STATEWIDE NEWS

Regularly scheduled service on California's bullet train system will not meet anticipated trip times of two hours and 40 minutes between Los Angeles and San Francisco, and are likely to take nearly a half-hour longer, a state Senate committee was told Thursday.

The faster trips were held out to voters in 2008 when they approved $9 billion in borrowing to help pay for the project. Since then, a series of political compromises and planning changes designed to keep the $68-billion line moving ahead have created slower track zones in urban areas.

But Louis Thompson, chairman of the High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group, a state-sanctioned panel of outside experts, testified that "real world engineering issues" will cause schedules for regular service to exceed the target of two hours and 40 minutes. The state might be able to demonstrate a train that could make the trip that fast, but not on scheduled service, he told lawmakers. If public demand for the service supports additional investments, travel times could be improved after the currently planned system is built, he said.

Union activists in San Francisco recently filed suit to block Google's commuter buses from stopping at City bus stations– a privilege for which Google pays the City handsomely. Why might activists use an environmental regulation to block buses that eliminate at least 45 million vehicle miles and 761,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions a year and also includes a $6.8 million giftto support transit for low and moderate income youths? It's impossible to know about the Service Employees Union's real motives but its leadership suggests the suit is not about green— unless you mean greenbacks. SEIU is concerned that Google Bus could lead to less reliance on the publicly subsidized transportation system—in effect reducing the union's choke-hold on bay area transportation and perhaps threatening their high-paying jobs.

Unfortunately, using California's Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for non-environmental motives is a common problem. In large part because California is one of only three states that subject private projects to this scrutiny, competing groups use the threat of CEQA litigation to obtain special benefits that have nothing to do with the environment. In fact, CEQA abuse often harms the environment by delaying renewable-energy projects, infills, public transit, and other "green" projects.

Unions often use CEQA to delay projects until developers capitulate to project labor agreements that exclude non-union labor. In fact, large scale projects are rarely completed without a project labor agreement. In San Diego, for example, officials used private emails to secretly negotiate guaranteed project labor agreements in exchange for dropping a CEQA lawsuit.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to appeal a court ruling that would send the agency to trial on whether its planned bullet train can live up to performance requirements required under state law.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny this week denied the rail agency's motion to dismiss part of a lawsuit filed by Kings County and two of its residents, farmer John Tos and homeowner Aaron Fukuda. Kenny's ruling Tuesday set the stage for a potential trial later this spring.

On Thursday, the rail authority said it will ask the Third District Court of Appeal for a writ to overturn Kenny's ruling. "We disagree with the March 4 Sacramento Superior Court ruling and are preparing to seek a review by the Court of Appeal," said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the agency.

Even close observers of the California High-Speed Rail Authority have struggled to track developments for the state’s planned bullet train. The debacle began in November 2008, when 52.7% of California voters approved Proposition 1A and triggered serious planning for what could be the most expensive construction project in human history. With that kind of money at stake, unions were obviously inspired to be part of this boondoggle.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has become justly notorious for backroom deals, secretive administrative actions, and lack of transparency. But most Californians are at least vaguely aware that the project has been mismanaged and misrepresented.

Proposition 1A – placed on the ballot by the California State Legislature – authorized the State of California to borrow $9.95 billion to begin design and construction of a $45 billion complete high-speed rail system linking San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, and Sacramento. Including interest payments, the Proposition 1A commitment was estimated to be $19.4 billion to $23.2 billion for bonds to be paid back over 30 years. According to Proposition 1A, that money borrowed by the state was supposed to be supplemented with significant funding from the federal government, private investors, and municipal governments.

Gov. Jerry Brown's plan to provide urgently needed new funding for California's bullet train project from corporate fees on greenhouse gases melds two of his political passions: building the nation's first, truly high-speed rail system and putting the state at the forefront of the battle against global warming.

The bullet train system suffered a series of legal blows last year that blocked $9 billion in state funding, sending Brown and his allies on a search for a new source of funds. This week, Brown plans to announce a new strategy to keep the project moving: dipping into hundreds of millions of dollars in fees collected from businesses whose carbon dioxide emissions exceed state limits.

But he may be trading one set of legal and political problems for another.

Gov. Jerry Brown plans to propose spending millions of dollars in fees paid by carbon producers to aid the state's controversial high-speed rail project.

The proposal - and the prospect of additional funding from the state's cap-and-trade program in future years - could provide a significant lift to a $68 billion rail project beleaguered by uncertainty about long-term financing.

Brown plans to propose allocating several hundred million dollars this year, sources told The Sacramento Bee.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Officials overseeing California's $68 billion high-speed rail project have taken pains in recent weeks to assure the public that construction plans are moving ahead, characterizing a series of recent setbacks as "a bump in the road."

That optimism comes despite recent court rulings against the project, creating confusion about the bullet train's prospects.

A Sacramento County judge rescinded the rail authority's funding plan, forced it to show how it will pay for the first 300 miles of construction and rejected a request from the authority that would allow the state treasurer to sell $8.6 billion in bonds.

A federal oversight board has turned down a request from the California High-Speed Rail Authority for conditional permission to build the Fresno-Bakersfield section of the proposed statewide bullet-train line.

In a decision announced Wednesday, the three-member Surface Transportation Board denied the state's request for an expedited decision on the 114-mile Fresno-Bakersfield route before environmental work is completed on the section.

Attorneys for the rail authority indicated that the decision could force a delay in designing and building a five-mile stretch of the route between downtown Fresno and the south edge of Fresno, for which a contract has already been awarded. But a spokeswoman for the agency said no delays are anticipated.

Rep. Jeff Denham wants a government watchdog agency to take a second look at grant agreements for more than $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds for California’s high-speed rail project.

In a letter Tuesday to the U.S. Comptroller General, Denham, R-Turlock, joined with Rep. Tom Latham, R-Iowa, to ask the Government Accountability Office to review the agreements. The letter came a day after a Sacramento County Superior Court judge denied a request by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to validate the sale of about $8 billion in bonds from Proposition 1A, a high-speed rail bond measure approved by California voters in 2008.

Under the grant agreements, California is obligated to put up about $2.7 billion to match the federal contributions for the initial construction of the high-speed rail project from Madera to just north of Bakersfield. That money is expected to come from the Proposition 1A bonds.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Sacramento judge on Monday tore up California's funding plans for its bullet train project in separate orders that could force the state to spend months or years redrawing its plans for the $68 billion rail line.

Judge Michael Kenny rejected a request from the California High-Speed Rail Authority to sell $8 billion of the $10 billion in bonds approved by voters in 2008, saying there was no evidence it was "necessary and desirable" to start selling the bonds when a committee of state officials met last March.

He said the committee was supposed to act as "the ultimate 'keeper of the checkbook'" for taxpayers, but instead relied on a request from the high-speed rail authority to start selling bonds as sufficient evidence to proceed.

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