MERCED -- When work begins on California's high-speed rail system, most of the jobs will go to California workers, Assembly Member Cathleen Galgiani told a roomful of residents, Realtors and local officials during a community meeting Friday.
Speaking inside the Sam Pipes room at the Merced Civic Center, Galgiani, D-Livingston, urged local and small businesses to bid on rail contracts or subcontracts. Small businesses that sign up to bid for a contract must have 100 or fewer employees and annual gross receipts of $l4 million or less over the previous three years, she said.
She said she wanted to make sure contracts wouldn't go just to large companies.
"My goal here today is really make sure the community understands what is before us and what the process is going forward so we do make sure we have Central Valley firms who can compete for the contracts," she said.
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The train system could eventually span 800 miles. It is intended to carry passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles by way of the San Joaquin Valley at speeds of up to 220 mph.
Said Galgiani: "94% to 96% of the work force will be our workers and the balance will be from engineers from other countries who have specialized technology to train our engineers."
The project would need California firms to build all of the structures and infrastructure, she said.
"While we will have investment from other countries, the infrastructure will remain California's," she said.
Some voiced concerns about the loss of agricultural land and the role of Amtrak after the high-speed train becomes reality.
Laverne Caldeira, a Realtor and Le Grand almond farmer, said a proposed route would cut directly through his farm.
"We see proposed lines cutting ranches in half, eliminating residences, going through the town of Le Grand," said Caldeira. "This is causing agriculture from Merced to Bakersfield an extreme concern."
Galgiani said the project is the first of its kind in the United States, and officials have been studying high-speed rail in eight countries to understand the processes and potential problems.
"As the rest of the economy crashed, the agricultural industry is one of the industries that has allowed us to keep our heads fairly above water," Galgiani said. "There is a way to do both, plan for the high-speed rail and agriculture community."
She said there will be a hearing in late February to address the concerns of the agriculture community.
"High-speed rail is planning for 100 years ahead. It's painful now because we don't know as much," she said, and that an environmental impact report hasn't been done.
Amtrak and high-speed rail will be complementary, she said.
"We have the need for both, we'll have both," she said.
Locally, Galgiani had a long-term vision of including a high-speed rail training academy within the UC Merced engineering department.
Galgiani said it makes sense to expand the engineering program with specialized technology in high-speed rail.
"We're looking for ways to tap into resources that would allow us to pursue a concept that would build upon our existing engineering program," she said.
No construction can begin until the California High-Speed Rail Authority completes its environmental reviews of the project.
The federal deadline for completing these reviews is September. Construction is expected to begin in 2012 and finish in 2017.