High-speed rail is coming to the Central Valley. Residents see a new life in the fast lane

FRESNO, Calif. —  The piling rig was in position, ready to drive a concrete pillar 40 feet into the ground. Just beyond the rig on this winter afternoon, trucks and cars continued streaming down State Road 198 in Hanford, separated from the construction site by white dividers.

Then, the pile-driving began. Foot by foot, the rig’s hammer slammed the pillar into the ground with the rhythmic beat of a metronome. With every blow, the ground shook and exhaust spewed. The beam would be one more in a network of pillars pounded deep into the earth to create the foundation for a high-speed rail line that in a matter of years will glide along tracks above the state highway, launching a new era in California’s Central Valley.

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From earth-moving equipment to heavy trucks ferrying massive beams and bulldozers clearing piles of debris, construction related to California’s high-speed rail project is evident across the San Joaquin Valley. Farther north, crews worked atop a viaduct that will carry the high-speed line above existing freight tracks that cut across the state north to south. And in Fresno’s Chinatown, restaurant and retail owners eagerly served a steady influx of construction workers, engineers and electricians, part of a broader transformation of the city’s downtown and economic prospects.

California’s high-speed rail may still be a matter of carping debate in some political circles, but it’s fast becoming a reality for residents of the Central Valley. This heavily farmed region — historically separated from Los Angeles, San Francisco and the California coast by both conservative politics and physical distance — is first in line to benefit from an infrastructure project being built with tens of billions of dollars in state and federal funding.

The 171-mile stretch of rail running between Merced and Bakersfield could be operational as early as 2030, with testing of the bullet trains slated to begin in 2028, according to the High-Speed Rail Authority. The project has created more than 12,000 construction jobs, with 70% of those workers coming from the Central Valley. Authority officials cited 25 active construction sites, with the Kings/Tulare station outside Hanford being the largest. The authority is closing in on finishing 22 miles of rail north of Shafter, set to be the first segment of the rail line completed.

In December, the Biden administration awarded the authority a $3.1-billion grant, the authority’s biggest award to date. The funds will go toward purchase of six electric trains for testing and use, design and construction of the Fresno station and designs for the Merced and Bakersfield extensions.

Residents and local officials acknowledge there has long been dissent over the project. Some of the region’s big farm interests have mounted fierce opposition, rallying conservative lawmakers to their cause. But the tenor of the conversation has changed as more jobs are created and structures go up.

When Interstate 5 was conceived in the mid-20th century as a major transportation corridor connecting California from north to south, the Central Valley’s interests were not part of the equation. The route skirts the valley’s rural western edge, and its major population centers — Fresno, Modesto, Bakersfield — were left out. In contrast, the high-speed rail line will cut through the heart of the valley, and Fresno and Bakersfield are key transportation hubs along the route.

The first operating segment of the high-speed line will run from Bakersfield in the south to Merced in the north. The vision is to ultimately extend service to Los Angeles and San Francisco. But even before those planned expansions, the rail line will intersect with existing passenger rail in Merced and a satellite bus network in Bakersfield to create more seamless nonauto travel options.

Local officials believe that connectivity will open all sorts of horizons: making it easier for people to live inland, where housing is relatively affordable, and still work on the coast. Access to jobs — particularly nonfarm jobs — and top-notch colleges will expand. And a region notably lacking in hospitals and healthcare professionals will have more options.

“To say I’m excited is an understatement,” said Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer, a Republican. “High-speed rail is a game-changer for Fresno and the Central Valley in many ways. No. 1, it will reconnect Fresno and the entire valley with the rest of the state and connect us with the California economy.”

In Fresno’s Chinatown, there is a rich history of diverse communities driven together by redlining policies.

Dating to the 1860s, Chinese migrants working on the freight railways were forced west of the tracks. Pretty much anyone who was not white migrated to what became Chinatown, and a thriving community evolved as people from Africa, the Philippines, Mexico and Japan settled in the area. All that began to unravel in the 1960s when urban renewal projects brought freeway construction that severed Chinatown from the rest of the city and forced mass displacement of residents. Businesses shuttered, buildings were abandoned, and those who remained lived amid blight.

