session meetings at which it interviewed candidates. Richard said a search firm hired by the authority &quot;cast a wide net&quot; and provided a list of candidates from across the country.</p><p>Authority board members Tom Richards of Fresno and Michael Rossi will negotiate with Morales and are expected to present a contract for formal approval by the board within weeks. Richard said he expects the contract to include not only compensation and a starting date, but also establish performance goals for the job. The new CEO will be in charge of leading the agency through the selection of contractors for the start of construction in the central San Joaquin Valley, as well as pursuing additional money for the statewide project.</p><p>Richard added that Morales will also be responsible for quickly filling a raft of vacancies among other top jobs at the authority and rebuilding the troubled agency&#39;s communication and outreach efforts.</p><p>According to a consulting report to the authority&#39;s board, the agency&#39;s maximum base CEO salary of $31,250 a month &ndash; or $375,000 per year &ndash; is about 24 percent higher than the average of salaries paid by other major transportation agencies such as Caltrain, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Orange County Transportation Agency, the San Diego Association of Governments and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System. Of agencies that responded to the consultant&#39;s survey, only the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency offers a higher maximum salary than the rail authority, at $34,608 per month.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report High-speed rail Wed, 30 May 2012 07:20:03 +0000 Tim Sheehan 16391 at California High-Speed Rail Authority Rail authority policy to purge e-mails draws critics' ire <p>A congressional committee is investigating California&rsquo;s $68 billion bullet train project. The U.S. Government Accountability Office is investigating, too.</p><p>Meanwhile, this proposal for the largest public works project in California history is the target of a <a href="" target="_blank">flurry of lawsuits</a> filed by local governments and opposition groups.</p><p>All those investigators, lawyers and bullet train critics want to pore over the California High-Speed Rail Authority&rsquo;s trove of documents, looking for evidence.</p><p>So it&rsquo;s an unusual time to purge five years&rsquo; worth of bullet train project e-mails, critics say.&nbsp;Nevertheless, that&rsquo;s what the agency is contemplating.</p><p>In February, the rail authority filed papers with the state saying it intended to enact a new policy to destroy its e-mails after 90 days.</p><p>Then, on May 1, in response to a request for information from a project critic, the rail authority said it could not produce e-mails that were older than 90 days, citing the new policy.</p><p>The rail authority&rsquo;s lawyer downplayed the issue&rsquo;s significance, but it has caused concern among high-speed rail critics, who say they fear the authority is jettisoning important information about how the expensive project is being shaped.</p><p>The new e-mail policy is &ldquo;highly suspect,&rdquo; said Kathy Hamilton of the <a href="" target="_blank">Community Coalition on High Speed Rail</a>, a San Francisco Peninsula group that opposes the bullet train. The project would link San Francisco and Los Angeles with trains traveling up to 220 mph.</p><p>It was in a letter to Hamilton that the rail authority first revealed its new e-mail policy.</p><p>In a phone interview, Hamilton said she didn&rsquo;t believe the rail authority had already discarded the e-mails she sought &ndash; exchanges between the staff and a panel of rail experts called the peer review group. In the past, the group has criticized the bullet train plan&rsquo;s financial projections.</p><p>&ldquo;If they are being investigated and they have been dumping e-mails, they would be in all kinds of trouble,&rdquo; Hamilton said of the rail authority. She said she had forwarded the letter about the e-mail policy to the staff of U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, a Republican from Vista and chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.</p><p>Issa&rsquo;s committee is investigating alleged misspending of federal funds on the bullet train project. In a letter last month, the <a href="" target="_blank">lawmaker warned</a> the rail authority to preserve two years&#39; worth of documents, including e-mails, so his investigators could review them.</p><p>In a phone interview, Thomas Fellenz, chief counsel and acting chief executive officer for the rail authority, said the e-mails sought by Issa have not been discarded.</p><p>Fellenz said all state agencies are supposed to have a policy on retaining documents, including e-mails. But the rail authority had never enacted a policy regarding e-mail, he said. Most state agencies delete e-mails after 90 days, he said. The rail authority&rsquo;s staff will cull the e-mail, saving documents that &ldquo;we think, for business or legal reasons, we need to retain&rdquo; and dumping the rest, he said. There&rsquo;s a five-year backlog. But nothing will be discarded until after Issa&rsquo;s probe is complete, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;We will be completely responsive to the committee,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;We stayed our implementation (of deleting e-mails) &ndash; we have this investigation ongoing.&rdquo;</p><p>Fellenz acknowledged that the rail authority does indeed have the e-mails Hamilton had sought in her request, which she made under terms of the state Public Records Act. The authority has sent her another letter saying it would give her the e-mails she requested, he said.</p><p>State law sets guidelines on how many years specific types of records must be retained by public agencies. E-mails that aren&rsquo;t considered &ldquo;substantive&rdquo; can be deleted upon receipt, said Peter Scheer, executive director of the nonprofit <a href="" target="_blank">First Amendment Coalition</a> advocacy group. Mistakes can occur, depending on whether the person making the decision knows the rules, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;When you have ordinary staff deleting or destroying e-mail based on their own understanding of the law, you are&nbsp;inevitably going to be destroying lots of public records,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>David Schonbrunn, a plaintiff in an environmentalist lawsuit that challenged the high-speed rail project&rsquo;s proposed route over the Pacheco Pass in Santa Clara County, said he suspects the rail authority routinely destroys e-mails that would provide useful insights into its decisionmaking.</p><p>Schonbrunn said part of the lawsuit turned on whether the rail authority had altered a computerized &ldquo;travel mode demand model&rdquo; that had been used to plot the best route to link the Bay Area with the Central Valley. The plaintiffs believed the model had been tweaked to make the Pacheco Pass route seem more attractive than an alternative route over the Altamont Pass, he said. During pretrial investigation, the plaintiffs found evidence that the model had indeed been changed, said Schonbrunn, a paralegal who worked on the case.</p><p>&ldquo;But because the e-mail was destroyed, we were unable to get somebody giving the instructions for that to be done,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>&ldquo;An awful lot of business is transacted using e-mails, and when those are deleted, you&rsquo;re losing the entire history.&rdquo;</p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority e-mails high-speed rail records destruction High-speed rail Mon, 21 May 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Lance Williams 16238 at Dusan Jankovic/Shutterstock Businessman offers $1B bullet train investment <p>One frequent criticism of the California High-Speed Rail Authority is the lack of private-investment interest so far in its proposed high-speed train plans for the state.