John Myers of KQED is absolutely right: Thursday’s developments mean Jerry Brown owns high-speed rail. He kept the plug from being pulled, he put his own guy in charge, he got the people who were the symbols of the CHSRA follies to move along. But what’s so ridiculous about all of this is that Brown’s confidence he can take on this terrible mess and come up with a better outcome is precisely parallel to his confidence he could take on the state’s terrible budget mess and come up with a better outcome. How’d that work out? Yo, Jerry, the bullet train isn’t a boondoggle because of the people in charge. It’s a boondoggle because it was built on lies. Your taking ownership changes nothing.
As I and many others have written before, the rail project has been trashed by independent experts for years for deceitful estimates of ridership, project cost, ticket cost, job creation and pollution reduction, and for the inability of its staff to craft a legal business plan that avoids future taxpayer subsidies. The bullet train is also slated to have its first segment built in a lightly populated area despite the state legal requirement that the second segment can only be built after the first segment breaks even or is making money. It also faces deep skepticism from private investors and from the folks on Wall Street who would be asked to buy billions in state bonds to help pay for the project.
Those are just some of the many problems the media acknowledges. As I alone detailed last month, there’s also this: In providing California $3 billion-plus in federal funding for the project, the Obama administration is breaking clearly written rules on how stimulus dollars are supposed to be spent.
These rules, published in the Federal Register on June 23, 2009, say that state applications must stand up after being subjected to a “rigorous analysis.” The key factors of this analysis involved the “financial plan (capital and operating),” the “reasonableness of financial estimates” and the “availability of operating financial support” and “quality of planning process” for proposed projects.
If that “rigorous analysis” really happened, how did California’s project get a dime from D.C., much less $3 billion? Problems on all these fronts are precisely why independent evaluations are so harshly critical.
How can Jerry Brown look at all this and think his managerial genius will make things get better? Talk about hubris. Talk about vanity. Talk about a lunkhead.
Historians like to champion the “great man” theory of history — revolutionaries who transform the course of human events with their brilliance and charisma. Jerry evidently puts himself in this category.
For me, when I look at the bullet train mega-debacle, other nostrums come to mind. The British social critic John Ruskin put it well: “In general, pride is at the bottom of all great mistakes.”
Then there’s the aphorism based on a longer passage in the Bible: “Pride goeth before a fall.”
Timber! Jerry Brown’s going down!
What are the odds that the California High Speed Rail Authority, the state of California and the federal government will come up with a bullet train that isn’t a boondoggle the size of the Pacific Ocean?
They are Carl Sagan-esque: Billions and billions to one. A bullet train has never broken even before. So if you put one in the Central Valley, it will?
Feel free to laugh or cry or both. “Jerry Brown’s Bullet Train” is rated UI for Utter Insanity. Not only should you not let your children go see it, you should encourage them to consider moving to another state.
California’s future is grim with this bunch in charge. And that’s putting it charitably.