Central Fish Co., opened in 1950, is one of the longest-standing businesses that remain. Owner Morgan Doizaki, who took over the shop from his parents, is a big proponent of the rail project. He, along with other business and property owners, formed the nonprofit Chinatown Fresno Foundation to support the rail line and advocate for the neighborhood’s inclusion in Fresno’s transformation. The Fresno station will be built on the site of the city’s historic depot center in downtown, and related renovations involving roads and walkways will connect commuters to Chinatown.

The massive reconstruction is not without challenges. Carniceria y Taqueria La Nueva Reyna, which has served traditional Mexican dishes on Tulare Street for more than a decade, has put up large, colorful banners to let people know they remain open. To get inside, patrons must navigate bright orange netting, maneuvering around missing sidewalks and large machinery. While they have lost some old customers, owner Reyna Cruz said, they’ve also gotten new business from construction workers stopping by for lunch and beverages on their breaks. “There are good times and bad times,” she said as workers streamed in to buy sodas on a Monday afternoon.

Central Fish Co. customers have to navigate a maze of road closures that sometimes box in the store, Doizaki said. Still, he is hopeful. In 2019, he purchased a building in Chinatown that he envisions turning into an apartment and retail complex.

“When the time is right, we’ll be in a position to capitalize on the state’s largest project ever coming into our backyard,” he said. “It’s like a gift.”

Orlando Viloria, who works for Doizaki, is also excited by the rail line’s promise. He envisions day trips to Los Angeles to see his family and them zipping up to see him. “That’s always been my dream,” he said. “I just can’t wait.”

Click here to read the full article in the LA Times

California Drought: Proposed Ballot Measure Would Fast-Track Construction of Dams, Desalination Plants and Other Water Projects

California has not built enough new reservoirs, desalination plants and other water projects because there are too many delays, too many lawsuits and too much red tape.

That’s the message from a growing coalition of Central Valley farmers and Southern California desalination supporters who have begun collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would fast-track big water projects and provide billions of dollars to fund them — potentially setting up a major political showdown with environmentalists next year shaped by the state’s ongoing drought.

The measure, known as the “Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022,” needs 997,132 signatures of registered voters by April 29 to qualify for the November 2022 statewide ballot.

If approved by a majority of voters, it would require that 2% of California’s general fund — about $4 billion a year — be set aside for projects to expand water supplies. Those could include new dams and reservoirs, desalination plants, recycled water plants, and other projects like upgrading canals and pipes.

The money would continue flowing each year until 5 million acre-feet of new water supply was created, an increase of about 13% in the roughly 39 million acre-feet used in an average year by all the state’s residents, farmers and businesses. That could take several decades and cost $100 billion, according to an analysis by the non-partisan State Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“We think conservation has an important role to play,” said Edward Ring, a spokesman for the campaign, known as More Water Now. “But you can’t get there any more just with conservation. If you want to be resilient against a prolonged drought, you have to have new supplies.”

Click here to read the full article at Mercury News

Central Valley Angered by Newsom’s Bullet-Train Plans

High speed rail constructionGov. Gavin Newsom’s announcement in his State of the State speech in February that he didn’t believe California had the resources to complete its $77 billion statewide bullet-train project produced a backlash that Newsom didn’t seem to expect. Within hours after the speech, his aides said the media was inaccurately reporting that Newsom’s only commitment was to build a $12.2 billion, 119-mile high-speed link between Merced and Bakersfield in the Central Valley and nothing more. They said he remained a supporter of the full project.

But nearly two months later, the initial reaction to Newsom’s speech remains the enduring takeaway for most Capitol watchers: He’s off the bullet train bandwagon. Building unions and green lawmakers who believe in the statewide project’s potential to help in the fight against climate change remain among the most upset.

Yet easily the most intense reaction is in the area where Newsom still wants the project to proceed: the Central Valley.