</p><p>Now, a businessman touting a possible Madera site for a train-maintenance station is dangling such an investment to the agency.</p><p>&ldquo;We are convinced of the viability of California,&rdquo; said Ed McIntyre, a partner in the the proposed Gordon-Shaw heavy-maintenance facility site. McIntyre told the authority&rsquo;s board today in Fresno that he and his partners are prepared to commit up to $1 billion in private-sector investment through development of their site.</p><p>McIntyre said that in addition to an estimated $668 million to build the heavy-maintenance facility &ndash; a station planned to be located somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley to service trains for the statewide train system &ndash; his group is also willing to build a maintenance-of-way facility, where crews would be based to maintain the tracks and right-of-way. Together, the two facilities would add up to a commitment of about $1 billion.</p><p>&ldquo;To those who want further study or planning ... I think we&rsquo;ve planned enough,&rdquo; McIntyre told the board. &ldquo;I encourage you to move forward&rdquo; with approving the environmental impact report for the Merced-Fresno section of the system.</p><p>So far, the rail authority has not decided where it would prefer to have the heavy maintenance station, considered something of an economic golden goose by economic development officials up and down the valley because of the prospective permanent jobs it could provide. By some estimates, such a station would employ 1,500 or more workers and serve as a magnet for related industries.</p><p>Officials in Merced, Madera, Fresno and Kern counties have been actively courting the rail authority to attract the maintenance station.</p><p>McIntyre&rsquo;s announcement certainly caught the rail board&rsquo;s attention. &ldquo;Could you repeat that number?&rdquo; vice chairwoman Lynn Schenk of San Diego asked McIntyre.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or 559-441-6319. Follow him on Twitter: @tsheehan. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p><p><em><strong>Correction:</strong> An earlier version of this story misidentified the location of the proposed maintenance station. While the partners in the proposed Gordon-Shaw heavy-maintenance facility are from Chowchilla, their plan is to build on land in Madera if they win approval for the yard. Ed McIntyre, who made today&#39;s pitch, is from Madera.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report high-speed rail High-speed rail Thu, 03 May 2012 17:52:48 +0000 Tim Sheehan 16046 at Kativ/ Expert warnings on rail costs flawed by 'wrong numbers,' official says <p>A report that warned of huge operating deficits for California&rsquo;s bullet train was based on &ldquo;the wrong numbers,&rdquo; an official of the state High-Speed Rail Authority claims.</p><p>Rail board member Mike Rossi told a legislative hearing this week that incorrect data undergirds a downbeat analysis of the bullet train&rsquo;s finances published recently by four Peninsula-based financial experts.</p><p>Their report, which predicts that if built, the bullet train will need multimillion-dollar subsidies &ldquo;forever,&rdquo; was the subject of <a href="" target="_blank">a story earlier this week</a> by California Watch.</p><p>Rossi, a former Bank of America executive and an adviser to Gov. Jerry Brown, contended that the experts&rsquo; analysis was flawed because it had relied on incorrect data published by a foundation associated with the <a href="" target="_blank">Spanish banking group BBVA.</a></p><p>The errors concerned operating costs for European bullet trains<strong>, </strong>Rossi contended.</p><p>&ldquo;The problem is, they picked up the wrong numbers,&rdquo; Rossi told members of the Assembly Transportation Committee.</p><p>&ldquo;The numbers they are showing for operating expenses are actually capital acquisition costs, so the data ... just isn&rsquo;t right.&rdquo;</p><p>Of the Peninsula experts, Rossi said, &ldquo;It wasn&rsquo;t their fault; it was the compilation of the Spanish authors.&rdquo;</p><p>The Peninsula experts said they had never heard criticism of the BBVA data before and were trying to sort it out. The rail authority itself has cited the BBVA report in its own discussion of operating costs, they noted.</p><p>&ldquo;We took the BBVA data because it was footnoted in (the bullet train&rsquo;s) business plan,&rdquo; said William Warren, a retired Silicon Valley business executive and one of the report&rsquo;s authors.</p><p>Of Rossi, Warren said, &ldquo;If his business plan data is wrong, he needs to fix that and we need to rerun our numbers when we get that data.&rdquo;</p><p>William Grindley, a former World Bank executive and a co-author of the critical report, said he was trying to contact the European rail expert who edited the BBVA study to see whether he agrees that he had published incorrect data.</p><p>The BBVA study is called &ldquo;<a href="" target="_blank">Economic Analysis of High Speed Rail in Europe</a>.&rdquo;</p><p>By Rossi&rsquo;s account, it contains operating cost data obtained from the Union Internationale des Chemins de fer, a European rail lobby. That organization, known as the UIC, has acknowledged that the BBVA study had misreported the data, Rossi said.</p><p>&ldquo;The UIC has said it is a mistake,&rdquo; Rossi told the lawmakers. &ldquo;The BBVA said they would correct it.&rdquo;</p><p>The issue is important because state law requires the bullet train to break even financially.</p><p>Boosters assert that once the $68 billion system is built, it will turn hefty profits.</p><p>But in their analysis, the financial experts said that the plan will pencil out only if the California bullet train operates far more efficiently than any high-speed rail system in the world.</p><p>They calculated that on average, high-speed rail systems cost about 43 cents per passenger mile to operate. That is, it costs 43 cents to carry one passenger one mile. The California project is projecting costs of only 10 cents per passenger mile, the experts wrote.</p><p>Unless these extraordinary economies are actually achieved, the train will require alarmingly high annual operating subsidies &ndash; more than $2 billion per year, the experts wrote.</p><p>Their reports are distributed by the <a href="" target="_blank">Community Coalition on High Speed Rail</a>, a Peninsula environmentalist group that opposes the bullet train plan.</p><p>In his testimony, Rossi criticized the experts for attempting to measure costs on the basis of passenger miles, saying that in the transportation industry it is customary to calculate expenses per seat mile, irrespective of whether the trains are running empty or full.</p><p>Comparisons are difficult anyway, Rossi said, because European railroads typically are separate businesses from the owners of the rail lines. This creates a system of internal costs and charges that won&rsquo;t be an issue in California, he said.</p><p>Brian Weatherford, a fiscal analyst in the state Legislative Analyst&#39;s Office, agreed that the question is complicated. But he said that the Legislature needs to get a handle on the issue of operating costs for the bullet train. The experts&rsquo; report was &ldquo;useful in raising questions and concerns,&rdquo; he said.</p> Money and Politics Daily Report high-speed rail Jerry Brown Mike Rossi High-speed rail Thu, 03 May 2012 07:05:02 +0000 Lance Williams 16015 at California High-Speed Rail Authority Bullet train's low operating costs are 'elephant in room,' experts say <p>By hitting the reset button, Gov. Jerry Brown bought some time for the embattled California high-speed rail plan.</p><p>In recent months, the CEO of the controversial project <a href="" target="_blank">resigned</a>. Brown installed Dan Richard, an official with political and transportation industry connections, as new board chairman.