A number of things are brewing in the capitol that happened this week which could affect the health of the state as well as local communities:
- Senator Michael Rubio has resigned as a Senator and will pursue interests with Chevron. His replacement and of course newly appointed Chairmanship for the Environmental committee will be up for grabs. Eyes will be fixed on the re-appointment since Rubio had not been seen by environmentalists as the ideal chairman. He had attempted to severely impact California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) last year by introducing a last minute bill which was eventually stopped by President Pro Tem Senator Darrell Steinberg. Steinberg has just introduced his ideas for modifications of CEQA that will be debated in committee to see if agreement can be reached. The environmental community feels strongly about the issue:
By the way if the Democrats do not regain Rubio’s seat that would end a super majority (a 2/3 vote) which currently allows the senate to pass tax measures without the help of Republican votes. A special election in May is possible, which normally signals lower turn out and that could make it anybodies game.
- Senator Jerry Hill has proposed a bill, SB 557, to keep Caltrain electrification money from being spent elsewhere in the high-speed rail system. Changes beyond the definition of the blended system and beyond "primarily" a two tracks system, must go to the 9 members who signed the Memorandum of Understanding which outlined the terms that made Caltrain electrification possible. The Joint Powers Board (JPB) will hold a strong vote as the owner of the right of way. They have sent a letter to the Authority in the past they would object to a four track option for high-speed rail.
Unfortunately there is no discussion at this time in the proposed bill to elliminate a three track passing track option, which the cities of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto oppose, which would have an impact on homes and businesses. Also needed is a definition of what defines a blended system since neither exisiting laws or the High-Speed Rail Authority's business plan defines it. No where does it nail down what Senator Simitian, Congresswoman Eshoo and Assemblyman Gordon envisioned in April 2011 which asked for no raised viaducts except where cities wanted them, a reduced scope project using a modernized Caltrain infrastructure, thereby eliminating the four track option in the future completely unless a new environmental impact report (EIR) was completed.
Note: In the bill (SB 1029) which appropriated money to the high-speed rail project for both the Central Valley start and Caltrain electrification as well as some unspecified improvements in the Los Angeles area, it did forbid that money to be used for any four-track planning in the peninsula. “That money” is emphasized because other money could later be appropriated for that purpose later unless the same prohibition is indicated. “This money” is for early improvements such as electrification for Caltrain.
There also was an attempt to “protect” the heavily populated Caltrain right of way through a Senate Journal note written by Senator Leno on August 9, 2012 that outlined that dollars could not be transferred to another construction segment of the high-speed rail and shall not reflect the four-track system in the program-level environmental document. Additionally it too stated that the system shall primarily consist of a two-track system of shared rail with the Peninsula Corridor’s Joint Powers Board, which will be substantially within the existing right of way used by Caltrain. The word “primarily” has always been criticized because it offers little protection for those areas that are the exception. Leno’s note also mentioned that the dollars earmarked for the bookends (Los Angeles and San Francisco end points for high-speed rail) could not be transferred to other segments.
The problem with a journal entry is that while it records the senate’s intentions, there is no legal requirement to honor those intentions. That’s why Senator Hill’s bill would be a welcome improvement if it is tightened up a bit and if high-speed rail comes to the peninsula communities.