Is Newsom on the wrong side of high-speed rail history?

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California voters approved nearly $10 billion in high-speed rail bonds, but Newsom has abandoned the project.

As California struggles to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions and meet the long-term transportation needs of a growing population, officials from Gov. Jerry Brown to Mayor Ed Lee have steadfastly supported the embattled California High-Speed Rail Project, which Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom recently withdrew his support from. California now has until July 1 to find funds to match the federal grants.

It’s not exactly surprised that this calculating and politically ambitious centrist would cave in to conservatives like this, particularly as Newsom tries to set himself up to succeed Brown in four years. But it’s a sharp contrast to more principled politicians like Brown, and to those trying to create the transportation system future generations will need, as President Barack Obama took a step toward doing today by announcing new federal transportation funding.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox is also taking part in the three-day High Speed Rail Summit, sponsored by the United State High-Speed Rail Association, that began yesterday in Washington DC. Its theme is Full Speed Ahead.

"Secretary Foxx's experience at the local level as mayor of Charlotte is extremely valuable for shaping national transportation policy. We look forward to working with the Secretary to advance high speed rail in America across party lines," USHSRA President and CEO Andy Kunz said in a press release. 

While Newsom’s new tact may play well with myopic, penny-pinching, car-dependent moderate and conservative voters, many of his allies and constituents were furious with his about-face on a project that promises to get riders from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles in less than three hours. 

Among those unhappy is San Francisco resident Peter Nasatir, who forwarded the Guardian a well-written letter that he has sent to Newsom’s office:

Dear Lt. Gov. Newsom,

I am a long time San Francisco resident, and although I have criticized many of your policies, I’ve always respected your commitment to be at the forefront of controversial issues.  Even if the issue could have wrecked your political career, you still had the guts to take the lumps for a righteous cause.

That is why I’m so shocked you would publically decry the High-Speed Rail project.  Yes there are cost overruns.  Yes the public is sour to it today, but what would you propose as an alternative:  more freeways, more runways?  Every expert in the field has already signed off that runways and freeways have expanded as far as they can.  Are you not a leading voice in demanding technical innovation in all levels of government? 

In your book, Citizenville, did you not put forth the clarion call for citizens to embrace technological change?  Did you not say that San Francisco was behind the likes of Estonia and South Korea in terms of digital governance?  Is it not fair to say that California is behind Europe and Asia when it comes to high speed rail?

Could you have said something along the lines that the trajectory the project is going is troubling, but Californians for generations to come will benefit from it.  This project must be saved, because to do otherwise will send California back 60 years.

You are a political maverick who had put his career on the line many times with such controversial positions as same-sex marriage, and walking the picket line with hotel workers on Union Square.  High-speed rail is coming.  The economy demands it, the environment demands it, and Central Valley population growth demands it.  You may get some votes from moderates in the short run, but in the long run, you have positioned yourself as the most prominent person in the state to be on the wrong side of history.

 

Peter Nasatir

 

 

 

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