</p><p>More importantly, the California High-Speed Rail Authority dramatically revamped its business plan, slashing as much as <a href="" target="_blank">$30 billion</a> from the price tag for building the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system &ndash; from $98 billion to as little as $68 billion.</p><p>But none of those changes addressed what a panel of outside financial experts has styled &ldquo;the elephant in the room&rdquo; for California&rsquo;s proposed high-speed rail system &ndash; its extraordinarily low projected operating costs.</p><p>If the bullet train project is to pencil out, it must operate far more economically than any high-speed rail system in the world, according to the experts, who include former World Bank executive William Grindley.</p><p>Unless these extraordinary economies actually are achieved, the train will require alarmingly high annual operating subsidies &ldquo;forever,&rdquo; as the experts wrote in a <a href="" target="_blank">report</a> last month. The annual operating deficit could top $2 billion, they wrote.</p><p>The rail authority disputes the experts&rsquo; conclusions.&nbsp;The issue is of crucial importance, because by law, the state is forbidden from subsidizing the bullet train.</p><p>&ldquo;We showed that their (projected) operating costs and revenue costs per mile were significantly lower than what anybody anywhere in the world had ever been able to achieve,&rdquo; said Alan Bushell, a retired technology executive and co-author of the study. Other authors are retired Stanford University economics professor Alain Enthoven and Silicon Valley financial expert William Warren.</p><p>The rail authority&rsquo;s business plans indicate that the bullet train would cost about 10 cents per passenger mile to operate, Bushell said in a recent interview.</p><p>That means it would cost 10 cents to carry one passenger one mile on the rail system. But international high-speed rail systems cost on average about 43 cents per passenger mile, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;They have to have worked some incredible operating efficiencies to justify those kinds of costs,&rdquo; Bushell said of California&rsquo;s rail planners. &ldquo;I doubt they have.&rdquo;</p><p>The financial experts&rsquo; study reviewed operating cost data for international bullet trains, including reports compiled by the Spanish banking group BBVA.</p><p>The experts found the world&rsquo;s lowest operating costs were in Italy &ndash; about 34 cents per passenger mile. Highest costs were in Germany and Japan &ndash; 50 cents per passenger mile.&nbsp;In the U.S., Amtrak&rsquo;s Acela Express, a high-speed line linking Washington, D.C., and Boston, costs about 44 cents.</p><p>The rail authority &ldquo;insists loudly that the High Speed Rail service will be run at a profit from an operating point of view,&rdquo; the experts wrote. &ldquo;&hellip; They reach this conclusion because they dramatically understate operating costs, which our analysis shows will be much higher.&rdquo;</p><p>The rail authority contends that its operating cost projections are sound, derived from a sophisticated computer model. The system will turn a profit and won&rsquo;t require operating subsidies, rail officials insist.</p><p>In a statement, rail board member Mike Rossi said the bullet train&rsquo;s planners used conservative assumptions to verify that the rail line will operate profitably.</p><p>Regarding the outside experts&rsquo; critique, Rossi said, &ldquo;We have met with the authors of the report in an attempt to correct their flawed assumptions and conclusions.&rdquo;</p><p>That&rsquo;s not precisely true, countered Grindley.</p><p>He said he and his co-authors have repeatedly asked the rail authority for the data that underlies their calculation of the bullet train&rsquo;s projected operating costs. The rail authority hasn&rsquo;t made the information public, he said.</p><p>&ldquo;Our deduction is that their cost calculation must be either eliminating items that are included in the operating and maintenance costs (of the foreign rail lines) or they have downgraded the costs,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;Or both.&rdquo;</p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail Jerry Brown High-speed rail Mon, 30 Apr 2012 07:05:04 +0000 Lance Williams 15973 at Simon Pielow/Flickr Final bullet train report out for Merced-Fresno <p>A 32-chapter report intended to be the final word on the effects of high-speed trains between Merced and Fresno was released last week by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.</p><p>It is unlikely, though, to change the minds of farmers and others who are worried about how high-speed rail may alter their farms, businesses, homes or communities.</p><p>&ldquo;They&rsquo;re looking at the potential for 30 road closures in my district,&rdquo; said Madera County Supervisor David Rogers, who represents the Chowchilla area. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s going to be an emergency-access nightmare, and it&rsquo;s going to be very difficult for a farmer to navigate his operation when he has to go six miles out of his way to get from one side of his farm to the other.&rdquo;</p><p>The final version of the authority&rsquo;s environmental impact report details the anticipated effects on farmland, habitat, residents, businesses and communities on the 60-mile stretch between Fresno and Merced. It also explains why the preferred route wanders between the Union Pacific Railroad/Highway 99 corridor and the BNSF Railway line a few miles to the east.</p><p>&ldquo;Whatever selection we make, whatever the decision might be, we cannot avoid the impacts for the people who are opposed to this,&rdquo; said Tom Richards of Fresno, the rail authority&rsquo;s vice chairman and its only representative from the central San Joaquin Valley. &ldquo;But it&rsquo;s our job to try to get this done as economically and efficiently as we can, and as environmentally responsibly as possible.&rdquo;</p><p>The route identified in the EIR is considered a &ldquo;hybrid&rdquo; between two options: one that primarily follows the UP/Highway 99 corridor through the heart of cities such as Chowchilla and Madera, and one along the BNSF freight tracks that farmers complained would have consumed more agricultural acreage. The report concludes that the hybrid route would create fewer problems by avoiding the Merced County towns of Planada and LeGrand and by weaving eastward around the city of Madera.</p><p>Between Merced and downtown Fresno, the hybrid route would displace 186 to 213 homes. Between 217 and 237 businesses would face the same fate. The route would also affect 1,273 to 1,426 acres of prime or important farmland.</p><p>That compares with the UP/99 option, which would displace 193 to 228 homes, and the BNSF route, which would uproot between 215 and 244 homes. The UP/99 line would affect fewer farm acres &ndash; 1,027 to 1,149; the number of acres affected by the BNSF line would be greater, 1,417 to 1,483.</p><p>&ldquo;Overall, in balancing the effects on natural and community resources, the hybrid alternative minimizes environmental impacts the most,&rdquo; the report said.</p><p><strong>Farming effects</strong></p><p>The report adds that the hybrid route would be the easiest and cheapest to build among the three options, at about $450 million less than the BNSF alternative and more than $1 billion less than the UP/99 alternative.</p><p>That will be little consolation to farmers whose property is in the path of the tracks and would be asked to sell some of their acreage for the rail right of way.</p><p>&ldquo;If anything has been the bane of my existence, it&rsquo;s been high-speed rail,&rdquo; said Rogers, the Madera County supervisor. &ldquo;The state&rsquo;s approach has been convoluted, and it&rsquo;s the most egregious violation of personal property rights I&rsquo;ve ever seen.