Executive Address – February 2013

 

To The Pretentious –the Central Valley only Exists Until a Better Use Comes Along

Last December, the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board published its opinion of how widespread Central Valley opposition to the high speed rail project (Project) is “baffling.” Specifically, the Editorial Board attacked Congressmen Denham (R-Turlock) and McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) for commissioning hearings questioning the facts, figures and dollar estimates provided by the California High Speed Rail Authority (Authority) to build the Project in their districts. Furthermore, the Bee’s Editorial Board implied that the Project’s benefits would greatly assist the Central Valley’s blight, air quality, poverty, freight transportation problems, and stops the rapid loss of farmland conversion, and that for these two Congressmen to question this God-sent miracle of a Project was unforgivable.

I would pay good money to know which Project the Bee’s Editorial Board is worshipping. 

The fact that we have elected Congressmen to question the manner in which we use public funds is an AWE-INSPIRING thing.   These Congressmen have done what they can to ensure that a higher and better use of public infrastructure funding isn’t available, and that the Project is held accountable to its purpose and need no matter what inquiries are placed in front of it. 

It’s true –the Project touts remarkable benefits.  To imagine a Central Valley where we can take a deep breath of fresh air in 20 or 30 years alone would make even the most frugal pessimist a believer.  To consider the annihilation of our socioeconomic blight and abject poverty through the purveyance of commerce and construction of the gold encrusted Heavy Maintenance Facility (HMF) is to consider a pathway to paradise.  And from an agricultural advocacy perspective, to accept that one Project could end the rapid loss of farmland conversion to urbanization would be equivocal to finding the holy ag grail. 

Sadly, the project offers NONE of these benefits once constructed –so sayeth from the Authority’s own hand.  You see –knowledge is power, and just in case the Sacramento Bee’s Editorial Board doesn’t know it –they conceal information like this in books. Has perception outside where this Project actually incurs impacts gotten so pompous that they can’t READ facts?

Operating under the negative assumption –that those judging from afar have not, in fact, read what amounts to be the Project’s binding and authoritative environmental documents, dictating its purpose, need, and benefits for the communities its intends to impact –allow the Farm Bureau to shed some light on what it says as it relates to the aforementioned Project benefits.

On the benefit of air quality, the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) states that until the entire Initial Operating Segment –Merced to Palmdale –is constructed, the train running on the tracks won’t be high speed at all –the segment won’t be long enough for the train to function.  In fact, it will be a diesel locomotive until approximately 2025.  I’m pretty sure we’ve already got enough of those things pummeling plumes of CO2 and particulates into our air so I fail to see how another one –especially one that doesn’t have a shred of freight capacity to offset highway usages, will actually reduce our air quality problem.

To the benefit of economic recovery and the promise of new jobs through either construction of the new railway or through the addition of an HMF, the EIR did analyze 5 sites between Merced and Madera County for this golden goose.  But in a records request by the Farm Bureau as part of our litigation, it has been revealed that according to the Authority, NONE of those HMF sites were ever viable because none of them are located adjacent to the Initial Construction Segment (think about a train service yard not being connected to tracks the trains can come in on).  The words “false advertising” certainly come to mind when you take into account that the ONLY tangible benefit for the Central Valley would have been this maintenance yard –as we certainly don’t get a station stop here in Madera and therefore are not able to apply for millions of dollars in grant funding through the economic workforce development boards in the State.  How disappointing to be lead astray on such a major detail.  The Authority also admits in their 2012 Business Plan, that approximately 56% of the workforce needed to lay these specialized tracks will need to outsourced from outside the United States.  Sure, that still leaves almost 50% that they could source from within, but I’m unclear as to where Valley citizens will receive the training needed to work on such a project when we can’t qualify for any of the State job training grants (because we don’t get a station).

And finally, to the benefit of a reduced loss of agricultural land due to urban sprawl being reduced by the Project.  This must be elitist conjecture –passed down by generations of “smart growth planners.”  That’s my guess anyway because the EIR, whose job it is to fully analyze impacts and benefits that a project might have on a community –does in fact admit that the loss of agricultural land is a significant and unavoidable impact that cannot be mitigated.  It also says that the Authority will not attempt to mitigate for this loss on any level (one of the major reasons the Farm Bureau took issue with a transportation project in the first place). The EIR goes on to say in its cumulative impacts section that the loss of agricultural land in the Central Valley, “…is expected to continue at a 17% decline valley wide over the next 50 years.” It contributes these factors to the population expanding in the state and the ever increasing growth pressures caused by unaffordable metropolitan housing.  It doesn’t take a genius to arrive at the conclusion that population expansion will occur where people –en mass –can afford to purchase their houses.  Where better than in the Central Valley, especially when it only takes an hour to get to San Francisco or Los Angeles? I fail to see how this “smart growth” strategy for moving a non-pedestrian, non-mass transit using part of the state into full dependency on mass transit aims to reduce growth.  It appears to be the opposite –the promotion of growth at the cheapest cost.

It is also true that the Central Valley’s current plethora of problems can’t continue unchecked or unchanged.  The Governor likes to say that with progress comes pain, and that someone will always be there to stand in the way of progress.  I might agree with him –if I thought for a second that this Project –as planned –was really progress.  But as it stands I see strong evidence that none of the Valley’s problems, including our reliance on transportation and cars, will be solved by this Project.  I can only see tax payer money being thrown into oblivion with no real promise or hope to change the future.

Anja K. Raudabaugh
Executive Director