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State Senate Passes Funding For High Speed Rail

With today's 21-16 vote, the bill will now go to Governor Jerry Brown

The California State Senate voted 21-16 today in approval of putting billions of dollars of funding into beginning work on California’s high-speed rail project. The project received $7.9 billion in state and federal money, which will be used for the first 130-miles of track and to upgrade a handful of transit programs, including Caltrain.

The State Senate vote follows a 51-27 State Assembly vote that authorized the spending. In today’s vote, most Democrats voted in favor of the project, while Republicans opposed it, according to NBC Bay Area.

Governor Jerry Brown, who pushed lawmakers to approve the project, will now receive the funding measure.

Brown released the following quote in a statement after the vote.

“In 2008, California voters decided to create jobs and modernize our state’s rail transportation system with a major investment in high-speed rail and key local projects in Northern and Southern California. The Legislature took bold action today that gets Californians back to work and puts California out in front once again.”

Palo Alto’s own Senator Joe Simitian played a large role in today’s two hour-long discussions in Sacramento. He spoke for 15 minutes about the pros and cons before an ultimate conclusion that he could not support today’s proposal.

"I think high speed rail makes sense in California ...but we're not being asked to vote on a vision today, we're being asked to vote on particular plan," he said. “Regrettably the only conclusion I can come today is that this is the wrong plan in the wrong place in the wrong time.”

Simitian criticized the cost of the project, which is now estimated at about $69 billion, as well as the fact that the initial funding will go towards building track in the Central Valley, as opposed to metropolitan areas like San Francisco or Los Angeles that will attract more riders.

Assuming Senate Bill 1029 is approved by Gov. Brown, the state will begin selling $2.6 billion in voter-approved bonds to build track from Madera to Bakersfield. In addition to state funds, the federal government will put in $3.2 billion to the project, bringing the total building funds for the initial round to nearly $6 billion.