Coverage from The Bakersfield Californian, the Los Angeles Times and small newspapers in the region reflect anger over how the valley has been treated. Valuable farmland and family homes have been acquired with eminent domain for a project that no longer will link the area with the rest of the state – despite promises from Govs. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.

‘My mouth was just open with shock’

“I don’t want to talk political because I don’t do it very well,” Fairmead resident Vickie Ortiz told the Times. “But you know, you had a governor that was pushing-pushing-pushing for the high-speed train, and we started getting used to the idea that we can’t stop a train but maybe we can use it to help the community. But then you get another governor and he says: ‘No, I don’t want to do that any more.’ My mouth was just open with shock.”

In the Antelope Valley Press, retiree Bill Deaver, a former official in the Federal Railroad Administration, blasted the “politics and ignorance” of project critics who he blamed for Newsom’s decision.

“Politicians used [high-speed rail] to score political points rather than supporting something that will be able to handle huge increases in traffic projected in coming years. That sort of behavior is one of the biggest barriers to progress.”

Newsom’s decision didn’t surprise some in the Central Valley who never believed a statewide bullet train would get built. “People lost their homes and businesses. And for what?” Visalia farmer Randy Van Eyk told the Times.

Some see commitment to help region

But other remarks the governor made about the Central Valley have resonated more positively – and created an expectation that he will do more than past governors to help the region.

“The people of the Central Valley endure the worst air pollution in America as well as some of the longest commutes. And they have suffered too many years of neglect from policymakers here in Sacramento. They deserve better,” Newsom said in the same speech in which he outlined his views on the bullet-train project’s future.

Bakersfield Californian columnist Robert Price said if Newsom was serious, he should help Kern County diversify its economy away from “two industries under assault in the Central Valley: agriculture and, especially, oil and gas.”

Anna Smith, another columnist for the Californian, also said Newsom should promote economic diversification. But she also called on him to address the Central Valley’s social ills, including “high rates of illiteracy and obesity, lack of access to quality education and health care (especially in rural communities), water contamination and extreme poverty.”

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Trump Administration Sues California over Bay-Delta Plan

Delta TunnelsThe Trump administration sued California’s State Water Resourced Control Board (SWRCB) in federal court in Sacramento on Thursday, escalating a legal war over the fate of the water in the San Joaquin River valley system.

The San Joaquin River and its tributaries provide crucial water supplies to farming communities in the Central Valley — and also provide the vast majority of the drinking water supply to San Francisco and surrounding areas.

However, environmentalists, fishing interests, and Native American communities have claimed that overuse of the river system’s waters has resulted in a steep decline in native fish populations in the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta.

Last December, the SWRCB approved a controversial plan that would require the San Joaquin River and its tributaries to maintain an average of 40% of “unimpeded flow,” i.e. the flow that would exist in the river system without human activity, for the late winter and spring months of February through June.

Environmentalists argued the plan does not go far enough, saying 60% of unimpeded flow would have been necessary to make a real difference in boosting fish populations. Farmers countered that other factors are affecting fish populations, including predation by non-native fish species in the Delta.

The board approved the plan despite efforts by then-Governor Jerry Brown and incoming Governor Gavin Newsom to broker voluntary water conservation agreements between the state and the local water districts that would involve fewer restrictions. The Trump administration was also critical of the plan, and Republicans urged the administration to block it.

Once the plan was approved, the various water users — rural and urban — filed dozens of lawsuits. And one of Newsom’s first acts as governor was to replace the SWRCB’s chair, Felicia Marcus, an environmental attorney.

Now the U.S. Department of the Interior has joined the fray. The Sacramento Bee notes: “The lawsuit …  says the state water board’s plan would violate California’s own environmental laws, as well as foul up the federal government’s ability to deliver water from New Melones reservoir on the Stanislaus River to member agencies of the Central Valley Project.”

The legal fights are likely to go on for years unless a comprehensive set of voluntary agreements can be reached.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

This article was originally published by Breitbart.com/California

Who keeps buying California’s scarce water? Saudi Arabia

DroughtFour hours east of Los Angeles, in a drought-stricken area of a drought-afflicted state, is a small town called Blythe where alfalfa is king. More than half of the town’s 94,000 acres are bushy blue-green fields growing the crop.