&rdquo;</p><p>Rogers said he is &ldquo;horrified&rdquo; by the number of farms likely to be severed by the line and also worries about possible restrictions on crop dusting and other farm chemical applications near the tracks. &ldquo;You can&rsquo;t tell me they&rsquo;re not going to eliminate aerial spraying where those trains are going through,&rdquo; Rogers said.</p><p>The EIR proposes a couple of options for dealing with farming issues, including providing underpasses for farm equipment to get from one side of the tracks to the other or additional compensation for farmers who can show a hardship from farms being severed.</p><p>The report states that the authority would also establish a program to consolidate isolated &ldquo;remnant parcels&rdquo; created when tracks bisect property. Those parcels would be sold to neighboring landowners on the same side of the track.</p><p>The report said state and federal officials &ldquo;expect that productive farmland would be farmed in some manner, and not left idle in perpetuity.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>The next steps</strong></p><p>While the environmental report defines a preferred north-south route between Merced and Fresno, questions remain over how the route would go through or around Chowchilla. The answers will depend on how state rail planners decide to connect the Merced-Fresno line with the Bay Area.</p><p>Chowchilla sits amid a virtual spaghetti bowl of lines on a map for an east-west connection to Gilroy and San Jose. Different options for what planners call the &ldquo;Chowchilla Wye&rdquo; swoop either east, west or south of the city. The Chowchilla City Council has gone on the record opposing any route that comes through town.</p><p>Richards said he understands that feelings will continue to run high over the route: &ldquo;I know the farming interests are as much interested in the Chowchilla Wye as they are with anything else on the route.&rdquo;</p><p>The environmental report &ldquo;isn&rsquo;t necessarily going to change anyone&rsquo;s mind, because they&rsquo;ve already established their position,&rdquo; Richards said. &ldquo;But the intent of the report is to provide the information we can rely on to decide which is better among the alternatives.</p><p>&ldquo;The logic of the hybrid makes a lot more sense to me.&rdquo;</p><p>In letters to the state rail authority, both the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed that the hybrid route appears to be the &ldquo;least environmentally damaging practicable alternative.&rdquo;</p><p>The environmental report follows up on a draft report published last summer for two months of comments and critique from the public and a slew of local, state and federal government agencies. Nearly 900 comments were made from August to October; comments and responses account for 16 chapters &ndash; 3,066 pages &ndash; in the final report. The final report incorporates those comments and the responses of engineers and planners to address those concerns.</p><p>Those comments are in addition to several thousand pages of analysis and 52 technical reports in support of the EIR.</p><p>&ldquo;I think basically the document probably goes a long way to support why we thought the hybrid is the preferred alignment,&rdquo; Richards said.</p><p>The state rail authority&rsquo;s board is expected to formally certify the report at a two-day meeting May 2-3 in Fresno; the Federal Railroad Administration will likely approve the report by June. Those approvals would clear the way for the authority to begin buying the right of way it needs along the chosen route and award the first construction contracts later this year &ndash; if the state Assembly and Senate agree to allocate about $6 billion for the project.</p><p>About $3.3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation money has been pledged to the state by the Obama administration for construction in the Valley; about $2.7 billion more would come from Proposition 1A, a high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.</p><p>In a business plan unveiled earlier this month, the rail authority announced its vision for starting construction through the Fresno area late this year or in early 2013. That portion would mark the commencement of 10 years of construction, at a cost of about $31 billion, on a 300-mile section where electric trains would carry passengers from Merced into the San Fernando Valley.</p><p>Ultimately, the authority hopes to expand the line northwest to San Jose and San Francisco, and southward into downtown Los Angeles and Anaheim. By upgrading and sharing tracks with existing commuter train systems such as Caltrain on the San Francisco Peninsula and Metrolink in Southern California, the authority believes it can provide a one-seat ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles by 2028. The price for the full San Francisco to Los Angeles using the shared tracks is estimated at about $68.4 billion.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail San Joaquin Valley High-speed rail Mon, 23 Apr 2012 22:00:48 +0000 Tim Sheehan 15884 at California High-Speed Rail Authority Lawmaker, often target of investigations, zeros in on bullet train <p>U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, the dogged Republican investigator from Vista who has himself been an investigative target, is taking on California&rsquo;s bullet train.</p><p>In a letter last week, Issa, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told the California High-Speed Rail Authority to preserve two years worth of documents, records and e-mails concerning its &ldquo;use of federal funds&rdquo; on the controversial $68 billion bullet train project.</p><p>Issa said his committee wants the documents for a probe that will focus on alleged misspending of federal funds, as well as on &ldquo;allegations concerning conflicts of interest and possible mismanagement; and how these factors might impact taxpayers.&rdquo;</p><p>Issa wrote the letter to authority Chairman Dan Richard, whom Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown named recently to retool the bullet train project. Under Richard, the state has <a href="" target="_blank">shaved $30 billion</a> off the project&rsquo;s price tag, but critics say its financial projections still are hopelessly optimistic.</p><p>Meanwhile, Central Valley farmers and environmentalist groups from the San Francisco Peninsula have objected to the project&rsquo;s proposed route and have filed lawsuits to get it changed.</p><p>In his letter, Issa wrote that the federal government already has spent more than $3.6 billion on the California project and may be asked to foot the bill for half of the entire cost.</p><p>The documents Issa identified in his letter appear to include material also being sought by the conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch.</p><p>Claiming it was being stonewalled in its quest to learn about the California project, Judicial Watch filed a federal <a href="" target="_blank">Freedom of Information Act lawsuit</a> against the government in February.</p><p>The letter from the lawmaker and the lawsuit suggest that Republicans will try to exploit the bullet train controversy in their campaign to unseat President Barack Obama, observers said.</p><p>In California, criticism of the bullet train hasn&rsquo;t split along party lines.</p><p>But nationally, federal spending on rail is a partisan issue, with Republicans bitterly opposed, said Richard Tolmach, president of the California Rail Foundation and a bullet train critic.</p><p>&ldquo;House Republicans smell blood now,&rdquo; Tolmach said. GOP lawmakers have killed rail projects in the Midwest and Florida, and criticism of California&rsquo;s project &ldquo;is bound to flare up in the national election,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>In his letter, Issa expressed concerns about the bullet train&rsquo;s route, its finances and the computer model to project ridership &ndash; all issues that have been raised by California critics.