The views expressed in any article published in this blog are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Joseph Foster or Bob Lupoli.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

California Bullet Train BS

Joe: California will now have a debt payment for the stupid bullet train something like $38M a year - we have to pay this for debt. And yet the speed of the "bullet" is simply not proven and everyone knows it's a lie at this point. See this interesting article below. Hop[efully the King County lawsuit will bring out the truth in more detail. -Bob

Wednesday, Jun 13 2012 12:15 AM
'No document exists' on bullet train's speed, lawsuit claims
BY LANCE WILLIAMS California Watch

California's $68 billion bullet train is supposed to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in less than two hours and 40 minutes.

That speed -- an average of more than 140 mph, including stops -- is a legal requirement, written into the state voter initiative that gave the project the go-ahead in 2008.

Boosters continued to promise that the train would attain those speeds even after Gov. Jerry Brown cut $30 billion from the project's budget earlier this year, forcing a reconfiguration that seemed likely to slow down the train.

But according to a lawsuit filed by project opponents, the state High-Speed Rail Authority has not done any studies or written reports to verify that the trains actually will go fast enough to follow the law. The suit, filed by the County of Kings Board of Supervisors, quotes a May 31 email from a project official as saying that "no document exists" to verify that the train can meet its travel time deadline.

Instead, the rail authority's promises are backed up by "verbal assertions based on (the) skill, experience and optimism" of project engineers, the rail official wrote in response to a request for public information.

That statement "casts great doubt on the credibility" of the claims the authority is making about the bullet train, Kings County says in the lawsuit, which seeks a court order to cut off state funding for the project. The county claims constructing the rail line will wreck thousands of acres of prime Central Valley farmland.

In a statement, rail authority Chairman Dan Richard said the reconfigured or "blended" project will comply with the law.

"The law requires that the system be designed to achieve speeds of 200 miles per hour and a travel time of two hours and 40 minutes," he said. "We embraced the blended approach based on our experts' determination that the blended system can achieve these goals."

The state attorney general's office has asked a Sacramento judge to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that opponents have presented no evidence that the rail authority is making illegal expenditures on the project. A hearing on the issue is set for Friday.

Last year, judges tossed two similar lawsuits that sought to have the project stopped on the grounds of illegal or wasteful spending.

In an interview, Michael Brady, lawyer for Kings County, contended that the rail authority has little hope of meeting its travel time requirement.

April, when the governor slashed the project's $98 billion construction budget, the rail authority unveiled the blended rail network plan in which high-speed trains would share tracks with Caltrain on the San Francisco Peninsula and Amtrak and Metrolink in the Los Angeles basin.

Some rail experts, including advocates of the California project, questioned how bullet train speeds could be maintained.

"All over the state ... they're going to use commuter trains, Caltrain, light rail in Stockton," Brady said. "You're not going to be able to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco in six hours."

That would violate state law. But if the train is too slow, the project is doomed anyway, many experts say, because most passengers will buy a plane ticket instead.

In discussing the revised plan, Richard has been emphatic that the train will achieve the speeds the law requires. In a presentation in April in Fresno, he said: "The reason we are confident the blended-approach system, which costs $30 billion less, can work is that our engineers have told us it will achieve the performance standards the voters insisted on in the ballot measure.

"And so that means trains that can go from Los Angeles Union Station to the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco in two hours, 40 minutes. ...

"This plan will achieve those standards."

After that, Kathy Hamilton of the Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, a San Francisco Peninsula group that opposes the project, said she filed a Public Records Act request for the data underlying Richard's claim.

There wasn't any, she was told.

In an email, rail official Kyle Wunderli wrote: "I have an answer on your request for some documented proof of the assertions the engineers made to Dan Richard. The answer is that no document exists. These were verbal assertions based on skill, experience, and optimism and so Dan Richard went with the expertise of the engineers offering these assertions."

Train speeds are among the most important aspects of the project, Kings County lawyer Brady said. It "makes them look ridiculous" to base their claims about train speeds on the engineers' optimism, he said.

Brady said he suspected that there is no written material on the topic because it's simply not possible for the reconfigured train to go fast enough to comply with the law. It would be illegal for the state to spend money on the project if that's the case, he contends.

This story resulted from a partnership among California news organizations following the state's high-speed rail program, including The Fresno Bee, The Sacramento Bee, California Watch, The Bakersfield Californian, The Orange County Register, the San Francisco Chronicle, The (Riverside) Press-Enterprise, U-T San Diego, KQED, the Merced Sun-Star, The Tribune of San Luis Obispo and The Modesto Bee.

Local Politicians - Bankrupt California

Officials’ foolishness slams cities

July 23, 2012
By Steven Greenhut

SACRAMENTO — First, Vallejo, in 2008. Next, Stockton, then Mammoth Lakes and, now, San Bernardino and soon, perhaps, Compton. As Orange County Supervisor John Moorlach told Bloomberg News, the bankruptcy dominoes are starting to fall. One California city after another – following a decade-long spree of ramping up public-employee pay and pension benefits, as well as redevelopment debt – are becoming insolvent.

