Aaron Fukuda and Shelli Andranigian: California high-speed rail fairytale

FresnoJune 25, 2014 

The California High-Speed Rail project has come to mirror the saying "The emperor has no clothes." In his famous book "The Emperor's New Clothes," Hans Christian Andersen tells a tale of two weavers who promise an emperor a new suit that is invisible to those unfit for their position or hopelessly stupid. The emperor's ministers cannot see the clothing, but pretend they can for fear of appearing unfit for their positions. Even the villagers play along with the charade, until one child in the crowd shouts that the emperor is wearing nothing. The emperor cringes, suspecting that the child is correct, but continues with his procession through town as though he is exalted.

In the case of high-speed rail, the weavers are the California High-Speed Rail Authority as they promise Gov. Edmund G. Brown (the emperor) that high-speed rail according to their plan is realistic both by implementation standards and financially. So our governor runs among the people telling taxpayers that high-speed rail will save our environment, save our jobs and promote public transportation.

The ministers, aka California's dominant party's legislators, play along with the charade by repeating the mantra "we need high-speed rail to solve our problems … it is the future." Each time the authority and the governor have hearings on the topic, they ignore the warning signs and continue the procession right toward the cliff.

However, a small group of landowners, the County of Kings and the Kings County Farm Bureau have made the statement "there is no high-speed rail project."

The authority's poor planning, limited funding, funding restrictions, litigation and simple mismanagement of the project have left it with just enough money to build a conventional (non-high-speed rail) system from Madera (Avenue 17) to somewhere north of Bakersfield. We are not sure where the route will stop as the costs keep escalating and thus the initial construction will be subsequently shortened.

The authority has weaved a creative story that has left the governor and Legislature to parade a high-speed rail project that has no substance.

The crafters of the legislation that established the authority and state bond funding misled the public in believing an 800-mile high-speed rail system could be built for $38 billion by the year 2020.

The authority worked with power brokers in communities to design a system behind closed doors that benefited some communities and harmed others. This established a meandering alignment that weaves its way from the Bay Area to the eastern side of the San Joaquin Valley then turns south toward Bakersfield wandering its way through the heart of our agricultural communities.

When approached by French experts in high-speed rail, the authority and its lead consultant, Parsons Brinckerhoff, rebuffed them.

Last year, the authority was handed a judgment from Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael P. Kenny stating that the authority abused its discretionary power and provided an illegal document to the Legislature that prompted a budget allocation.

The authority had insisted in 2011 to the Legislature that if the California High-Speed Rail project did not begin by 2012, it would die. We are now in 2014 and construction has yet to commence while the authority expends millions of dollars a day in consultant fees and staff time.

More troubling is that the first construction package was awarded in early 2013 to Tutor Perini, which has certain key dates for delivery of property for construction to begin. To date the authority has mismanaged most of those property acquisitions and Tutor Perini has yet to begin construction, which mean the change-orders are already drafted and in the hopper.

Early in the program, the authority insisted private investment was imminent and they were meeting with investors daily to fund the project. Four years later, there are still no investors, but the authority now admits no private investment is expected until the system is running.

The authority has struggled to identify the $12 billion it has to work on the $68 billion Phase 1, signaling a rough road to fill the gap in Phase 1 funding. This all ignores Phase 2, which connects Sacramento and San Diego.

How long will our emperor (Gov. Brown) and his ministers (California's dominant party Legislators) still walk among us with nothing in hand and promising the world? The emperor has no clothes, and California will not have the first high-speed rail system built in America.


Aaron Fukuda and Shelli Andranigian are members of Citizens for California High-Speed Rail Accountability. The group's mission is to make sure the proposed California High-Speed Rail Project does not adversely affect the economy, environment or quality of life for California communities.

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