</p><p>In addition, Issa cited a 2010 <a href="" target="_blank">Los Angeles Times story</a> reporting that two rail board members might have violated conflict-of-interest law because they also were serving as public officials in cities on the bullet train&rsquo;s proposed route.</p><p>The officials, former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle and Richard Katz, a member of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, have since left the rail board.</p><p>Richard, chairman of the rail board, said he welcomed congressional scrutiny.</p><p>&quot;Any project of this size should be subject to overview,&rdquo; he wrote in a statement. &ldquo;We of course will cooperate with the committee, but do not believe any conflict of interest has occurred.&quot;</p><p>Since Republicans won control of the U.S. House, Issa&rsquo;s committee has conducted a series of high-profile investigations.</p><p>Yesterday, for example,&nbsp;Issa held <a href="" target="_blank">televised hearings</a> into what he called a &ldquo;culture of wasteful spending&rdquo; at the federal General Services Administration.</p><p>The hearings followed reports that agency officials had spent $800,000 on a lavish Las Vegas conference in 2010. The General Services Administration&#39;s inspector general found the conference spending &rdquo;excessive and wasteful,&rdquo; and agency head Martha Johnson resigned.</p><p>Issa&rsquo;s role as chief investigator also has led to renewed scrutiny of the lawmaker&rsquo;s own problematic past.</p><p>Yesterday, National Public Radio&rsquo;s &ldquo;All Things Considered&rdquo; aired a <a href="" target="_blank">hard-edged profile</a> of the millionaire California lawmaker, recapping incidents from Issa&#39;s years in the Army and his early business career. All first came to light after he began running for public office.</p><p>In 1998, Issa &ndash; then the wealthy manufacturer of the Viper line of car alarms &ndash; ran for the U.S. Senate, hoping to oppose Democrat Barbara Boxer.</p><p>But before the GOP primary, the Los Angeles Times reported that Issa had obtained control of his company amidst &ldquo;accusations of <a href=";FMTS=ABS:FT&amp;type=current&amp;date=May+23%2C+1998&amp;author=ERIC+LICHTBLAU&amp;pub=Los+Angeles+Times&amp;edition=&amp;startpage=1&amp;desc=Issa%27s+Rags-to-Riches+Tale+Has+Some+Ugly+Chapters%3B+Politics%3A+Senate+candidate+left+a+trail+of+spurned+business+associates.+He+dismisses+criticism+as+sour+grapes.+Series%3A+POLITICAL+CURRENCY+%2798.+The+Candidates+and+Their+Finances.+One+in+a+series" target="_blank">underhanded tactics and intimidation</a> (and) a suspected arson.&rdquo; Issa also had been arrested on suspicion of stealing a Maserati in his hometown of Cleveland, but the charges were dropped, the newspaper reported.</p><p>Soon after that, the San Francisco Examiner challenged Issa&#39;s claims about <a href="" target="_blank">his Army record</a>.</p><p>Issa said he was part of an elite unit that guarded President Richard Nixon at the <a href="" target="_blank">1971 World Series</a>. But Nixon didn&rsquo;t go to the World Series, the newspaper wrote, and Issa&rsquo;s service was marred by &ldquo;a bad conduct rating, a demotion and allegations he had stolen a fellow soldier&rsquo;s car.&rdquo;</p><p>Issa lost the Republican primary but later was elected to Congress. In 2003, he helped bankroll the recall of Gov. Gray Davis while gearing up to run for the office himself.</p><p>Then the San Francisco Chronicle reported that in 1980, Issa and his brother had been charged with car theft in Santa Clara County. Police said Issa, then a lieutenant in the Army, had <a href="" target="_blank">conspired with his brother</a> to fake the theft of Issa&rsquo;s Mercedes, which they then sold. The charges were dropped. The newspaper also reported that as a young man, Issa had been arrested twice on <a href="" target="_blank">misdemeanor weapons</a> charges.</p><p>In the end, it was Arnold Schwarzenegger, not Issa, who ran for governor in the Davis recall.</p><p>In response to the stories, Issa denied wrongdoing. The Maserati theft and arson accusations were baseless, the LA Times quoted him as saying, and the Examiner said Issa denied misrepresenting his military record. Issa told the Chronicle that his brother was solely responsible for the incident involving the theft of the Mercedes, and he complained that it was unfair to dredge up the gun arrests.</p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority Darrell Issa high-speed rail High-speed rail Tue, 17 Apr 2012 07:05:04 +0000 Lance Williams 15797 at Official photo U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif. Latest high-speed rail plan goes to lawmakers <p>SAN FRANCISCO &ndash; A financial blueprint for linking the San Joaquin Valley to Los Angeles by high-speed trains within 10 years was approved yesterday by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.</p><p>The authority&rsquo;s latest business plan, which calls for the eventual construction of a system that connects San Francisco and Los Angeles by way of the Valley, now heads for the Legislature, which must decide whether it will approve using billions in state bond funds for the initial construction between Madera and Bakersfield.</p><p>Yesterday&rsquo;s board meeting here also marked the possible emergence of a new voice in the contentious high-speed rail debate: young professionals who say the high-speed train represents a transportation choice for their future and urged the authority to approve the plan.</p><p>The business plan calls for extending the first construction segments northward to Merced, where the system would link with upgraded and improved Amtrak service to Sacramento and the Bay Area, and southward toward Los Angeles. The southern extensions would head southeast from Bakersfield across the Tehachapi Mountains to Palmdale before turning southwest into the San Fernando Valley.</p><p>Until high-speed trains begin running in 2022 from Merced to Burbank, Amtrak trains would be able to run on the dedicated high-speed tracks through Merced, Madera, Fresno, Kings, Tulare and Kern counties. That would free up freight railroad tracks &ndash; now shared with Amtrak &ndash; to handle more cargo without conflicting with passenger trains, authority Chairman Dan Richard said.</p><p>In November, an earlier version of the business plan estimated that it would cost more than $98 billion to build a 520-mile line of dedicated, electrified tracks that would be used only by high-speed trains from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles and on to Anaheim. The plan approved yesterday lops about $30 billion off that price tag. At $68.4 billion, the new version realizes most of its savings by calling for a &ldquo;blended system&rdquo; in which high-speed trains would share tracks or right-of-way now used by commuter trains in the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin.</p><p>Another fundamental change is the identification of state &ldquo;cap and trade&rdquo; money from the sale of air-pollution credits to industries as a source of money to continue building the project. That provision is intended to answer concerns about how the authority would pay to build beyond the Valley.</p><p>The Obama administration has pledged $3.3 billion toward construction starting in the Valley, and the business plan anticipates $20 billion or more in additional federal funding over the next decade. Republicans in Congress, however, have blocked future money for high-speed rail.</p><p>Ridership has been a third major concern of critics who fear that too few people will buy tickets for the system to pay its own way, requiring subsidies at the expense of taxpayers.</p><p>Kurt Ramey of the accounting firm KPMG, consulting for the rail authority, said that even at the lowest projected ridership levels, the system should generate an operating profit even in its first year.