BAKERSFIELD — The Kern County Board of Supervisors approved a resolution on Tuesday calling for the “immediate abandonment of the high-speed rail project” and requesting that any remaining state funds be redirected to local programs to provide immediate benefit to Central Valley residents and throughout the state.
The resolution passed on a 4-1 vote, with Fifth District Supervisor Leticia Perez dissenting, citing her concern about the loss of job opportunities by canceling the project.
The resolution was proposed Feb. 26 by Second District Supervisor Zack Scrivner, who represents eastern Kern County, including the communities of Rosamond, Mojave, California City and Boron.
“It’s time to end this project once and for all. It has been a mess from the very start,” Scrivner said.
He said to continue at this point would be to “throw good money after bad.”
The $77 billion bullet train intended to link San Francisco and Los Angeles has been criticized for delays and increasing costs. Its future has become murky since Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke of it in his first State of the State address in January in ways that were interpreted variously as either killing the project beyond the current construction or simply slowing it down.
Newsom said “the project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long,” and that “right now, there simply isn’t a path to get from Sacramento to San Diego, let alone from San Francisco to L.A. I wish there were.”
He said the 171-mile section now under construction between Bakersfield and Merced would be completed, and that environmental studies for other segments will continue. His office later stated Newsom was committed to the high-speed rail project.
The project has been slated to cross the Antelope Valley on its way from Bakersfield to Burbank, with a station in Palmdale, where city leaders have long been strong proponents.
Among the reasons stated for canceling the project are findings of the California State Auditor, including that the California High Speed Rail Authority’s “flawed decision making and ongoing poor contract management for high-value contracts have contributed to billions of dollars in cost overruns.”
In addition, the proposed resolution cites the poor project management led to a grant extension deadline to 2022, but that the authority could miss this new deadline unless construction progresses twice as fast as it has so far.
The resolution also cites the Federal Railroad Administration’s stated intent to terminate the nearly $1 billion in funding remaining to be provided to the project.
Finally, it quotes Newsom’s own speech as to the project’s infeasibility.
During the Board debate, a few people spoke up in favor of the project, because of the construction jobs it promises.
“I believe it is premature to stop supporting high-speed rail and the hundreds of jobs for Kern County,” said John Spaulding, executive secretary of the Building Trades Council for Kern, Inyo and Mono Counties.
He said the current construction of the Central Valley segment employs more than 300 construction workers and nearly 60 small businesses are involved.
With new leadership both in state government and the California High Speed Rail Authority, Spaulding asked the Board to postpone a decision.
Mary Helen Barro, of the Kern Minority Contractors Association, cautioned against “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” by abandoning the project in which so much has already been invested.
While she agreed the project has been “a debacle,” she also urged patience to allow plans to restructure and reorganize the project to continue.
Other speakers noted that the project has failed to deliver on its promises, with a scaled-back, “blended” design sharing existing tracks in some places, and the failure of private investment to materialize to support the project.
First District Supervisor Mick Gleason said he originally was a strong advocate for the project, in light of the jobs it would create.
“Since then I’ve lost total confidence in the ability of this project to come in,” he said.