Legislature

Allies Challenge AB 1899's Constitutionality

Five individuals, three non-profit organizations, the Town of Atherton and Kings County amended their lawsuit today, seeking a ruling that the California High-Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) efforts to obtain construction funding from a voter-approved bond measure violate the state constitution. The case is the second one filed as Tos v. California High-Speed Rail Authority, or Tos II. Legal papers are available here.

The Third District Court of Appeal had previously ruled that Prop. 1A, the 2008 $9.9 billion high-speed rail bond measure, created a "financial straitjacket" restricting the use of the bond funds. Plaintiffs allege in their suit that the Legislature's passage of AB 1889 created a tool that attempts to evade the bond measure's restrictions.

However, because AB 1889 fundamentally alters that voter-approved measure, plaintiffs allege it is unconstitutional, as are the funding plans that rely on it. Newly added as a plaintiff is retired judge and former CHSRA Chair Quentin Kopp, who helped write Prop. 1A and has joined the case to defend that measure as the voters approved it.
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Multiple Groups File Opposition to AB 1899

Today, a group of organizations have united in a letter opposing AB 1889, the attempted grab of Prop. 1A bond funds. They are: TRANSDEF, the Train Riders Association of California, Preserve Our Heritage, Citizens for California High Speed Rail Accountability and the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail. When the bill was later amended, the groups sent an updated letter.

In an attempt to evade the requirements of Proposition 1A, the HSR Bond Act, Caltrain has sponsored AB 1889. The bill would give CHSRA full discretion to declare that a rail corridor or segment is HSR-ready. This is a big deal for Caltrain, because its electrification project cannot qualify for $700+ million in bond funding under the current law. It wants the money now.
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Will Sen. De León Take HSR in New Direction?

A striking column by George Skelton suggests that the incoming Senate leader, Richard De León, could set a very different tone with HSR, forcing the Governor to change the project so it finally makes sense.

TRAC Issues Plan B

The Train Riders Association of California has issued its Plan B, what to do when the HSRA’s project craters. The Plan strategically attempts to use the $2.4 billion in federal ARRA funds before they expire in 2017. This Plan B differs from TRANSDEF’s Plan B, which proposed a wholesale revision of Proposition 1A and a repurposing of the entire $6 billion dollars appropriated for the Central Valley project. That plan has much greater uncertainties, because it would require a return to the voters. The time involved in doing that, given the very short timelines for construction, favors taking a more strategic approach. Hence, TRAC’s Plan B:


TRACPlanB02-24-2014

Senate Bill Doles out Goodies to Legislative Districts

The strategy to pass HSR funding was to dole out goodies: Senate President pro Tem Steinberg handed out this summary to Senators. This was apparently his primary tool to gather support for the $8 billion HSR funding bill known as S.B. 1029. Read More...

CA Legislature: Know-Nothings Approve HSR Funding

Friday's no-margin majority vote in the CA Senate to fund the $6 billion 130-mile HSR project in the Central Valley was marked by a stunning disconnect between the majority that passed the budget measure and the members most informed about the project. The majority plugged their ears to the detailed explanations of the measure's flaws given by three courageous Democratic Senators and the Republicans. Facts didn't matter.

Senator Simitian of Palo Alto gave
the speech of his life.

Although a long-time supporter of the concept of High-Speed Rail for California, Simitian’s conclusion was: "This is the wrong plan, in the wrong place, and at the wrong time." He was also concerned that voters would react to this vote by turning down the Governor's tax extension measures in November, with devastating consequences to education and social service programs.

Senators DeSaulnier and Lowenthal, Chair and former Chair of the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee, who have held countless hearings on High-Speed Rail, spoke out strongly against the measure. These three and Senator Pavley were the only Democrats voting against the funding measure.

According to press reports, a 2010 promise by the President to secure the vote of Representative Jim Costa on health care reform resulted in the federal insistence that its HSR funding go entirely to Costa's Central Valley district.

The three Senators were convinced that spending $6 billion in that area would put the State at great risk of being left with a very expensive piece of useless track.

They produced an alternative plan that would have spent most of the money on immediately useful track improvements in Los Angeles and San Francisco, including a $2 billion extension of Caltrain to the Transbay Transit Center.
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Senate Holds Fiery HSR Hearing

On April 18, Budget Subcommittee #3 conducted a hearing on High-Speed Rail. Chairman Joe Simitian asked many pointed questions as to the viability of the proposed 130 mile Central Valley project. Compelling testimony from the Legislative Analysts’ Office cast strong doubts on assertions in the HSRA Business Plan that the Authority would be able to access cap and trade revenues as a backstop for 20+ billion in missing funding for its Initial Operating Section (IOS). Without a fully-funded IOS, opponents of the Central Valley project assert that the Authority cannot legally access Proposition 1A Bond funds. TRANSDEF provided the following testimony: Read More...

TRANSDEF's Testimony at Senate HSR Hearing

I’m David Schonbrunn of TRANSDEF. We’re transit advocates that have been litigating HSR EIRs for the past 5 years, and have been highly critical of the Authority’s route decisions, their engineering and their ridership modeling. We see the Authority slowly changing direction and heading in a more viable direction. We give great credit to the Peer Review Group for their courageous comments, which were instrumental in bringing that about. But we are more outspoken: we vigorously oppose the Central Valley project and urge you to not fund it. Many environmental groups, under the aegis of the Planning and Conservation League, sent the Governor a letter opposing the project, for the reasons identified by the Peer Review Group and Legislative Analyst. That creates credibility problems for the Governor, who is touting this project for environmental reasons. Read More...