Massive industrial storehouses line the southern end of town, packed with thousands upon thousands of stacks of alfalfa bales ready to be fed to dairy cows – but not cows in California’s Central Valley or Montana’s rangelands.

Instead, the alfalfa will be fed to cows in Saudi Arabia.

The storehouses belong to Fondomonte Farms, a subsidiary of the Saudi Arabia-based company Almarai – one of the largest food production companies in the world. The company sells milk, powdered milk and packaged items such as croissants, strudels and cupcakes in supermarkets and corner stores throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and in specialty grocers throughout the US.

Each month, Fondomonte Farms loads the alfalfa on to hulking metal shipping containers destined to arrive 24 days later at a massive port stationed on the Red Sea, just outside King Abdullah City in Saudi Arabia. …

Click here to read the full article from The Guardian

California’s Mismanaged High-Speed Rail Project Must End

High Speed Rail ConstructionIn 2008, California voters approved a bond for a high-speed rail line connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles with the fast-growing cities in the state’s Central Valley. With trains running at 220 miles per hour on dedicated tracks, California High-Speed Rail (CAHSR) would be the first true high-speed rail line in the U.S. The project’s backers, including Governor Jerry Brown, promised that CAHSR would cost just $33 billion and be finished by 2022, including extensions to Sacramento and San Diego. It would whisk passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in two hours and 40 minutes—fast enough, if European experience is a guide, to convince most air travelers on that route to take the train instead.

Ten years later, supporters have ample cause to reconsider. CAHSR’s costs have severely escalated: the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) now estimates that the train’s core segment alone, from San Francisco to Los Angeles, will cost from $77 billion to $98 billion. Promises that private investors would cover most of the costs have fallen through. Forecasts for the project’s completion date and travel times have also slipped. The fastest trains in the CHSRA’s current business plan have a running time of over three hours, and the first segment of the line—San Jose to Bakersfield, almost 200 miles short of completion—won’t open until 2029.

The project’s troubles have been largely self-inflicted, starting with poor route choices. At the south end of the line, from the Central Valley to Los Angeles, rather than proceeding in a direct route from Los Angeles to the northwest through Tejon Pass, roughly along Interstate 5, the planned line takes a detour to the northeast through Palmdale, a rapidly growing exurb, and enters the Central Valley through Tehachapi Pass. The CHSRA justified this choice by arguing that the Tejon route would require more tunnels and slow curves and be more vulnerable to earthquakes.

But in a convincing independent analysis, aerospace engineer and transportation activist Clem Tillier has called the CHSRA’s study of the Tejon alternative “a finely crafted web of distortions.” The study, Tillier wrote, used skewed assumptions guaranteed to produce a poor Tejon route. Most notably, the CHSRA supposed that no route could cross a planned residential development in a key portion of Tejon Pass. The CHSRA instead produced a Tejon alignment that veered around the development with sharp curves and six extra miles of tunnel, even though the additional tunnel would cost more than buying the entire development outright. Tillier concluded that a better Tejon alignment would save 12 minutes of travel time and $5 billion in construction costs over Tehachapi. These 12 minutes could make a critical difference to ridership, as most studies have found that trains rapidly lose riders to airplanes for journeys longer than about three hours. Speculation that the interests of real-estate developers rather than riders motivated the Tehachapi detour is hard to dismiss.

The CHSRA has also wasted large sums of money through poor management. Tillier has detailed how the Authority plans to spend billions to outfit Bay Area stations with unnecessary tunnels and viaducts, rather than making elementary improvements to operations. A state audit has shown that the CHSRA knowingly incurred massive additional cost risks by starting construction prematurely; desperate to show progress and to meet a deadline for federal funds, the CHSRA began construction in the Central Valley without buying all the land it needed, or even completing negotiations with the freight railroads whose rights-of-way it planned to use. The state auditor also criticized the CHSRA for hiring expensive consultants, over the objections of its former CEO, to do routine budgeting work.

