If you want to see what real political leadership looks like, head north in the Valley, where it’s on display.
Lawmakers and supervisors in Merced, Modesto and Stockton want to be part of California’s high-speed rail project.
That’s because they understand the value of being able to commute quickly to Silicon Valley, home to many of America’s most successful businesses and the world anchor of technological innovation.
These north Valley leaders also recognize the role that high-speed rail will play in making the University of California, Merced, a star institution and attractive to the best young minds in California.
So when the California High-Speed Rail Authority decided to concentrate on developing a high-speed commuter connection between Silicon Valley and the San Joaquin Valley, instead of crossing the Tehachapis to Southern California, our northern neighbors demanded that the segment to Merced be included.
Demanding is one thing. Getting it done is another. But Assembly member Adam Gray, D-Merced, who chairs the Assembly select committee on rails, pointed out the stupidity of bypassing the large numbers of people who commute from Merced and Stanislaus counties to the Bay Area every day.
More importantly, Gray was joined by many other leaders in lobbying for a Merced station on the route. Among them: state Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton, Merced County Supervisor John Pedrozo and even a Republican, state Sen. Anthony Cannella of Ceres.
Their logic and their passion for the project were so impressive that the rail authority bought into the idea of the Merced segment. The CHSRA board still must officially vote on the plan, but Gray said he is confident it will be passed. If passed, the Merced high-speed rail station will open in 2025, putting it on the same timeline as the Fresno segment of the project.
“They realized they had made a mistake,” Gray said after the April 21 meeting of high-speed rail leaders.
Not only will Merced get its high-speed station, but the new plan – up for approval April 28 – would provide $200 million to extend Altamont Commuter Express to Modesto. With the bullet train and ACE, those living in the north Valley would have two options to avoid driving over the Altamont or Pacheco passes.
Fremont Assemblyman Bob Wieckowski is working with the north Valley legislators to ensure ACE will connect to BART, creating a network featuring all three public rail systems.
“That’s what makes it good,” said Cannella, who didn’t originally support high-speed rail but who is now coming around.
Now compare the vision and teamwork of those officials to what’s going on in our neck of the Valley.
We are saddled with the likes of Assemblyman Jim Patterson of Fresno, state Sen. Andy Vidak of Hanford and Fresno City Councilman Steve Brandau, who are doing everything in their power to kill the high-speed rail project.
These three apparently don’t want thousands of well-paying construction and rail system jobs. They apparently don’t want our part of the Valley to quickly connect with the Bay Area. They apparently don’t want Fresno State’s engineering school to become a world leader in high-speed rail.
Their can’t-do attitude, obfuscation and parroted talking points are reminiscent of the infighting and failure to unite that killed any hopes Fresno had of landing the newest University of California campus, which went to Merced.
Patterson, Vidak and Brandau aren’t leaders, they’re followers. Instead of having the courage to stand tall for their region, they pander to those loud voices whose biggest dream is that Fresno turn back the clock to 1950.
Well, the world is moving ahead – with or without Fresno.
The folks up north understand how important high-speed rail is to their future.
Too bad that Patterson, Vidak and Brandau are oblivious to what it means to Fresno.
Thank goodness we have real leaders – people like Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin, Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea and Lee Ann Eager of the Fresno County Economic Development Corporation – to overcome the damage being done by the high-speed rail naysayers.