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Frank Geefay July 07, 2012 at 02:33 AM
This is great news. This will help bring distant small northern communities much closer to LA and stimulate housing and jobs growth there. It will allow people to buy much more affordable housing in these small communities further from LA who can then quickly commute to LA based jobs. When it reaches the Bay Area it will allow people to move to more affordable housing communities more than 100 mi. south and commute to jobs in the Bay Area. This could stimulate a housing booms in areas too distant to commute by car or bus and too isolated to flourish. Large metropolitan areas such as LA and the Bay Area can decentralize and smaller more distant communities grow and thrive. This will help relieve traffic congestion in concentrated metropolitan areas by stimulating the expansion of local transit systems to move people to and from the high speed rail stations and jobs further reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. The price tag may seem steep but the potential benefits to California residents and job opportunities both from building the high speed rail system and for mobilizing commuters between jobs and affordable housing are limitless. I feel the long term benefits far outweigh the short term cost for a high speed rail system. This has and is occurring in Europe and Asia where high speed rail systems and communities along the rout are thriving.
Michelle Fitzsimmons July 07, 2012 at 02:55 AM
I love your positive thinking, Frank! Let's hope the governor signs this (are there indicators he is? I haven't been following his end too closely) and this thing gets built. I want to go for a ride :)
Frank Geefay July 07, 2012 at 03:45 AM
Governor Brown is a strong proponent of the high speed rail bill. There is very little doubt that he will sign it. I have ridden on two high speed rail system, one in China about 6 years ago and earlier this year in Taiwan. The ride is very smooth and quiet much like BART but much faster. In China there was a speed display in each coach. I remember that we approached 250 mph top speed. I don't remember seeing the speed posted in the Taiwan train or it was posted in km/hr. Seats were comfortable and roomy and you were not required to wear a seat belt. You hardly felt any G-force when accelerating to cruising speed. When at cruising speed the only sign of speed was the scenery wheezing by. Getting on and off the trains were very similar to BART but the station were much larger and modern. Though it will take about 2.5 hr. to go from LA to SF the total commute time will probably be only slightly longer than flying because of the time you have to go to the airport earlier (at least 1 hr.), get your ticket, go through security, and wait to board the plane. Plans often wait on the runway for 15-30 min. before takeoff or after landing. There is no comparison between the smoothness and quietness between train and plane. You can actually get a lot of work done on the train or just catch up on some peaceful sleep. I look forward taking a ride myself.
Tripp Hudgins July 07, 2012 at 04:47 PM
I'm looking forward to the possibilities this will bring. What great news!
A July 07, 2012 at 05:39 PM
At $6 billion funded 7% of the total expected costs. I hope it dies before they put us all into bankruptcy. And to think they slashed education spending to fund this turkey. The promises of economic development are pure fantasy. It's a bunch of short-term, inefficient rail construction jobs at the expense of crowding out private-sector jobs that would be created if not for the taxing and borrowing of this bill.
Frank Geefay July 07, 2012 at 06:38 PM
There are no guarantees as is true in just about everything in life. But it has the possibility of spurring tremendous growth in the private sector in small communities along the rout: construction of new housing developments, infrastructure jobs to support these new communities, job opportunities associated with this growth, more affordable housing for people commuting from LA or the Bay Area, etc. This could lead to tens of thousands of permanent jobs and tax money going to the State treasury. Of course you could be right as well, but I think that there are enough people with vision and entrepreneurship who are looking for opportunities such as this. This system is not just for people commuting between the Bay Area and LA. It's more about opportunities for small and isolated communities to flourish by bringing them much closer to LA and, the Bay Area, and each other. I think that whether we believe that such a rail system will work or not, once it has started, everyone should hope for its success. Otherwise it may be tax dollars tossed to the winds and you and I will both turn out the losers.
Mason Mccarty July 07, 2012 at 07:19 PM
@ A Investing in bettering our infrastructure is a bad thing? Giving people more OPTIONS in modes of transportation is a 'turkey'? Over a TRILLION was put on the nations credit card for 2 wars, 2 tax cuts and a Medicare prescription drug plan that was a hand out to the pharma companies. Was that a better idea? Cutting the government's paycheck while paying off the same monthly bills while adding on new spending for the above list. Talk about not making any financial sense b/c what did spending/borrowing/credit carding all that money get us in the end? Plus that did bankrupt us! You're upset about slashing education for rail lines? What about GOP Governors slashing education for tax cuts? Rick Scott (R-Fl) slashed education by $3.3 billion only to turn around and give $4 Billion in tax cuts to corporation's income taxes. This has happened in numerous states. How about the GOP nominee wanting to get rid of the Dept. of Education altogether? Short term jobs are now bad? Tell that to the unemployed person who gets that job. A job's a job & sometimes short term can lead to long term. Better than nothing. The promise of economic development is pure fantasy? Do you feel the same way about the interstate highway system? And what private sector jobs would be created if this bill dies? Over 11 years of these 2 tax cuts and where are the jobs the 'job creators' promised? Talk about pure fantasy.