Some of the worst revelations in the state auditor’s report concern basic failures of contract management. The CHSRA paid contractors without inspecting their work, and contract managers’ review of the quality and cost of finished products was often so shoddy that the auditor could not even conclude whether the CHSRA’s spending was justified. In one especially egregious case, in 2017, the CHSRA hired an external consultant to check the work of Parsons Brinckerhoff (now WSP USA), which had been paid $666 million for engineering consulting. The external consultant found that the CHSRA had not received finished work for 145 of 184 tasks that Parsons Brinckerhoff had called “complete.”

It seems clear that the CHSRA is too incompetent to manage a project of California HSR’s complexity. The Authority has promised to consider the audit’s recommendations, but as CHSRA has already been criticized for its lax management for years, such promises are scant comfort. Possibly the best chance to salvage the project would be to turn it over wholesale to a European or Japanese railroad with prior experience managing high-speed rail projects, but CHSRA’s work has been so slapdash that it’s hard to imagine a competent foreign entity wanting to take over the mess. (In 2009, the French national railroad SNCF offered to build the project along a slightly different route, and even lined up private funding. The CHSRA rebuffed the offer and kept silent about it for years, until the California legislature authorized public construction funds.)

Fortunately, only a small fraction of CAHSR’s projected cost—$1.4 billion out of nearly $100 billion total—has been spent so far. The question arises whether the remaining money, almost all of it coming from California taxpayers, could be put to better uses. Countless projects suggest themselves, ranging from road repair—the poor state of California’s roads is notorious—to shoring up the state’s precarious finances. Even within the narrow field of rail transit, some portion of CAHSR’s cost could be instead given to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which has already demonstrated an ability to finish projects within reasonable budgets. A comparatively small amount of state aid to LA Metro would do far more for California’s environment and economy than CAHSR.

It’s hard to see why the project should continue. The CHSRA’s planning model has been to keep problems secret for as long as possible, then hope that all the money invested so far is enough to convince the public to keep throwing good money after bad. Fortunately, high-ranking officials—including the chair of the state assembly’s transportation committee, who recently called for the CHSRA chairman to resign—seem increasingly aware of the disaster that CAHSR has become. Incoming governor Gavin Newsom, unlike his predecessor, has at least questioned the project’s utility. More public pressure may persuade him to drop his support of CAHSR and put the money to better uses. Californians should demand the project’s immediate cancellation.

Bullet Train’s Benefits to Southern California Questioned at Hearing

High speed rail constructionSouthern California Democrats have said few, if any, critical words about the state rail authority’s decision in 2016 to drop Los Angeles as the starting point of the first segment of the statewide bullet train.

Rail officials announced at the time that they would instead invest the vast majority of available money to begin building from the Central Valley to the Bay Area.

Rep. Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) broached the topic at a House rail subcommittee hearing on Thursday, asking state rail officials and other witnesses how he can justify the project to his constituents.

“What do I tell people in Los Angeles,” said Lowenthal, the former chairman of the state Senate transportation committee. “We talk about the [rail’s benefits] to Silicon Valley and the Central Valley, but … when are we going to see things going on in Los Angeles? We are the population center.”

Under the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plans, it is providing more than $700 million to install an electrical power system for the Bay Area’s Caltrain commuter system and another $400 million for a downtown San Francisco station, along with other much bigger investments that will flow through Santa Clara County. …

Click here to read the full article from the L.A. Times

Jerry Brown Disses the Central Valley . . . Again

SACRAMENTO, CA - OCTOBER 27: California Governor Jerry Brown announces his public employee pension reform plan October 27, 2011 at the State Capitol in Sacramento, California. Gov. Brown proposed 12 major reforms for state and local pension systems that he claims would end abuses and reduce taypayer costs by billions of dollars. (Photo by Max Whittaker/Getty Images)

Many of my Central Valley legislative colleagues are furious that the staff at Governor Jerry Brown’s Water Commission have rigged the system so the recently announced proposed funding for Temperance Flat Reservoir is just that – flat.

