All posts by Robert Cruickshank

The Case for Progressive CEQA Reform

A broken environmental review system means change is coming – progressives should articulate their vision before one is imposed on them

As Brian explained yesterday a last-minute end of session gut and amend effort to change the California Environmental Quality Act will not move forward. But that doesn’t mean the effort to reform CEQA has come to an end, nor does it mean that the broken system of environmental review can be left to continue to rot. The same coalition that came together this month to push reforms will merely redouble their efforts ahead of a 2013 push to change CEQA. They’ve got the money and the momentum. I would not bet against them.

Many progressive groups across the state mobilized to block this specific reform proposal, charging that it would in fact carve out a series of loopholes to existing laws and help environmentally unfriendly things like offshore oil rigs avoid CEQA review.

These charges are very serious, and if true would indeed mean this proposal wasn’t the right way to reform CEQA. Surely it is the case, as the LA Times argued, that reforms of this importance should be carefully deliberated and not rushed. I agree with that assessment, and shoehorning this into the very end of a legislative session was not a confidence-building move.

But reform is still needed, and progressives would do well to get out in front by proposing a better way to not only review projects, but to ensure that state and regional planning is done in a way that meets 21st century needs of environmental protection and reducing carbon emissions. Unless progressives actively propose an alternative, however, I fear they will get steamrolled. In this post I explore some reasons for reform and what a progressive solution could look like.

The case for reform remains strong. CEQA reform is going to happen. Its backers have the money, and they have the momentum. They can point to any number of truly egregious examples of wanton CEQA abuse to make their case for them. One is the man who stalled the San Francisco Bike Master Plan for four years with a CEQA suit, on the charge that giving bikes more space on the roads would hurt the environment by causing traffic.

High speed rail advocates have seen CEQA used to delay the environmentally and climate friendly project, with well-heeled Peninsula NIMBYs filing lawsuits under CEQA they keep losing, aside from technical fixes that the project was easily able to make. CEQA has even been used to try and overturn a marijuana dispensary ban (and while I oppose such bans, I also don’t see this as a legitimate use of that law). It’s ridiculous things like that which make a mockery of the law and are simply not affordable in an era of climate crisis.

On the other hand, environmentalists have also pointed to a number of examples that showed how CEQA legitimately stopped environmentally damaging projects that other laws would have allowed. One friend described to me yesterday a pollution-spewing project that was permitted under loopholes in existing laws, only to be stopped by a CEQA suit.

My response was that showed the need for reforming not just CEQA, but California’s whole approach to environmental regulation. A new system is needed, because this one is broken. It doesn’t make sense that one should have to go to court to stop an oil refinery but that someone can use environmental law to stop an electrified passenger train that massively reduces carbon emissions. Something isn’t right here.

Others have reached similar conclusions. In 2006, SPUR issued a report titled Fixing the California Environmental Quality Act. They argued that CEQA has failed to meet its objectives, has actually made environmental problems worse, and that it should be replaced in urban and suburban settings with a statewide planning process:

In the absence of strong statewide planning and in the presence of weak local planning, stopping projects is what California does best. CEQA has become the tool of choice for stopping bad ones and good ones. SPUR has reviewed CEQA from the standpoint of sound planning and environmental quality. We contend that after the law’s 30-plus years of operation, the type and pattern of developments, viewed at citywide, regional, and state scales, are environmentally worse than before. Not all of this can be blamed on CEQA; it has improved individual project design in some cases. Yet viewed broadly, CEQA has contributed to sprawl and worsened the housing shortage by inhibiting dense infill development far more than local planning and zoning would have done alone. To re-form California, we must first reform CEQA….

Our neighbors to the north provide a dramatic model for change. At almost the same moment that California turned to environmental impact reports to protect its environment, Oregon turned to a strengthened planning program, requiring effective local plans and zoning by all jurisdictions. Oregon has protected and greatly improved its natural environment without review of individual projects, but with sound intergovernmental planning. The recent property-rights crusade that passed compensatory zoning at the Oregon ballot box does not lessen the fact that the Oregon environment remains one of the most pristine in the country.

California ought to be moving toward a system where we have statewide land use plans that have regional and even city specificity, emphasizing environmentally friendly projects and mandating carbon emissions reductions. That’s the goal of SB 375, and the basis of a lawsuit by Attorney General Kamala Harris against the San Diego Association of Governments plan which did not meet the state’s greenhouse gas reduction targets and instead favored sprawl. Governor Jerry Brown is very interested in these kinds of modernized plans and that’s good. Harmonizing CEQA with those kinds of state and local plans is smart – as long as those plans are modernized and up to date.