Frank Geefay July 07, 2012 at 07:57 PM
Thanks for your thoughts Mason. Incidentally I really liked you blog posting "Why the South Bay Needs a Rail System" http://cupertino.patch.com/blog_posts/south-bay-rail-system. It was very insightful and interesting reading.
Irvin Dawid July 08, 2012 at 12:09 AM
Re: "I think high speed rail makes sense in California ...but we're not being asked to vote on a vision today, we're being asked to vote on particular plan," (Sen. Joe Simitian) said. “Regrettably the only conclusion I can come today is that this is the wrong plan in the wrong place in the wrong time.” Interestingly, the drafters of the bill that authorized the HSR project - and the initial proposition, said the same thing - not once, but twice, for reasons NOT to go to the ballot box and ask for voter support. Frankly, with California's finances and the need for 2/3 to pass a tax in the legislature, there NEVER is a good time for these large expenditures. But what Simitian missed - rather, overlooked, or chose to ignore, was the $3.3 billion in federal funds - it was now or never. Sadly, I think Joe chose to listen to many of his loud constituents that focus on the present, not the future.
Frank Geefay July 08, 2012 at 01:48 AM
I also respectfully disagree Senator Joe Simitian. We need high speed rail because it has the promise of stimulating grown in areas where growth is a foreign word and unemployment is especially high. It will benefit both LA and the Bay Area workers in bringing affordable housing within easy grasp. It is a vision that has current (Europe, Asia, South America, etc.) and historic precedence. In the 1860’s there were people who claimed that building a railroad joining the Prosperous East with the Wild West was a total waste of money. But on May 10, 1869 the Union and Central Pacific Railroads joined their rails at Promontory Summit and forged the destiny of a nation. It brought civilization and wealth to California which until then was somewhat isolated from the prosperous East Coast. Goods could only come by slow and expensive sailing ships. Numerous flourishing communities along the tracks owe their existence to the foresight of those early pioneering visionaries that invested in that lavishly expensive dream. And many fortunes were made. Without this venture California may not have prospered to the extent it has. Sound familiar?
Mason Mccarty July 08, 2012 at 03:51 AM
I have to agree with Mr. Geefay about Sen. Joe Simitian's comments. The Senator said the high speed rail line is "the wrong plan in the wrong place in the wrong time". Looking at this in it's simplest form when is the right time to do this? Like any infrastructural project that needs to either be created or repaired that's always the excuse. Only until someone (usually someone important) gets killed because of the problem will we then start talking about it. Then again just because we start talking about doesn't mean anything gets done. Look at the bridge in Minnesota that collapsed or the gas pipeline in San Bruno that blew up and etc has anything been done to correct the problems with our aging infrastructure? Nope. We keep putting it off and putting it off and putting it off until it finally comes back to hurt us in the pocket book. To put this in dummy terms if those in congress were responsible for keeping a car running they would be buying a new engine every 5,000 miles because they kept putting off a routine oil change! No plan is perfect. George S. Patton said it best when he said "a good plan today is better than the perfect plan tomorrow" because we all know that 'procrastination is opportunity's natural assassin' (Victor Kiam). @Mr. Geefay: I'm glad you enjoyed the blog I wrote. Thank you.
carlos July 08, 2012 at 07:29 PM
We choose choo-choo trains over higher education, environmental protection, fiscal solvency, and upgraded infrastructure. Wake up fellow Californians! Our once- thriving state is crumbling all around us. It's amazing what one-party rule will do to our golden state.
John Bartas July 08, 2012 at 07:59 PM
The meta-question here is really “should the government spend/invest in big, long term projects?” Let’s look at America’s 20th century: The highway system, the space program, the power grid, the Internet, the phone system – all these came as a result of extreme government spending. Private business didn’t do any of these because there was no quick buck to be made – they were big investments with long payoffs, benefiting future generations. It seems to me this kind of spending on our children stopped in the 1980s, and our economy, technology and culture have been coasting to a halt ever since. Sadly, Simitian seems to be joining this nation of Scrooges. Leadership is not when you implement what people have been trained to want – anyone can do that. Leadership is when you have a vision that inspires people to do something great, to be better than they were. The corporate shills in Washington (and too often state & local govt.) are paid to give record profits to the fortune 500 and won’t do this anymore. California is by far the richest state, so it’s up to us to lead the country into the 21st century. If not us, who? If not now, when? Not building a high speed rail is like stealing from the future.
