On Friday, the state Senate passed by a 21:16 margin an appropriation bill for $8 billion. The leadership claims it is for high-speed rail, but that certainly is not the case.
Not a single Republican voted for the bill which needed 21 votes to pass. There are 25 Democrats in the state Senate. Four Democratic senators, Lowenthal, Simitian, DeSaulnier and Pavley, had the will and guts to oppose the bill, leaving the other 21 Democrats with just enough votes to pass the bill.
Amazing as it may seem, these four Democrat senators, all of whom had been active in committee work and were the few who knew the project well, all voted no. The other 21 Democrat senators, were led like sheep down the yes path, under the leadership of senators Steinberg and Leno and our Gov. Jerry Brown.
Talk about shady dealings. The appropriation bill was devised behind closed doors; no Republican was allowed to be involved; the bill language was not released to anyone until late on July 3. The result was almost all the Democrat Legislature members never read and certainly never understood what was going on here. They simply followed their leaders and voted yes. That is except for the four Democrat senators mentioned above.
Kept private and not released until Tuesday was a Legislative Counsel opinion/ruling on the legality of items in the business plan. Certainly almost the whole Legislature was both unaware of this document and was not aware of its implications.
Particular note should be taken of the votes of senators Yee (San Francisco) and Evans (Santa Rosa), both of whom on Thursday stated they would vote no on the appropriation. Yet they both voted yes on Friday. Just what did the leadership give these two senators, which changed their votes?
The chair of the authority board, Dan Richard, now has repositioned what the Proposition 1A, voter approved bond measure will fund. The funding is no longer high-speed rail funding, but rather a funding for "rail modernization.” This new plan includes all sorts of funding for regular passenger, low-speed rail projects.
Proposition 1A was passed in November 2008 by a 52.5 percent to 47.5 percent margin. It was presented as a $33 billion project, which was to fund a high-speed train, running on electrical power, speeding up to 220 mph, and being able, as part of its specifications, to provide passengers a one-seat ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes.
Four years later, we are looking at a $68 billion (lowest current estimate) project, which will take at least 3 hours and 30 minutes from San Francisco to Los Angeles, with projected ticket prices that have dramatically risen.
It has been noted the methods used to push the bill through, on a holiday week, just before the Legislature was to recess, would be totally illegal if attempted at a local or county level. Because of state-mandated measures like the Brown Act, public notice of such actions well in advance of taking a vote are required. At the state level, the Legislature seems to do anything they wish on a timeline it can create at will. In this case, the leadership shut out the public and effectively shut out almost all opposition in the Assembly and Senate as well.
The high-speed rail project has become unpopular with the voters. Opposition in the Central Valley is huge. A Field Poll shows that statewide about 60 percent of the voters want it stopped.
The core part of the appropriation, almost $6 billion of the $8 billion is to fund a 130-mile stretch of tracks in the low ridership area of the Central Valley. These tracks have neither electrical power nor Positive Train Control and other systems, all of which are needed for a 200 mph high-speed train.
Sen. Simitian, a Democrat, in his 17 minutes of remarks stating why the appropriation for this project should be voted down ended with:
"But regrettably, the only conclusion I can come to today is that this is the wrong plan in the wrong place at the wrong time. And I will be a ‘no’ vote.”
He, Lowenthal, DeSaulnier and Pavley failed by one vote to defeat the bill.
A very sad day for California, its education system, social networks, etc. — all of which will be stripped of revenue in the future, as funding for this project will come from the General Fund, and there is only so much funding to go around.
Morris Brown was the plaintiff in a lawsuit against the high-speed rail project and the High-Speed Rail Authority that was dismissed. He holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University in organic chemistry. He lives in Menlo Park.