More fundamentally, the current CEQA process is not one that encourages thoughtful design or encourages democratic participation. CEQA relies on lawsuits as its primary enforcement mechanism. But many people in communities affected by the worst environmental impacts don’t have the money to go to court. The existing planning process is often described as “decide-announce-defend” where a government agency or private developer decides to do something, announces it, and then holds public meetings to defend it. A more inclusive process, one that would address environmental and social justice concerns, would still have the courts as a pathway but could rely on more democratic processes of engagement to develop regional general plans that meet statewide carbon reduction requirements and environmental rules. Of course, the details of how that might work matter a lot.

Further, CEQA is inherently biased in favor of the status quo. An existing oil refinery or a freeway doesn’t have to face the CEQA process, but a new wind farm or an electric passenger rail system does, making it harder and more costly to replace the polluting infrastructure with clean infrastructure. There’s got to be a better way – CEQA should help address climate change and clean up the skies, the waters, and the neighborhoods, not make it harder to do that.

Good reforms won’t create new loopholes or allow polluters to escape their responsibilities. Good reforms would preserve the key pieces of CEQA, including court enforcement, while also bringing it in line with laws like AB 32 and SB 375. It would favor green, carbon reducing projects while still holding them to environmental standards. It would not be something that people could abuse for purposes that aren’t related to protecting the environment or reducing carbon emissions.

As I’ve argued before, it won’t work to try and maintain the current status quo. CEQA does need reform and that the status quo isn’t acceptable. I wouldn’t want to see CA progressives wind up in a place of defending the current process from any kind of change.

Without reform, the legislature will keep finding ways to give projects whose backers are politically connected CEQA exemptions or expedited reviews. Farmers Field in LA got a bill passed to expedite their CEQA review thanks in part to those connections. I’m not convinced that’s the best way to reform CEQA, but we will see more of it in the absence of lasting fixes.

We need to close the loopholes but also modernize the law and harmonize it with our climate efforts, rather than letting it undermine those efforts. While this specific plan may be dead, others are out there. Eventually one of them will pass. The other side has a lot more money and they have a solution to a system that is broken. I would not bet against them. It is time for a progressive solution. There’s at least four months in which one can be crafted. I hope that work is now under way.

Will Senate Democrats do Mitt Romney’s Work For Him?

As the presidential election cycle heats up, Republicans are looking for ways to undermine President Barack Obama. One of their tried and true tactics is to take high profile initiatives of the Obama Administration and poke holes in them, make them look like scandalous wasteful failures rather than bold, innovative, effective projects. Congressional Republicans already hate high speed rail, and Darrell Issa’s investigation into the California HSR project is clearly intended as a bash-the-president exercise.

Given that, why on earth would State Senate Democrats be willing to undermine the HSR project and give Republicans – including Mitt Romney – another opportunity to attack the president? Unfortunately that seems to be exactly what some Senate Dems have in mind:

Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto) has been arguing for weeks that it is impractical for the rail authority to think the Senate could hold hearings and approve the $68-billion rail system – the biggest infrastructure project in state history – in a couple of months.

As a result, the Senate’s Democratic leadership is considering whether to delay including money for construction of an initial rail segment in the 2013-14 budget this spring, and instead push the decision into August before the Legislature recesses. The budget deadline is June 15, but appropriations can be made in separate legislation until Aug. 31.

“The timing is still being discussed, but we should have a better idea in the coming days,” said a spokeswoman for Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “It is not uncommon to appropriate bond funds in a bill outside of the budget act.”

There are two important things to consider here. First, a delay would be used by Republicans and Mitt Romney as a justification to argue that President Obama, by investing $3.5 billion in federal funds in the California HSR project, is wasting taxpayer dollars on a project that even some California Democrats don’t like. Already Senators like Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal – who wants to become a Congressional Democrat himself! – have provided crucial ammunition to Republicans like Darrell Issa by repeating claims about the project that are false and flawed, including about the ridership projections. Delaying the funding decision until the eve of the Republican convention strikes me as a very bad thing to do, playing right into their hands.

The other thing is that Simitian is, as usual, wrong about what is going on here. Nothing is being rushed. This project has been under development for the last 15 years. The legislature held extensive hearings in 2008 before placing Prop 1A on the ballot. Voters have already approved the system, and four more years of project planning and development have taken place since then, all with extensive public involvement.

The legislature can and should make this decision by June 15. After all, it makes every other budget decision, many of them complicated and significant, in that time frame. It’s routine. It’s also their job.

For those reasons, a delay is both unnecessary and politically unjustifiable. I’ve worked with Darrell Steinberg in the past and I know he is a smart guy. So let me offer some free advice. Don’t listen to Joe Simitian. Simitian is termed out at the end of this year. Why on earth should he be allowed to undermine the project and undermine President Obama’s re-election chances? It doesn’t make sense. Simitian has zero leverage here. Just ignore him, and move ahead with the HSR funding decision as part of the larger budget.

