Tuesday, October 28, 2008

I'm voting tomorrow -- Yes on Prop. 1A

Since I'll be out of the country next week, I have to vote this week and will fill out my mail-in ballot tomorrow.

Between my right to a secret ballot, some remaining indecision on my part and my previously expressed desire to appear neutral, I'm not going to burden the reader with most of my political decisions. But there is one measure I support wholeheartedly: California's Proposition 1A -- the High Speed Rail initiative.

The Proposition would set aside about $9 billion dollars to serve as seed money for a "bullet train" between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The bond money would be supplemented with promised federal and private funds to begin operations. The train will take passengers from city center to city center in about 2.5 hours (less time than in air travel once security and travel to-and-from the airport is taken into account) for the same price as plane fare. Eventually, proponents hope, the system would be extended to Sacramento and San Diego as well.

The Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and other local papers have advocated its passing -- as has Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the San Mateo County Transit District, whose board I addressed prior to its endorsement.

Some opponents question the wisdom of increasing the state's bond indebtedness in a time of such fiscal trouble. Under most situations, I'd concur. But this proposition is the rare exception because it will directly address the current economic concerns. Analysts estimate that high-speed rail's construction will result in 162,000 construction jobs while the system is built and several thousand permanent operations job will follow. It's like a mini-WPA!

What's even more important, in my view, is the fact that high-speed rail will -- thanks to its electrified line -- prevent thousands of tons of greenhouse exhaust gasses from entering the atmosphere annually. On a more provincial level, the line will benefit San Mateo County substantially, as the California High-Speed Rail Authority will use the Caltrain right-of-way. This means the CHSRA will be the one paying for sorely needed local grade separations and electrification projects.

Several years back (2001-2002) I had the privilege of serving with the chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the Hon. Quentin Kopp ( right) while I was a member of the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury and he was its advising judge. Judge Kopp impressed me with his vast knowledge, friendly, no-nonsense manner and interest in transportation. Later, I had further contact with him while as a public safety dispatcher for the County of San Mateo, wherein I would need to contact him to help officers set up emergency protective orders and the like.

During that time, Kopp struck me as a man of integrity. I can't think of a better man to see the system through its founding stages. Kopp is as fiscally conservative as they come in the Bay Area, is very knowledgeable about transit (his overestimation of SFO BART ridership aside) and won't let this project become a fiscal boondoggle. I don't think anyone else involved in its planning will either. So, "Yes" on 1A.

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