San Mateo venture capitalist Tim Draper’s idea to split California into six states is moving forward, with the green light given to collect signatures. That this idea has gotten any traction at all shows just how divided California has become. North versus south, inland versus coast, farmer versus enviro and the list goes on.
However, there is one idea uniting citizens across the state. Elected officials, both Democrat and Republican, and statewide candidates from both parties have embraced it. Farmers and tech titans agree.
It’s time to stop California’s giant boondoggle. It’s time to stop the California High-Speed Rail Authority before it does any more damage and get off the crazy train before it’s too late.
Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is the latest high-profile elected official to join the chorus opposing high-speed rail. An early advocate of the proposed system, Newsom recently said, “I am not the only Democrat that feels this way. I am one of the few that just said it publicly. Most are now saying it privately.”
This reversal reveals what is happening in the California electorate. Running for re-election statewide, an astute politician such as Newsom wouldn’t radically reverse positions unless he thought sticking with the old one would lose him a significant number of votes.
He’s seen the polling, and it doesn’t look good for high-speed rail backers. Last fall, USC Donnsife/Los Angeles Times released a poll of California registered voters showing that 70 percent want a chance to vote on whether to continue with the underfinanced, poorly planned and costly system. Seventy percent is a number that will grab the attention of any politician and, given our state’s divisions, that number is astoundingly high.
Gov. Jerry Brown’s Republican opponents (yes, there are some running) have latched onto high-speed rail as a campaign issue. Neel Kashkari has made cancellation of high-speed rail a centerpiece of his campaign. As the one who coined the moniker “crazy train,” he is urging supporters to sign an open letter to Jerry Brown that raises other, more pressing concerns including the 24 percent of Californians living in poverty, and our schools ranking 46th in the nation.
Similarly, Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, also running for governor, introduced legislation that would have prohibited federal and state funds from being used to finance the high-speed rail project.
Locally, those in favor of upgrading Caltrain shouldn’t fear cancellation of the $34 million per mile train to nowhere. Part of the price paid by high-speed rail proponents in the 2012 legislative vote to move forward with issuing of bonds was throwing money at Caltrain to secure Peninsula and San Francisco legislators’ votes. It worked, and despite fierce local opposition, most of our elected officials voted to issue the bonds.
Even though Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny has halted the sale of high-speed rail bonds (the timing of which may doom high-speed rail receiving federal matching dollars), Caltrain already has the funds in hand to implement Positive Train Control, the first step in the upgrade plan. Much of the remaining funds were assumed to be funneled from the federal government, an assumption that, given national political dynamics, looks highly remote.
Several plans are on the table for what to do with the bond funds if voters have their say and stop high-speed rail in its tracks. The drought has brought into focus the need for more water storage, delivery and conservation. Interestingly, both Newsom, a San Francisco liberal, and Donnelly, a Tea Party favorite, have suggested water infrastructure upgrades as a more pressing need than Gov. Brown’s vanity project.
Moreover, just this week, Assembly Republicans released their infrastructure plans, which would distribute high-speed rail funds (assuming voter approval) between highway maintenance and construction as well as port and freight improvement projects.
In a state as divided as California, rarely does an issue unite 70 percent of the voters. Rarely are liberal Democrats and Tea Party favorites on the same page. Hardly ever do farmers and the Sierra Club agree, yet they both demand that the high-speed rail financial finagling of slickster politicians be stopped.
Standing united, Californians can get off the crazy train. Staying united, Californians can move into a future free of overhyped projects sucking billions into a sinkhole from which there is no escape. We are divided on many issues, but we stand united on stopping the governor’s vanity train from leaving the station.
John McDowell is a longtime county resident having first moved to San Carlos in 1963. In the intervening years, he has worked as a political volunteer and staff member in local, state and federal government, including time spent as a press secretary on Capitol Hill and in the George W. Bush administration.