</p><p>&ldquo;The break-even point for revenue is well below the low estimates,&rdquo; Ramey said. With the low ridership and revenue estimates being based on factors that are unfavorable to train travel &ndash; including gasoline prices of $2.60 a gallon in 2022 and airfares that remain at current rates &ndash; the proposed system &ldquo;just looks like it&rsquo;s got some room in operating performance to it.&rdquo;</p><p><strong>A tough sell</strong></p><p>Richard, the authority&rsquo;s chairman, said he hopes the plan addresses concerns expressed by legislators over the past five months as they prepare to debate Gov. Jerry Brown&rsquo;s request for $2.7 billion from Proposition 1A in the 2012-13 state budget to begin construction next year. Prop. 1A, approved by California voters in 2008, authorized $9 billion in bonds to help build high-speed rail in the state.</p><p>&ldquo;A lot of what&rsquo;s in here is the result of criticisms and suggestions that have come not only from the Legislature, but also from their peer review group and from the Legislative Analyst&rsquo;s Office,&rdquo; Richard said. &ldquo;I don&rsquo;t want to be presumptuous, but it is my hope that they will look at this and say, &lsquo;OK, this makes more sense.&rsquo; &rdquo;</p><p>Authority members said they took those often-harsh comments to heart as they revised the November plan. The vote yesterday was 6-0 with two members absent.</p><p>&ldquo;The most significant changes, the blended approach in particular, were directly tied to external recommendations to the authority,&rdquo; said Jeff Morales, an engineer for Parsons Brinckerhoff, the consulting company that is serving as the authority&rsquo;s project manager.</p><p>But Richard acknowledged that high-speed rail could remain a tough sell in the State Capitol.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s partly a matter of how broadly the question is defined,&rdquo; Richard said. &ldquo;Are we sitting down to decide the fate of a $68 billion high-speed rail program? Or should the state spend $2.7 billion in bond money to get $3.3 billion in federal money to build this piece as it now fits into this business plan? That&rsquo;s a much more narrow question, and a more easily digestible question.&rdquo;</p><p>If legislators say no to the budget request, Richard said, it would represent a &ldquo;fundamental setback&rdquo; for the future of high-speed trains in the state. &ldquo;If the Legislature decides that way, we would not be building high-speed rail, at least not for the foreseeable future.&rdquo;</p><p>The federal money would disappear because it requires that California put up its own matching funds. And, Richard added, budding interest among the private sector &ndash; including companies that would pay for the rights to operate the system &ndash; would also go away.</p><p>Several key legislative hearings will be held in the coming days that could provide a barometer of the project&rsquo;s future. The state Senate&rsquo;s transportation committee will meet Tuesday, and high-speed rail committees for both the Assembly and Senate will meet Wednesday.</p><p><strong>Familiar foes, fresh voices</strong></p><p>Many of the speakers here yesterday praised the new business plan&rsquo;s move toward a blended system that could commence operation within 10 years.</p><p>But Ted Crocker, co-founder of a group called High-Speed Boondoggle, described the blended system as &ldquo;a prime example of false economy.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;This is not a money saver,&rdquo; Crocker told the authority board. &ldquo;When you do something half-assed to save money or because you don&rsquo;t have the money, it always costs more in the end. Yet here you are, jumping on the blended-approach bandwagon.&rdquo;</p><p>Frank Oliveira, a Hanford-area farmer who is among the leaders of CCHSRA, a Kings County group that opposes the proposed route through Kings County, said he doesn&rsquo;t believe the revised business plan meets the requirements of Prop. 1A, the high-speed rail bond approved by California voters in 2008.</p><p>&ldquo;This plan is better, faster and cheaper, but like the previous business plan, it fails to comply with Prop. 1A on cost, funding, timing and trip time,&rdquo; Oliveira said. &ldquo;That said, approving this plan as drafted would be dishonest and appropriately challenged.&rdquo;</p><p>&ldquo;Do the right thing and comply with the law, or don&rsquo;t to this project.&rdquo;</p><p>While Oliveira and other critics have become fixtures at board meetings to voice concern about the project&rsquo;s cost and its effects on farmland in rural areas, a group of four young Fresnans said they see the fast trains as important investments for future generations.</p><p>&ldquo;You do have support&rdquo; in the Valley, said Kristen Kawaguchi, 25. &ldquo;It&rsquo;s the teenagers, the young professionals and the 30-somethings who will need this system in the future. This will change our lives.&rdquo;</p><p>Kawaguchi works for the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation, which has long favored the high-speed rail program. She was joined by fellow EDC employees Fernando Santillan, 26; David Kennedy, 25; and Matt Severson, 23. The quartet said their support is independent from their workplace allegiances.</p><p>&ldquo;We&rsquo;ve decided to start advocating on behalf of people like us, young professionals in their 20s who so far haven&rsquo;t had much of a voice in this,&rdquo; Kennedy said. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re working to fill that void.&rdquo;</p><p>Santillan said that within the next few weeks, he expects to announce a formal group of young professionals from the Valley to weigh in more actively as the debate heats up in Sacramento. &ldquo;We can&rsquo;t take for granted that this is a done deal,&rdquo; he said.</p><p><strong>High-speed rail milestone</strong></p><p>Board members said the business plan marks a shift in the process, from years of talking and studying and planning to finally getting around to building something.</p><p>Member Jim Hartnett, a Redwood City attorney, said that California&rsquo;s population is expected to grow by about 20 million people in the coming decades, and the state needs a transportation system to handle the influx. &ldquo;That&rsquo;s what this high-speed rail plan is designed to do in a responsible way.&rdquo;</p><p>Board member Robert Balgenorth, a former labor union executive, said that countries in Asia and Europe have been operating high-speed trains for decades. &quot;It&rsquo;s time for us to catch up with the rest of the world,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;I think we&rsquo;ve debated long enough.&rdquo;</p><p>In addition to approving the business plan, the authority&rsquo;s board approved agreements with transportation agencies in the Bay Area and Southern California over cooperating on improvements to existing commuter train lines. Between San Jose and San Francisco, the state rail authority will work with the local agencies to upgrade tracks in the Caltrain corridor, electrifying the line and installing modern safety signal systems.</p><p>In Southern California, plans call for work to improve Metrolink commuter rail system. As a last-minute addition, the authority pledged to seek ways to improve tracks between downtown Los Angeles and Anaheim. That could make it possible, by 2028, for passengers to travel all the way from downtown San Francisco to Anaheim as a &ldquo;one-seat ride,&rdquo; without having to change trains during the trip.</p><p>Between the two regions, as much as $3.5 billion could be invested in bringing the commuter tracks up to a standard to be shared by high-speed trains.</p><p>Greg Albrecht, the authority&rsquo;s acting planning director, said the agency is working on a similar agreement with San Joaquin Valley counties for improvements to the railroad lines now used by Amtrak&rsquo;s San Joaquin, which runs from Oakland and Sacramento through Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield, and the Altamont Commuter Express trains that connect Stockton and San Jose.