And the state’s legislators have nothing constructive to offer.

California’s exclusively Democratic leaders not only are unwilling to rein in the costs of benefits for their patrons, the public-sector unions, they have been erecting roadblocks in the paths of localities that want to fix the problem on their own. Yet all the political hurdles in the world cannot fix the basic problem of insolvency.

Stockton navigated the new process created by a state law requiring a 60-day period of negotiations before a municipality could file for Chapter 9 bankruptcy.

That period is over, and the city – a hard-pressed port on the edge of the California Delta – has become the largest city in the country to pursue municipal bankruptcy. The cause was a pension system eating up 30 percent of the budget, an absurdly generous retiree medical program and excess bond debt for pension obligations and redevelopment projects.

Soon after, Mammoth Lakes decided to pursue bankruptcy. That city’s cash crunch resulted from losing a lawsuit over development. Although not tied to public-employee compensation, the situation was caused by city officials who preferred to play developer rather than tend to the nuts-and-bolts duties of city government – a long-term problem in that eastern Sierra vacation town. In 1996, Mammoth Lakes lost a court case after it declared its downtown area blighted because of excess urbanization, in a ruling the judge said exemplified the misuse of redevelopment power.

San Berdoo bankrupt
The latest city to opt for bankruptcy is San Bernardino, which has declared a fiscal emergency. That step allows it to evade the mediation period mandated by state law. The city simply doesn’t have the cash to keep operating. As Bloomberg reported, “San Bernardino and its agencies have more than $220 million of debt, including $48.6 million of taxable pension-obligation bonds, according to financial statements.” Pension-obligation bonds are used by cities to pay ongoing pension expenses, yet San Bernardino’s problems show that a city cannot borrow its way out of debt.

Other big cities, including Los Angeles, are talking more openly about the bankruptcy option. Not long ago critics who mentioned the B-word were considered Chicken Littles.

A current talking point is that these cities couldn’t control what happened to them. The Riverside Press-Enterprise reported: “The city of San Bernardino’s financial woes are a direct correlation to a torrent of foreclosures in the Inland area of Southern California, the national foreclosure tracking firm RealtyTrac said Thursday. ‘Property taxes plunged in San Bernardino because of an avalanche of foreclosure activity during the recent housing bust,’ said RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist
Housing Bubble
There’s no doubt San Bernardino and Stockton – ground zero for the subprime mortgage crisis – suffered from the problem described above. But, during the housing bubble that built for years before the crash, what did those cities do with the resulting surge in property tax revenue? We know – they squandered it on increased compensation for government employees, on redevelopment projects and other questionable spending. They squandered a windfall and now depict themselves as victims of circumstance.

The real culprit is foolish decision-making. Stockton, for instance, refused to take advantage of an exemption in prevailing-wage laws – a strategy that could have saved it money but would have angered the powerful unions.

The housing bubble hit the hardest in cities inland from the growth-controlled major metropolitan areas. When housing prices went up in Los Angeles and San Francisco, developers moved inland, where it was easier to get the permits necessary to respond to the demands of the marketplace.

Coastal cities
But even coastal cities are struggling. Los Angeles is not a victim of the foreclosure crisis. Pension costs in San Jose – where the housing market has rebounded thanks to a healthy tech-based economy – rose 350 percent in 10 years and now consume 20 percent of the general-fund budget. San Jose voters approved a pension reform measure last month to stem the fiscal bleeding.

Joe Mathews, writing for the Prop Zero blog, debunks San Bernardino leaders’ allegations blaming the state for the city’s its fiscal problems: “Local elected officials who complain about a lack of state money have things backwards. The state of California is relatively spare in its spending, compared to national averages. California’s local officials are, by contrast, big spenders, at or near the national lead in compensation for local workers, especially law enforcement.

Mathews misses a big point – California state government spends its money poorly – but he is right about local-government wastrels, who busted the bank on public-safety pay and benefit packages and now are looking to cast blame anywhere they can.

Bankruptcy is not a great option but, at least, it gives cities a chance to get their house in order and start fresh. Unfortunately, Vallejo and Stockton refused to tackle existing pension debt in their bankruptcy reorganization plans. Orange County emerged from bankruptcy in the 1990s in better shape than ever, but, as writer Chris Reed explained on the website, subsequent boards of supervisors then began spending like crazy on public-sector compensation.

Bankruptcy cannot stop future officials from wasting tax dollars. But when there’s no money, there’s nothing left to do. In Scranton, Pa., a judge issued an injunction to stop the mayor’s plan to begin paying all city employees minimum wage. But there’s no money left to pay any more than that, the mayor said. The city gladly will pay more as soon as it has the cash.

Only when the money runs out will cities find the necessary solutions.

That’s perhaps the saddest commentary on the situation in California cities these days.