$9 Billion California High Speed Rail Route: The Planning is So Inept That it's Souring Residents from North to South
Investigative reporter Tracy Wood writes today about the inept, cloaked, and somewhat creepy PR strategy followed by the California High Speed Rail engineers and Parsons Brinckerhoff, who have not followed basic transparency and outreach rules in haughtily pushing for the route -- and the massive land -- the rail will gobble up.
California bullet train: little rooting for the route
People are furious in Agua Dulce, Alhambra, Buena Park, Palo Alto and Kern County, because the High Speed Rail Authority failed to deal with the problems mucking up its engineers' favored routes. Little problems like schools, historical sites, environmentally sensitive areas, rich farmland and tight communities. How stupid is the rail authority, now awash in taxpayer-approved bond cash?
According to award-winning journo Wood's report, Parsons Brinckerhoff -- a global engineering firm -- was being allowed to act, ineptly and incompetently, as the PR agent for the project.
Huge mistake. Parsons Brinckerhoff's engineers kept sensitive route issues under the radar, failing to reach out to key landowners and communities along the engineers' favored, but highly controversial, routes.
Engineers are accused of failing to work with local officials and organizations while routing noisy trains right alongside schools in Agua Dulce and planning a 75-foot-high track smack through the city of Alhambra. In the Central Valley, farmers worry the project wants to needlessly commandeer valuable farmland near Shafter.
To fix the secrecy/arrogance/incompetence mess it created, about 18 months ago the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) took the PR contract away from the engineers at Parsons Brinckerhoff.
They handed the statewide PR and outreach job to Ogilvy PR. But it's far too late and too little.
Ogilvy has no involvement in regional outreach, only statewide stuff.
In Los Angeles and Orange County, a bunch of engineers with less than peaked interest in community impacts are in charge of community outreach.
So the mess continues, with engineers still in control of information and "outreach" who think that slashing neighborhoods in half and putting a high-decibel train next to a rural school is a math problem.
They've spawned many opponents, like High Speed TrainTalk, and Against California High Speed Rail, and Alhambra123, and Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, which notes that the High Speed Rail Authority can't even get a good review from its industry peers.
Has this California High Speech Rail Authority, with its executives earning huge compensation packages, done anything right yet?
They've got all kinds of federal officials in Washington DC pissed off at California for choosing -- as its first leg of high speed rail -- a desolate section of the Central Valley where there aren't enough tumbleweeds or residents to oppose their route.
California high speed rail officials admit they approved the first leg on a bleak stretch of the Central Valley because engineers face very little local opposition in the area. Unemployment is Detroit-high there, and folks would probably welcome a prison or a slaughter house.
The CHSRA did not, it was made clear, choose to build the first leg there because it was the best place to have a pricey bullet train.
Also quoted by Wood is USC public relations expert Jennifer Floto, a prof who for years worked on major freeway projects with CalTrans. Floto says:
"I hate to use a cliché, but it sounds like they're trying to railroad it (high-speed rail) through."
Next time, maybe California voters will actually read the fine print in bond measures like Proposition 1A.
Proposition 1A created a poorly controlled rail "authority," and then voters handed the authority $9.95 billion of their childrens' taxes. It's all on about Page 30-gazillion, in the fine print of the bond measure that went before voters in 2008.