</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319, <a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail High-speed rail Fri, 13 Apr 2012 07:05:02 +0000 Tim Sheehan 15766 at California High-Speed Rail Authority Bullet train officials to OK new business plan <p>High-speed rail officials are expected tomorrow to approve a business plan that details how they hope to pay for a proposed passenger train line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.</p><p>The California High-Speed Rail Authority board will meet in San Francisco to hear testimony about the 212-page plan &ndash; a revised blueprint of expected costs for construction and operation, as well as anticipated revenue and ridership.</p><p>The business plan will be closely scrutinized by California legislators, who are being asked to OK about $2.7 billion in bonds to help pay for the initial construction in the San Joaquin Valley.</p><p>A November version of the plan estimated the cost of building a dedicated 520-mile system of tracks from San Francisco to Anaheim &ndash; to be used only by high-speed trains &ndash; at more than $98 billion.</p><p>The revised plan calls for a &ldquo;blended&rdquo; network in which existing and upgraded commuter rail lines in the Bay Area and Los Angeles Basin would share their tracks with the high-speed trains. That program reduces the miles of dedicated high-speed-only tracks by about 110 miles &ndash; a change that authority officials say will cut about $30 billion. The cost of the blended system is pegged at about $68.4 billion.</p><p>Also new is an effort to ditch the &ldquo;train to nowhere&rdquo; label that critics applied to the first $6 billion stretch of construction from Madera to Bakersfield. Now, the authority hopes to extend construction in continuous phases north to Merced and south across the Tehachapi Mountains to Palmdale and on into the San Fernando Valley within 10 years. That would form a $31 billion, 300-mile &ldquo;initial operating segment&rdquo; on which the first 220 mph trains would carry passengers starting in 2022.</p><p>&ldquo;It&rsquo;s not just about building a high-speed train,&rdquo; authority Chairman Dan Richard said as he discussed the plan with reporters this month. &ldquo;We&rsquo;re using the high-speed rail program as the driver for a strategic investment across the board in our transportation infrastructure.&rdquo;</p><p>Among other benefits, Richard said, are that high-speed trains would take passenger traffic off of freight tracks, improving freight capacity. And, by continuing high-speed rail across the Tehachapi range, a passenger rail gap that exists between the Valley and Southern California will be closed.</p><p>As in previous incarnations of the business plan, the rail authority expects the federal government &ndash; which has thus far ponied up about $3.3 billion to start construction in the Central Valley &ndash; to contribute about $20 billion more in the coming decade.</p><p>As Republicans in Congress fight against putting more money toward high-speed rail, Gov. Jerry Brown and the state Department of Finance have proposed using money from California&rsquo;s new cap-and-trade program as a backstop if other funding sources fall short. Cap-and-trade money comes from the sale of air pollution credits to industries that are unable to meet pollution reduction goals. Brown&rsquo;s 2012-13 budget suggests that the program could generate $1 billion or more next year.</p><p>A major question continues to be: If the system is built, can it attract enough riders for it to break even or make a profit? Proposition 1A, the $9 billion bond measure approved by California voters in 2008, prohibits any operating subsidy for the high-speed system.</p><p>Ridership estimates in the revised business plan suggest that even under unfavorable conditions &ndash; flat population growth, low airline prices, low fuel prices, more fuel-efficient cars and other factors that make airplanes and driving more attractive to travelers &ndash; high-speed trains could sell about 5.8 million tickets a year in 2025 on a Merced-to-San Fernando line.</p><p>Higher airfares, more expensive gas and other factors could drive ridership in 2025 to as many as 10.5 million.</p><p>Some critics remain skeptical.</p><p>&ldquo;The ridership model continues to have significant issues that raise questions about its commercial viability,&rdquo; said a statement released yesterday by Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a Bay Area organization. &ldquo;Current revenues from the San Joaquin Amtrak service that includes service to Sacramento and many different stations total $30 million. The (initial operating segment) will need revenues that are 10 times that amount to break even for a skeletal system.&rdquo;</p><p>Richard, however, is bullish on the program.</p><p>&ldquo;We would not be issuing this final plan,&rdquo; he said, &ldquo;were we not confident that this initial operating segment will operate at a profit.&rdquo;</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"></a> or @tsheehan on Twitter. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail High-speed rail Wed, 11 Apr 2012 17:52:50 +0000 Tim Sheehan 15737 at California High-Speed Rail Authority Kings County remains skeptical of bullet train <p>HANFORD &ndash; A day after celebrating the release of a new business plan in Fresno, leaders from the California High-Speed Rail Authority learned that there still is much skepticism and discontent in neighboring Kings County.</p><p>County supervisors and a packed room of residents asked some tough questions of authority Chairman Dan Richard at a special meeting yesterday afternoon. They thanked authority leaders for showing up and trying to mend fences, but were disappointed it had taken so long.</p><p>For months, Kings County officials have complained that the rail authority has ignored their concerns about the effects high-speed electric trains will have on their county. Two routes for the proposed 220 mph trains through the county are being considered. One runs east of Hanford, the other west of the city.</p><p>Former authority Chairman Curt Pringle of Anaheim didn&rsquo;t help matters when, at a meeting in Sacramento last May, he scolded Kings County Farm Bureau Executive Director Diana Peck and cut off her comments as she voiced the frustration of farmers whose land and livelihoods would be affected by the rail line. Video of the exchange showed up online, further inflaming opposition in the Valley and across California.</p><p>With Pringle no longer on the rail authority board and other shake-ups among the agency&rsquo;s leadership in recent months, Richard is trying to pick up the pieces and salvage a relationship with Kings County.</p><p>Richard acknowledged yesterday that the authority has not paid proper attention to Kings County&rsquo;s concerns. He pointed out that in May 2011 &ndash; several months before he was appointed to the authority&rsquo;s board by Gov. Jerry Brown &ndash; county officials sent a letter with 61 specific questions to the authority.</p><p>&ldquo;Those questions were never responded to; let&rsquo;s just get that right out there,&rdquo; Richard told the supervisors. &ldquo;That was not a proper way to interact with you or this community that you represent. &hellip; It was wrong, and I want to see where we can start from here.&rdquo;</p><p>The county wants the rail authority to engage in &ldquo;coordination,&rdquo; a formal process of planning collaboration required under federal environmental regulations. County Counsel Colleen Carlson said that because the high-speed rail project is largely funded by federal money, federal law requires the authority to work with the county.