Fresno and other San Joaquin Valley communities are lucky to have Gov. Jerry Brown on their side and batting cleanup in the effort to build California’s first-in-the-nation high-speed rail system.
Absent Brown’s leadership and mastery of political jiu-jitsu, high-speed rail opponents might have derailed the $68 billion project by now and wiped out our vision of what the system could do to lift our economy and clean our air.
As Brown noted at Tuesday’s ceremonial groundbreaking of the bullet-train project in downtown Fresno, he was once a high-speed rail critic. But the more he learned, the more he became enthused.
And since Brown took office in his second stint as governor in 2011, he has brought order and credibility to an effort that got off to a rocky start after voters approved a $9.9 billion bond act in 2008.
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Well known for being frugal in his personal life and tight with taxpayer dollars, Brown took on project critics during his remarks. High-speed rail opponents are “pusillanimous” — meaning they lack the courage and determination to see the project completed.
As to unanswered questions about raising sufficient money, including an estimated one-third of system costs from private investors, Brown said: “Where the hell are we going to get the rest of the money? To hell with it. We’ll get it.”
Brown already has shown that he is pretty good at getting it: In June, he worked out a compromise with the Legislature that allocated $250 million to high-speed rail in this fiscal year and 25% of cap-and-trade revenue in following years.
We realize that high-speed rail has many hurdles to clear before the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system would be completed in 2028 — or later — and that the final price likely will be higher than $68 billion.
But this is the nature of big public infrastructure projects. Highways, dams, airports and bridges often come in late and over budget; that doesn’t mean we stop building them when and where they are needed. It does mean, however, that we double check plans and pay attention to the details.
We could better accept the largely Republican opposition to high-speed rail in California if the critics were intent on improving the system. The evidence is that their obstruction is almost entirely for political purposes.
Until President Barack Obama took office, Republicans championed high-speed rail; now they’re against it — including Valley Republicans whose districts are in desperate need of the jobs, investment and connectivity to other California regions that the system would bring.
One of the saddest sights is Assembly Member Jim Patterson’s attempts to kill high-speed rail. We remember when he was a passionate spokesman for Fresno and its future. He has been reduced to selling fear of the system to score political points when he should be helping Fresno land the high-speed rail maintenance facility that will be awarded this year.
Fortunately, Brown has our back. He knows what will lift up Fresno and the Valley. Of equal importance: He has the savvy to outmaneuver scores of pusillanimous GOP naysayers standing in high-speed rail’s way.