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.
As Chris Nguyen reported in the two previous posts, I have the honor of representing Rancho Santiago Community College Board of Trustee member Phillip Yarbrough on the issue of the use of “closed sessions” by the Board of Trustees to discuss Project Labor Agreements. As I reviewed the Brown Act including the Appeals Court decisions and the Attorney General opinions on this subject, it became very clear to me that a public entity that is subject to the Brown Act, is not allowed to hold “closed sessions” of the Board meetings to discuss Project Labor Agreements. This issue is complicated in its legal explanation and Chris attached a copy of the letter I sent to the Chancellor and the Board President last week explaining my conclusions to them.
For those of you not familiar with the Brown Act – the Ralph M. Brown Act makes it a requirement that a local public entity must hold its meetings in open sessions where members of the public may attend and address the board on subjects the Board is dealing with in that meeting. There are some expressly stated exceptions to that rule that authorize the board to have “closed sessions” where the public may not listen to the board’s discussions on those topics. In short, the topic of Project Labor Agreements is not one of the authorized subjects for discussion in closed session. Thus any discussions on PLAs must be held in open session. The Board of Trustees did the right thing tonight by voting to hold all future meetings on this topic in open session.
Craig P. Alexander
At its November 12, 2013 meeting, the board of trustees for Rancho Santiago Community College District voted unanimously to continue a practice adopted in August 2013 not to discuss its Measure Q Project Labor Agreement negotiations in closed session until the college chancellor gets legal clarification from California Attorney General Kamala Harris. An opinion from the Attorney General is not likely to be produced for several months.
Speaking in support of having the discussions in open session was Dave Everett, Government Affairs Director for the Southern California Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, and Craig Alexander of the Pacific Justice Institute. On behalf of trustee Phil Yarbrough, Alexander wrote a November 5, 2013 memo to the board explaining why discussing Project Labor Agreement negotiations in closed session was not legal.
The head of the Los Angeles/Orange County Building and Construction Trades Council was at the meeting but didn't speak. Also silent was board member José Solorio, who is running for California State Senate in 2014 and appears to be the impetus for the Project Labor Agreement.
When Ronald Reagan signed the California Enviornmental Quality Act four decades ago, it was portrayed as a process that would encourage managers of public and private projects to pay attention to and mitigate potentially adverse effects.
Over time, however, complying with CEQA became not only a torturous slog through very expensive red tape – one that elevated complex process over final product – but a tool for interest groups to engage in what can only be described as extortion.
Do something for us, they could and sometimes would implicitly threaten, or we’ll tie up your project in court for years or even decades and it will die an expensive, lingering death. Many payoff demands have absolutely nothing to do with environmental protection.
In what could be a precursor of things to come in San Diego's great mayoral race of 2013, war has erupted between Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson and the San Diego-based Coalition for Fair Employment in Construction.
The first volley came yesterday at a news conference that Johnson called to announce a so-called project labor agreement giving union workers a lock on the jobs to build a new downtown basketball arena for the Sacramento Kings.
As reported in today's Sacramento Bee:
In 2008, 52.6 percent of California voters approved Proposition 1A to clear the tracks for a bullet train.
To travel in comfort from Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes sounded great. Taking the Amtrak takes about 11 hours, and you can make the drive on Interstate 5 in about half that time. Europe and Asia are crisscrossed with bullet trains. Why can’t we have high-speed rail here?
It’s possible we won’t. Soon after the $9.95 billion bond issue was approved, price estimates took off like a speeding locomotive. In 2011, it had climbed to $68 billion and the route took a detour through the Central Valley instead of a straight shot from the City of Angels to the City by the Bay.
When the CEO of the area's Building and Construction Trades Council stood before the San Jose City Council last week to explain his challenge to a new downtown high-rise based on environmental law, he didn't even bother pretending that the project might foul the water or air. No, the first point Neil Struthers made was about the developer's choice of workers.
"Bringing in subcontractors who bring in lesser-skilled, lower-paid workers from Sacramento hurts all workers in the construction industry," Struthers said before launching into some flimsy environmental and procedural criticisms.
This highly technical appeal is relatively minor; it won't stop construction of the project vital to downtown San Jose. But it's a textbook case of "greenmail" -- the misuse of the California Environmental Quality Act to harass builders and sometimes cities to win concessions unrelated to the environment. In this case, Struthers wants an agreement from the developer of One South Market to use only union labor.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- A Sacramento County judge dealt a major blow to California's high-speed rail project Friday, ruling that the agency overseeing the bullet train failed to comply with the financial and environmental promises made to voters when they approved initial funding for the project five years ago.
Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny said the California High-Speed Rail Authority "abused its discretion by approving a funding plan that did not comply with the requirements of the law" and has failed to identify "sources of funds that were more than merely theoretically possible."
Yet he declined to immediately halt funding for the project, saying it was not clear that he had the discretion to do so and he will hold another hearing to determine what happens next. A date has not yet been set.