California high-speed rail now has former supporters fleeing perceived boondoggle

Published: Friday, Feb. 21 2014 12:40 p.m. MST

In this photo taken Monday, July 15, 2013, Jeff Morales, chief executive officer of the California High Speed Rail Authority, poses in Fresno, Calif. where construction of the controversial $68 billion bullet train is set to begin. The ambitious notion of running a high speed rail line between the Bay Area and LA in California, once approved by voters and still championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, has come under friendly fire.

Rich Pedroncelli, Associated Press

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The ambitious notion of running a high-speed rail line between the Bay Area and Los Angeles, once approved by voters and still championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, has come under friendly fire. Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom now joining a host of critics, including key Democrats, who have come to see the project as a boondoggle the financially challenged state cannot afford.

The project has been beset by cost overruns and a failure to secure federal funding that was a prerequisite for going forward under a 2008 voter bond approval.

In November, Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled "that the state had violated safeguards established in a 2008 bond act and did not have the right to issue any more bonds. A second decision by Kenny found that the state failed to follow proper procedures in issuing the bonds," the Los Angeles Times reports.

"Kenny's decision asserted that the state had failed to create a plan that identified all the sources of money it would use to build an initial operating segment and complete all environmental reviews before starting construction. Those requirements were set down in the bond act," the Times reported.

Newsom's opposition, which was announced this week, is viewed as a key indicator of elite opinion shifting behind the scenes. Last fall, an LA Times poll found that a majority of California voters now want the project stopped.

"The lieutenant governor first disclosed his opposition to the high-speed rail project in an interview with a Seattle radio station last week," The San Francisco Chronicle reported. "High-speed rail was once a popular idea — in 2008, the state's voters approved a $10 billion bond measure to help pay for it. But costs have since more than doubled to $68 billion, other funding sources are iffy at best, and Republicans are starting to use the project to score points against Brown in his expected re-election bid."

"I am not the only Democrat that feels this way. I am one of the few that just said it publicly," the Chronicle reported Newsom as saying. "Most are now saying it privately."

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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