Town Square

High Speed Rasputin

Original post made by Paul Losch, a resident of Palo Alto, on Nov 30, 2011

It took a great deal of effort by certain Russians to kill Rasputin, the minion of the final Czar of Russia. The guy did not go down easily or peacefully, nor does that appear to be the case with High Speed Rail in California.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 1, 2011 at 8:20 am

While Paul Losch makes perfect sense in this bit of opinion, the problem is that his opinion is not how the process works, or at least it is not working for this project.

California is well known for failures of “big ticket”/capital projects:

CA Large Project Failures:
Web Link

Just this week, there was a problem with a new CalPERS computer system:
Web Link

The venture has had a rocky history, coming in two years late at an estimated $507 million. That's $228 million over the original budget, including $74 million in features added later. CalPERS figures the true cost overruns total $154 million.

The idea that Californians, with a single vote requiring only a 50%+1 approval level, should be able to commit (possibly) hundreds of billions of dollars to a project that has no solid planning in place at the time of the election, provides for virtually no oversight, and might never have any strict oversight, demonstrates another of the many flaws in “democracy”, California style.

We elect people locally that claim to be our “political betters”--people who claim to know more about “governing” that ordinary people. And what do we get—a government that is chronically living on money that is being “borrowed” from our children and grandchildren (via bonds), without their consent, or knowledge. A government that is increasingly opaque, often caught up in lies that hide the truths of government mismanagement, and malfeasance.

If we had knowledgeable, and honest, legislators, they would have created the HSR Project with “off-ramps”, so that if after sufficient study, it could have been legally, and effectively, terminated.

Unfortunately, we have elected a bunch of people who are more beholden to special interests, than to the people of California. The Legislature simply created a “spigot” for HSR spending, that once turned on, will be very hard to turn off.

California government, at every level, is broken. Maybe the HSR quagmire will be a big enough issue to start the pendulum swinging back towards some point of common sense, and “live within your means” governance. But somehow I doubt it.

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Posted by Dr Doodle
a resident of another community
on Dec 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I don't want to sound mean here, because I generally understand where Mr. Losch is coming from. But this commentary is just so full of inaccuracies that it doesn't really do any favors to HSR opponents. For example:

Get Kopp and Diridon off the Board? They're already off!

The "nonprofit organization" model doesn't fly? Of course not, which is why it's never been associated with HSR. (There are some people who want a nonprofit to take over Caltrain, and I would agree with Mr. Losch that that's a ludicrous notion).

Reasoned experts with no skin in the game? Do you mean people like Alain Enthoven, who, long before ever attacking the financial structure of HSR, was complaining about how the noise of trains would disrupt dinner parties at his home near the tracks?

There's no money to do this project? AND the money should be spent on local transit? So is there money or not? The fact of the matter is that there is SOME money to start the project, and that money is available ONLY because the project is HSR. Take away HSR, and the money goes away too.

Where's the money? Okay, this actually IS the question. $98 billion project, and $6 billion in the bank. Even though I like HSR, I have a hard time believing that this scheme is really going to work out.

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Posted by Robert
a resident of Stanford
on Dec 2, 2011 at 10:52 am

@ Dr. Doolittle,

Re your "Get Kopp and Diridon off the Board? They're already off!" Did you note the word "still" in Losch's commentary (last sentence of his paragraph 1)? Apparently not. That shows that he realizes they're already gone from the board of directors. Please read more carefully before criticizing. (Caveat: they're probably gone in name only. If you think they're not still involved as promoters and influencers in board deliberations or on behalf of the project, then I've got a used bridge I'd like to sell you cheap.)

Yes, "reasoned experts with no skin in the game," like the folks at UC's "Institute of Transportation Studies" who found the methodology and assumptions of HSR's consultant's predictive ridership model problematic.

Re funds being used for local transit, Losch obviously knows that (a) at present the money to complete this project is not even close to being in hand, and is contending that (b) such money as the state would likely have to come up with in the future to complete HSR would be better spent on local transit improvement. There's NOTHING INCONSISTENT WITH THAT POSITION AT ALL.

Thanks for your comment.