California is supposed to be a place where hopes and dreams become reality. In our Central Valley, however, it's becoming clearer by the day that the misguided High-Speed Rail (HSR) project will not only destroy the hopes and dreams of businesses and homeowners in this region, but kill thousands of jobs we can ill-afford to lose.
Quite simply, HSR is reckless, irresponsible and must be stopped.
On my "Whistle-Stop-the-High Speed Rail" tour over the past several weeks, I met with and listened to folks throughout our San Joaquin Valley whose farms, businesses and homes are in the destructive path of the so-called bullet train. The result of those visits is a package of four bills I introduced aimed at putting a stake into the heart of HSR.
The first of those bills – Senate Bill 901 – would temporarily halt the sale of any more taxpayer-funded bonds for the HSR and put the issue back before the voters on the November 2014 ballot.
Although voters passed a bond in 2008 to fund HSR, it is not the same animal the voters approved. According to a USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times poll last September, 70% of respondents want the project to be placed back on the ballot.
In 2008, voters were told the total cost of the project would be approximately $33 billion and that it would be built along existing corridors.
Voters were also told in 2008 that the "high-speed" train would be able to make the trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco in two hours, 40 minutes and that the train would reach sustained speeds of 220 miles per hour.
Voters were also told that the cost of a ticket would be about $50.
Now none of this is true.
The HSR Authority now says the new cost of the project is $68 billion. But the chairman of the state Senate Transportation Committee, Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said this at a committee hearing in November: "Now, we have high-speed rail in California and if you believe ... in the research around what happens with rail projects, Californians might be paying $300 billion or $350 billion instead of $68 billion."
Rather than being built along Interstate 5 or Highway 99 here in our Valley, the train now will plow right through farms, businesses and homes. It will take closer to four hours to get between Los Angeles and San Francisco, the train will not come close to traveling 220 mph and the cost of a trip is likely to be at least $100.
These massive changes can only lead to one common-sense solution — immediately halt the sale of bonds and give the voters a chance to revote on this project with the "real" facts.
In addition to SB 901, I introduced the following bills to address the concerns I heard from folks that I met with on the tour:
Senate Bill 902 — Fair Purchase of Private Property in Path of High-Speed Rail. This bill would require the state to provide the landowner either the fair market value of the property or the amount of money necessary to discharge all liens on the property, whichever is greater. This will ensure that previous landowners are not held responsible for any debt that was associated with the property that they no longer legally own.
Senate Bill 903 — Protecting Local Government Finances from High-Speed Rail Land Grab. SB 903 would require that the HSR Authority reimburse counties 1% of the purchase price of land seized for the project to protect vital local government services. Like property taxes, the value of the amount remitted by the HSR Authority to the county will increase 2% a year to keep up with inflation.
Senate Bill 904 — Landowner's Bill of Rights. HSR Authority employees and contractors are coming onto private property without permission or identifying why they are there or what they are doing. This legislation would require land surveyors working on the HSR project to obtain the permission of the landowner, as well as identify themselves as either an employee of the HSR Authority or a contract employee of a company working on behalf of the HSR Authority.
I've looked at the real facts of the project. High-speed rail is likely going to cost hundreds of billions of dollars more than taxpayers were told, and never live up to its name.
I listened to the real people caught in the path of this destructive boondoggle. Farmland will be wiped out, businesses will be destroyed, jobs will be lost and private property will be seized.
The people of California want and deserve the right to a revote on this train to nowhere.
State Sen. Andy Vidak R-Hanford, represents California's 16th District, which includes all of Kings County and portions of Fresno, Kern and Tulare counties.