The Legislative Analyst’s Office’s harsh but straightforward criticism of the bullet-train project, which mirrors that made by so many other independent evaluations, is all wrong, says Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Stockton. She called the LAO “unqualified to provide a comprehensive analysis of this complex project, which the state has been working on for 15 years.” So we’re supposed to defer to state on this, to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, to the same people who have admitted they were wrong about the project cost, ridership, ticket prices, private investors’ interest and much more? To an authority that admits it used to do a crappy job of analysis? With her remark, Galgiani isn’t just the clear frontrunner for Dumbest Quote of 2011, she may be the only one on the ballot.
In September, I was one of several journalists who interviewed top officials with the California High Speed Rail Authority. Here is board member Lynn Schenk’s response to my question about accountability:
Q: In 2008, this project was sold to voters with the claim that when it was done there would be 117 million annual riders, which is more than four times what Amtrak now has, and it operates in 46 states. It was sold with claims of a $100 round-trip ticket and many other claims that no one believes anymore. If we had known then what we know now, it might not have passed. So when do we get accountability?
SCHENK: This deserves as much of a direct answer as I can maybe possibly give. And that is about the first business plan and those early studies. These gentlemen were not there at the time. I was there. We had one professional and two half-professionals, who were constantly being furloughed because of the state budget issue. That first plan, much to the regret of many of us, was pulled together with Scotch tape and hairpins because we had to get something to the Legislature, but we didn’t have the money, the resources, the people to pull together, so there were a lot of errors. You’re right. But there were also things in there that still stand true today. And we have new studies, a new business plan coming out. The ridership study that we had it is not as bad as the opponents would say. But there are tweaks. And there are things that need to be adjusted and we are looking to do that.
Remember, this is a CHSRA official talking, describing the work her agency did before taking its case to the voters in 2008 for a $9.95 billion bond.
That first plan, much to the regret of many of us, was pulled together with Scotch tape and hairpins because we had to get something to the Legislature, but we didn’t have the money, the resources, the people to pull together, so there were a lot of errors.
And Galgiani thinks the CHSRA has more credibility than the LAO?
The mind reels. I’m sure that the Stockton Democrat also thinks the bullet-train agency has more credibility than Stanford historian Richard White, the author of “Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America.” But in case she’s been released from mental detention and can once again think clearly, it’s worth bringing up White’s views, which he outlined in an L.A. Times essay last month and which I wrote about here:
In a careful deconstruction of the business plan for the project released Nov. 1, White systematically outlined its lies, wishful thinking and double-talk about funding, ridership, operating costs, fare prices and much more.
One example: the rail authority’s forecast of ridership that “will be immense — anywhere from 28.6 million to 37.1 million. This admittedly may appear realistic compared with the 90 million once promised. It is, however, not far from the 39 million projected in 2009. The agency can’t go much below this. It needs high ridership or the model for turning a profit falls apart.”
White continued, “But these kinds of projects always overestimate their ridership. Actual ridership of the BART line to San Francisco’s airport, for example, was in 2009 only 25 percent of the 2003 prediction. If California high-speed rail captured the same percentage of riders as Amtrak’s Acela does today in the Northeast corridor, an area with a long tradition of rail travel and a higher population than California, it would have about 5 million riders, not 28 million to 37 million.”
White’s conclusion: The members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s board “are supposed to protect the California public, but there is too much money to be made from this project to do that. They are boosters who tell us what they want us to know. They sell the Legislature short, and in this they may be right. They sell the governor short, and in this too they are probably right. They also sell the California public short. They think we are suckers.”
I don’t think Galgiani thinks we are suckers. To seriously argue that the state rail agency has more credibility than the LAO after its years of incompetence and propaganda suggests she thinks we’re all 4-year-olds who will believe anything an adult authority figure says.
Sorry, Cathleen. No sale. You’re gonna have to get used to the fact that as the author of the bill that placed Proposition 1A, the California High-Speed Train Bond Act of 2008, on the ballot, you’re going to go down in history. Way way down.
Because, Cathleen, the state bullet train is not just a boondoggle. It’s the worst public works boondoggle of all time. Reverse congratulations!