John Bartas July 08, 2012 at 08:17 PM
Don’t fall for the false “schools vs. transportation” baloney. We need spend on both, and can pay for it (easily) by going back to 1940’s tax rates, or implementing Jerry Brown’s Millionaires tax. As I mentioned above, the fortune 500, which have always had easy access to the media now have unlimited access to buy politicians. Companies which produce nothing (or worse) want to protect their record profits by fooling us into thinking we have to choose between education and transportation, or environment and jobs. Don’t buy into that.
Frank Geefay July 08, 2012 at 09:28 PM
John, I wish I had said what you so eloquently stated. You echoed my thought better than I could have. Thanks.
Frank Geefay July 08, 2012 at 10:13 PM
I have fought very hard for schools for over 20 years. No one could care more about schools and the value of investing in the future of fertile minds that will be running this nation than I. But this dedication to education is not to the exclusion of everything else. John is right. It isn’t a matter of choosing between education and high speed rail. I am pushing for both equally hard because I feel both are wise investments that in the long run will make these expenses seem insignificant. If we miss this opportunity to get federal funds of $3 Billion now it is unlikely that we will have as much incentive to do it at all later. So it’s now or never. We will somehow find money for our schools. But $3 Billion for a high speed rail system is a much harder thing to raise or sell to the public later on. I would be somewhat less enthusiastic myself if we did not receive federal assistance. To pass up $3 Billion now seems very short sighted.
Mark Burns July 09, 2012 at 12:19 AM
Jerry Brown fiddles while California burns. Right up the street the largest California Jr. College (SF City College, 90,000 students) faces bankruptcy and loss of accreditation. Why? Budget cuts. The gigantic infrastructure projects of the 20th century argument is a red herring. Highway system? Federal. Internet, phone, power grid, etc.? A combination of Federal and utilities (AT&T, PG&E, Southern Edison in California). Our state has no business attempting to start their own high speed rail system. It was supposed to cost less than $30B. Then it was $80B+, now it is $68B only because they plan on use cap and trade money (which is another deterrent to doing business in California) and having the train start and stop much more often than planned. Do the math. My guess is this will cost a minimum of $125B. For 50 years of operation you should add another $125B for maintenance, payroll, retirement, medical insurance, etc.. We can't close a $16B gap in the budget this year. Even at the lowest bond costs, this will still take more than $5B+ a year away from the budget every year, not counting maintenance, etc.. Their passenger prediction is absolutely ridiculous (88M to 117M per year). That's 274,000 a day. What? We are forced to pass $220M and $198M and $240M bond and parcel tax measures to fix the infrastructure of our schools (CUSD, FUHSD, Foothill De Anza) because there isn't enough money from the state. Fix that problem first, then you can play with your train set.
Frank Geefay July 09, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Of course passengers will be paying for the privilege of riding the high speed rail system which should cover most of the maintenance and upgrades as time goes on. The fare may not be cheap but the saving in car expenses and living in a cheaper house will more than make up the difference. I will not argue with the overall cost of the system. It is possible that it may even run over budget as did BART. I remember that there were people dead set against BART too. But look at the contribution of BART to the growth of the Bay Area. Sure it cost a lot of money. But it has benefited the private sector tremendously in making it possible for people to live further away from work yet quickly get there. There are going to be all kinds of beneficial fallouts from high speed rail that will ultimately dwarf the cost of building it. I have already described some of them earlier and witnessed it in action in China and Taiwan whose systems continue to expand because of its many benefits. All you can see is its cost, not its economic benefits. I see this as an economic stimulus that California desperately needs for more jobs and affordable housing. It may be the single largest stimulus to California's economy that exists. Don’t forget that the Fed is kicking in $3 Billion. It’s now or never.
Susan July 09, 2012 at 05:35 PM
Why is Gov. Brown allowed to say voters approved this plan? Sadly, this thing has boondoggle written all over it. Revote rail: http://www.revoterail.com/
Frank Geefay July 13, 2012 at 06:02 PM
Californians voted for Prop 13 in the 1970's and see what has happened to our educational system. Do we want to do the same for High Speed Rail? Both are investments into the future prosperity of California and America. Their derivatives will put tax dollars back into the government and money back into our economy. You got to start such projects when the need for jobs and growth are greatest, not when we are prosperous and growth has already occurred. It is the catalyst for spurring desperately needed growth and employment. If you want to maximize your investments you need to invest in the market when it is low and you are strapped for cash rather than when the market is high and you have cash to burn.

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