In a central San Joaquin Valley long marred by economic misfortune, fretting over job security has become as much a deafening concern as air quality and education. An August 2013 article by The Economist suggests the Obama-backed high speed rail, connecting the valley to San Francisco and Los Angeles, is exactly what drought-riddled valley counties need in order to improve current socioeconomic conditions habitually lower than their national counterparts. When Californians marginally passed the “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century” by a 52% vote in November 2008, majority support solicited approving a bullet-train that connected the valley to the booming economic metros to the north and south was a definitive solution to the valley’s nationwide lows in unemployment and poverty levels. The project’s first 65-mile stretch of rail was to begin construction in 2012 in the geographically-deficient San Joaquin Valley, but has since been delayed due to an aftermath of opposition from environmentalists, legal rulings and valley farmers.
Bullet-train opposition states that central valley cities construct large housing tracts habitually that will be growth-inducing; resulting in waste offsetting the rail’s “green” value through inefficient use of land and loss of significant tracts of farmland. According to a July 2010 study conducted by UC Berkeley’s Dept. of Civil & Environmental Engineering, an internationally-renowned research team, the proposed high-speed rail system is in fact the lowest energy consumer and greenhouse gas emitter offered by current transport methods. Furthermore, an August 2013 article by Alison Fu in The Daily Californian suggests careful planning and denser building will be the practical means to effectively reduce pollution and destruction of unnecessary farmland. Extensive research efforts since the Bond passed in 2008 consistently find the bullet-train is the valley’s most efficient “green” approach and that of California’s as a whole.
Bullet-train opposition coming from Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled this past August against the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) for failing to comply with requirements of identifying all financial resources needed to complete the first operational segment in the valley. An article on The Hanford Sentinel’s website identified the state capital’s ruling in lieu of the CHSRA attempting to hire contractors for work to be completed through Kings County. The CHSRA’s legal team appealed the decision this past October with evidence of sufficient federal stimulus availability to satisfy the $31 billion budget proposed for the Merced to San Fernando Valley route. Los Angeles Times writer Ralph Vartabedian reported last month that the CHSRA’s appeal illustrates compliance with voter-imposed spending controls on restricted use of standalone state bond money, thereby steamrolling over the opposition’s attempts to delay the project based on their misinterpretation of the project’s financing.
Bullet-train opposition declares the CHSRA has failed to make proper accommodations to valley farmers, whose land is scheduled to be seized by eminent domain to make way for rail construction, resulting in several agricultural counties to file lawsuits. Michael Cabanatuan of the SF Gate highlighted these concerns by the opposition in July 2012, as prominent agricultural counties began filing lawsuits against the CHSRA. After months of negotiations, Madera and Merced counties reached satisfactory settlements this past April in Sacramento Superior Court. According to Christine Souza of Ag Alert following that decision, a $5 million dollar Ag Lands Mitigation Fund was created to specifically preserve rural conservation, reduce impacts to individual landowners along the valley’s bullet-train route, and appropriate monetary damages towards the affected population. The CHSRA has addressed issues of accountability with the valley counties who had originally voiced concerns regarding both their civil and legal rights.
The San Joaquin Valley has longstanding roots in agriculture and some of the world’s richest lands, but what of modern times and the economic needs of its current populace and of those to come? Both state and federal review have found the CHSRA’s valley segment to be in compliance with dozens of federal environmental regulations protected by the Endangered Species Act, the US Fish and Wildlife Dept. and the National Historic Preservation Act, to name a few. Budget concerns have been minimized thanks to availability of Obama’s $5 to $6 billion dollar fund set aside specifically on use in our valley segment if used before October 2017. Signs posted in orchards along Highway 43 from Fresno to Hanford stating “Here Comes High-Speed Rail, There Goes My Farm” have dwindled significantly in recent months as agricultural communities have reached satisfactory compromises between the CHSRA and their respective Farm Bureaus. It is the civic and moral duty of valley residents to both appreciate their agricultural roots yet also preserve their livelihood in a population expected to exceed 50 million by 2030. The project’s first phase between Merced and north of Los Angeles will create 100,000 “job-years” with 30% of jobs reserved for locals. It gives valley residents options to stay local or hop on a bullet-train for a daily commute to another location in the Golden State. Should politically-fueled opposition cease, the introductory segment of bullet-train rail will connect San Joaquin Valley residents to both opportunity and modern times. Two things that have been a long time coming.