It’s not surprising that environmentally-oriented staff at the California Water Commission (and other state agencies such as the State Water Resources Control Board or the multitude of regional water boards) would come down in favor of fish over people.

I hate to say it but it also won’t be surprising to see Brown and his appointees on the Water Commission go along with their staff recommendation and stiff the Central Valley.

Governor Brown has never respected the Central Valley as demonstrated by his stubbornness against spraying for the medfly during his first stint as Governor to more recently forcing an unwanted High Spending Rail onto us which is destroying our family homes, businesses and farms.

Even Brown’s “Twin Tunnels” project to divert water from the Delta is now really just aimed at helping his friends in Los Angeles.  Most of this water will flow through the Central Valley non-stop to Southern California.

The Proposition 1 water bond (which was approved by 67% of the voters in 2014) was originally drafted and passed by the legislature back in 2009.  For a variety of mostly political reasons it was postponed going on the ballot for five years and ultimately parred back from an $11 billion water bond to one of only $7 billion before it hit the ballot.

Most critical was that the original amount dedicated to water storage projects (such as Temperance Flat or Sites Reservoir) was cut from $3 billion to $2.75 billion.  Brown and even some rogue farm groups had tried to cut it back to under $2 billion.  (That foolish idea was beaten back by Central Valley legislators but that’s another story.)

Adding insult to injury, the Water Commission’s staff recently recommended giving almost $1 billion to Sites Reservoir but only a lousy $170 million to Temperance Flat.

Why the funding gap between the two?

Again, Brown’s long history of treating the Central Valley with neglect and disdain is partly to blame.

The other reason is that Brown has announced when he leaves office next year he will retire to family-owned land up in Colusa County that is being “modernized” with money his Dad made from Indonesia oil deals decades ago. Colusa County unsurprisingly is also the home of the proposed Sites Reservoir.

To the detriment of those needing water from Temperance Flat, Brown is using state funding to curry favor with his future neighbors in Colusa County who overwhelmingly support building Sites Reservoir.

As the late Speaker Tip O’Neill once said – all politics is local.

There is a little bit of good news for the area of the Central Valley I represent – of the Proposition 1 money set aside for water quality and improvement projects, over $52 million (29%) has already gone out to water projects in Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.  An additional $121 million is still in the pipeline for these four counties.

Thank goodness for small favors.

State Senator Andy Vidak proudly represents the residents of Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare counties.

This article was originally published by Fox and Hounds Daily

Loss of local control a big issue in new water tax fight

Shower head water droughtThroughout his tenure as governor, Jerry Brown has consistently pursued new revenue for transportation, housing and water. The Legislature, whose default reaction to any problem is to raise taxes on middle-class Californians, has only been too happy to oblige. As a result, California drivers were hit last year with an annual $5 billion gas and car tax and property owners were burdened with a new tax on real estate recording documents to fund affordable housing. As if those tax hikes were not bad enough, now comes the third in a trifecta of tax insults: a new tax on water used by homes and businesses. That’s right, the Legislature is preparing to tax a public good that is essential to life, a precedent-setting tax that is unheard of anywhere else in the nation.

Supporters of the bill will argue that the tax is needed because roughly one million people (mostly in the Central Valley) don’t have access to consistently clean drinking water. This is a legitimate problem due to decades of neglecting basic infrastructure, contamination of water supplies and the failure to make access to water delivery the priority it deserves.

But raising taxes is the wrong solution to this problem. It is unconscionable that California, which has a record-high $130 billion General Fund budget with a $6 billion surplus, can’t provide clean drinking water to a million people using existing resources. Is this not the first role of government, providing a public good essential to life? Moreover, why should taxpayers in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento have to pay higher water bills for a problem that is mostly limited to groundwater contamination in the Central Valley?