</p><p>Richard told supervisors that the authority&rsquo;s attorneys disagree with that interpretation of the law. He added, however, that he wants to work with Kings County to address their concerns and answer questions as thoroughly as possible before this summer, when the authority expects to issue a new draft of environmental reports for the Fresno-Bakersfield stretch.</p><p>That may not be enough to satisfy supervisors or other county officials. County planner Greg Gatzka said the county never received answers to how the authority expects to make up for potential economic effects. In a presentation to the supervisors, Gatzka said the east-of-Hanford line would cut across parcels totaling more than 8,700 acres, with several thousand more acres on parcels that would be affected by overpasses and other high-speed rail structures.</p><p>While some of those parcels might only be minimally affected by the line, Gatzka said, their total farm production value was more than $8.2 million in 2008. He added that dairies potentially affected by the rail line accounted for another $50 million in economic effects for the county.</p><p>Residents said they were glad to see even belated overtures from the rail authority. But they also spoke for more than an hour to voice concerns or express outright opposition to the plans.</p><p>&ldquo;There&rsquo;s a real simple solution,&rdquo; said Joyce Cody, whose property along 13th Avenue would be disrupted by the west-of-Hanford route. &ldquo;Don&rsquo;t bring it through Kings County. We don&rsquo;t want it here. &hellip; High-speed rail in Kings County is wrong on so many levels.&rdquo;</p><p>County Administrative Officer Larry Spikes said he is grateful for the authority&rsquo;s newfound commitment to discuss the county&rsquo;s concerns. &ldquo;We have to look at this as a positive development,&rdquo; he said.</p><p>But Spikes remains wary of how much can be accomplished, given how far along the rail authority&rsquo;s planning process has come with its only two options south of Fresno running through the county, over the county&rsquo;s objections.</p><p>When asked if the routes through Kings County are inevitable and the only things left to discuss are minimizing the effects, Spikes paused for a moment: &ldquo;I think that would be the authority&rsquo;s position. I don&rsquo;t think we would necessarily agree with that.&rdquo;</p><p><em>The reporter can be reached at 559-441-6319,&nbsp;<a href="" target="_blank"></a> or on Twitter: @tsheehan. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report California High-Speed Rail Authority high-speed rail Kings County High-speed rail Wed, 04 Apr 2012 17:35:27 +0000 Tim Sheehan 15632 at California High-Speed Rail Authority New bullet train plan shaves $30B from cost <p>The California High-Speed Rail Authority unveiled a new business plan yesterday slashing $30 billion from the price tag for connecting Anaheim and San Francisco.</p><p>And retreating from a series of political missteps, the authority also vowed to connect its initial segment between Bakersfield and Fresno &ndash; the so-called &ldquo;Train to Nowhere&rdquo; &ndash; to the San Fernando Valley within the decade.</p><p>Just five months ago, the authority was saying it would spend <a href="" target="_blank">$98 billion</a> to build a 220 mph train that would begin full operations around 2033.</p><p>Gov. Jerry Brown installed a new chairman, Dan Richard, after that November 2011 business plan generated a storm of criticism. Chairman Tom Umberg, a former Orange County legislator, and Chief Executive Officer <a href="" target="_blank">Roelof van Ark</a> both stepped down to make way for Brown&#39;s team.</p><p>Now the commission hopes to build a high-speed link between Los Angeles and Merced, with medium-speed links to the north, in about a decade and have full high-speed service by 2028. Cost: $68.4 billion to $79.7 billion.</p><p>The big savings would come in the Los Angeles Basin and on the San Francisco Peninsula, where the authority would help finance improvements to make existing commuter rail lines &ldquo;high-speed rail ready.&rdquo; Those improvements would come years, perhaps a decade or more, before high-speed trains do.</p><p>Take the Peninsula: The authority has been locked in litigation for years with Peninsula community groups over its plans to punch four high-speed rail tracks from San Jose to San Francisco.</p><p>Now it is saying it needs just two tracks within the existing Caltrain commuter-rail alignment. It will help pay for improvements to Caltrain quickly, rather than wait for inflation to boost costs. And high-speed rail passengers will ride on Caltrain between San Francisco and San Jose until the high-speed line is completed.</p><p>The compromise solves political and financial problems but might open entirely new financial and legal problems.</p><p>Richard Tolmach of the California Rail Foundation, a longtime critic of the authority, said he can&rsquo;t figure out how the agency shaved 30 percent off its costs.</p><p>The November business plan &ndash; much criticized for its $98 billion cost &ndash; clearly laid out the sources for its numbers, Tolmach said. Not this plan.</p><p>&ldquo;This time, more than last time, (the plan) is a sales job,&rdquo; Tolmach said. &ldquo;It doesn&rsquo;t have actual facts, but it must have 20 pictures of (rail) boosters and parades.&rdquo;</p><p>For example, experts estimate it will cost $1 billion per year to operate the train. The new plan estimates it will cost no more than $573 million &ndash; $70 million less than the authority projected in November. It&rsquo;s unclear how this savings occurred.</p><p>Meanwhile, retired Judge Quentin Kopp &ndash;&nbsp;former chairman of the authority and, as a state senator, co-author of the bill creating the first high-speed rail study &ndash;&nbsp;branded the new plan &ldquo;the great train robbery.&rdquo;</p><p>Transit advocates in Los Angeles and on the Peninsula have been trying for years to &ldquo;pick the pocket&rdquo; of the bullet train by urging that project funds be used for local improvements, Kopp said.</p><p>&ldquo;Sharing the tracks with Caltrain here and with Metrolink and Amtrak between Los Angeles and Anaheim bars operating more than maybe two trains per hour of high-speed rail,&rdquo; Kopp said in a phone interview. But high-speed rail revenue projections were based on operating trains every five or six minutes.</p><p>In addition, Kopp added, blended service could violate Proposition 1A. The voter-approved bond required that passengers travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco without changing trains. A blended service likely would require two transfers: in Sylmar and in San Jose.</p><p>The authority says it can pay for the entire &ldquo;initial operating section&rdquo; &ndash; the high-speed rail line from Merced south 300 miles to the San Fernando Valley &ndash; using a combination of $6 billion in federal funds, $9 billion from voter-approved Prop. 1A, local funds and cap-and-trade money.</p><p>The last category is money the state would get under its first-in-the-nation law restricting emissions of greenhouse gases. Brown floated the idea of using cap-and-trade money to finance high-speed rail in a television interview last year. The business plan adopts it as a formal strategy.</p><p>The authority says the train will make money from the start. In 2022, the first year of operations, it projects a net cash flow of $35 million to $59 million, rising each year after that. By 2030 or 2031, the authority projects the train would generate more than $1 billion annually in cash.</p><p><em>Ronald Campbell is a reporter for The Orange County Register. Lance Williams is a senior reporter for California Watch. This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state&#39;s high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.</em></p> Money and Politics Daily Report budget California High-Speed Rail Authority Gov. Jerry Brown high-speed rail High-speed rail Tue, 03 Apr 2012 07:05:03 +0000 Ronald Campbell Lance Williams 15598 at California High-Speed Rail Authority