Most Californians haven’t even heard of this proposed tax hike. But that’s only because the Legislature is going out of its way to keep it hidden. Originally introduced as Senate Bill 623, the bill failed to advance last year because of widespread opposition. Nearly all residential homeowners would pay a dollar a month if this tax went through. The tax works on a sliding scale based on meter size — heavy commercial and industrial water users could pay up to $10/month. Not content to just abandon the bill, the governor has now decided to drop this tax in a budget trailer bill. These bills, often dozens of pages long with multiple topics, is the perfect place to hide a tax. If the bill moves forward, taxpayer advocates will watch carefully to ensure that the two-thirds vote requirement for tax hikes is enforced. Because most budget bills only need a majority vote, a lawsuit will quickly follow if the higher threshold is not met.

Our concern is that the governor has become so obsessed playing the “hide the tax” game that he hasn’t bothered to look at other alternative funding sources to solve this problem. If using a $6 billion surplus is off the table, there’s an option to tap into federal funding which is available for precisely this purpose. Or there are billions of dollars of unspent bond funds, including the recently voter-approved Propositions 1 and 84 that can be used to provide clean drinking water. Bond dollars are perhaps the best vehicle to provide major infrastructure improvements needed in the Central Valley. …

Click here to read the full article from the Orange County Register

California’s Infrastructure Boondoggles Continue

High speed rail constructionEvery news story about the bullet train seems to be accompanied by a photo of workers building a viaduct in Fresno County.

This does nothing to dispel the impression that high-speed rail in California is actually a Marx Brothers movie.

Groucho: Over here is a viaduct leading over to the mainland.

Chico: Why a duck?

Groucho: I say that’s a viaduct.

Chico: All right, why a duck? Why a duck? Why not a chicken?

The latest news from the Marx Brothers is that the 119-mile Central Valley section currently under construction is $2.8 billion over budget.

That brings the estimated cost of the first phase to $10.6 billion and the cost of the entire project to at least $67 billion. Voters were told in 2008 that the high-speed train from San Francisco to Los Angeles would be completed for $40 billion, but more than a quarter of that money is gone and it’s not out of Fresno yet.

The train may not be going anywhere, but the project’s chief executive moved on in June, shortly after promising that there was no truth to a leaked federal report warning that the train was on track for cost overruns of more than $2 billion.

The new CEO, at a salary of nearly $385,000, is Gov. Jerry Brown’s transportation secretary, Brian Kelly. He says part of his job will be to “restore credibility” to the high-speed rail project, which would be a startling break with tradition.

Part of the problem in the Central Valley, the rail authority now says, is that construction began before all the land was acquired. This decision, which HSR executives promised not to repeat, was made because federal funds would have been lost if a deadline for the start of construction was missed.

That turned the negotiations for land into a W.C. Fields movie, “Never Give a Sucker an Even Break.”

The federal deadline for starting construction was just one of many safeguards that were put in place to try to prevent the rail authority from wasting billions of dollars on a half-finished train to nowhere. Sadly, Gov. Jerry Brown and the HSR authority found ways around all of them.

Another questionable infrastructure proposal from the Brown administration, the so-called California WaterFix, is also running into budget difficulties.

The original plan called for spending $17 billion to construct two huge tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta. The idea was to get around the restrictions on pumping water from the delta to the Central Valley and Southern California, restrictions that have cut the flow of water in half since the 1980s.

The pumping restrictions resulted from lawsuits and settlements to protect declining populations of smelt and salmon, forcing another population — the people of California — to pay more for water, and for everything that’s produced with water, like food. Now billions will be spent to capture and clean up stormwater and groundwater, which wouldn’t be needed if California’s state and federal water projects hadn’t been shut down to protect the cast of “The Incredible Mr. Limpet.”

Some water districts refused to pay for the twin-tunnel project, so the Brown administration may downsize California WaterFix to one tunnel. It would still cost billions of dollars, but proponents would like you to know that none of the money will come from taxpayers. The whole thing will be billed to water users.

Californians who want to save money should take W.C. Fields’ advice: Never drink water.

olumnist and member of the editorial board of the Southern California News Group, and the author of the book, “How Trump Won.”