The LA Times also has an interesting item regarding the HSR budget request:

Meanwhile, Gov. Jerry Brown has sent to the Legislature a budget order that lays out his funding request for the rail project. The technical document from Brown’s Department of Finance set at least one new condition that nobody expected.

Brown wants to forbid any funding for urban rail transit projects, which are part of the so-called blended approach to the bullet train project that the rail authority has proposed, unless the Legislature also approves money for the Central Valley segment.

Awesome. Governor Jerry Brown is a freaking rock star and the best thing that has happened to high speed rail in years. The Central Valley segment is key to the project and absolutely should be part of the initial construction. Kudos to him for standing up for this project.

It’s OK That the California Republican Party Is Irrelevant

One would think that in a democracy, the preferences of voters would drive political analysis. If voters abandoned one of the parties in droves to the point where that party became irrelevant, it would be a sign of a healthy political system that was adaptable and flexible to changing public views. If, however, one party became massively unpopular yet still wielded power and influence, that would be the sign of a failing political system – one that did not reflect the views of a democratic people.

In California, we have witnessed the long yet inevitable death of the Republican Party. Driven by a base that hates everything about 21st century California, from its diversity to its social and economic values, California Republicans have made themselves irrelevant by their refusal to abandon that crazy base or their own unpopular ideologies.

They lost every statewide election in 2010. They have not picked up a Congressional or legislative seat from Democrats in nearly a decade. The independent redistricting process found that the previous lines had been gerrymandered for Republicans and when they produced a fair redistricting, Republicans faced the loss of numerous seats. Republican party registration has been in decline for years. And the last time Republicans controlled the Legislature, the Beatles were still making records together.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. California Republicans do not reflect the values or desires or diversity of their state and so they are a dying party. Parties that get out of step with their electorates die – it has happened before (Federalists and Whigs aren’t on the ballot) and more importantly, it is a good thing. It is a sign that democracy still works, even in a state with serious structural problems.

Yet it is wrong if you are someone like George Skelton who prefers to believe that a healthy democracy requires not a party system that reflects voter preferences, but an artificial one that represents left and right equally, even if the right has been rejected by the state’s voters. In his column in today’s LA Times, Skelton sees it as bad for democracy that the right is no longer part of governance in this state – even though voters have made it absolutely clear they want nothing to do with them:

A Democratic governor – basically a moderate – doesn’t find it worthwhile to dicker with conservatives. Brown futilely tried for several months last year to reach a deal with Republican lawmakers in which they’d provide the necessary two-thirds legislative vote to place a tax measure on the state ballot.

Republican leaders wouldn’t negotiate at all. A handful of unranked GOP senators agreed to talk. But for whatever reason – Brown wouldn’t cross labor, Republicans feared anti-tax demagogues – bargaining broke down.

So Brown went the signature-collecting initiative route. To achieve his goal of placing a potentially winnable tax increase on the ballot, the governor felt compelled to deal with the far left. The right – the GOP – was irrelevant.

That’s unhealthy in a democracy. And it’s nobody’s fault except the hard-right GOP’s. The party allowed itself to become so weak in California that it has little to offer Democrats in bargaining. And what it does have, it refuses to offer.

This is absurd. The only reason Brown is going to the ballot is because of the undemocratic rule requiring a 2/3 vote of the legislature to raise taxes. Without that, Brown could have passed a tax increase in the legislature (as the Constitution intended) or he could have put something on the ballot for voters directly.

More importantly, there is nothing at all unhealthy about refusing to negotiate with a party that has been consistently rejected by California voters. If Republicans had made big gains in 2010, if they were a growing rather than a shrinking party, then maybe Skelton might have a point that they’ve earned a role in negotiating a ballot initiative.

Californians have made it clear they don’t like Republicans and they don’t like right-wing ideology or values. They have consistently rejected them. That’s true of tax policy, where local tax increases routinely pass, and where most receive 50% of the vote even if passage requires the undemocratic 66.6% mark. The debate in California is about which taxes are the right ones to levy. To Republicans, the debate should be about whether any taxes at all should be levied.

But voters have rejected that too – Meg Whitman promised no new taxes and she lost to Jerry Brown by 13 points. Brown promised “no new taxes without voter approval” – indicating he was indeed open to tax increases – and is now governor.

Skelton’s focus on an artificial and obsolete left-right equality means he doesn’t grapple with the more interesting and relevant questions as to why Republicans and the right are dying in California. Just 20 years ago right-wing politics was quite viable in the Golden State. California was a swing state in the 1992 election, after having voted for Republican presidential candidates in each of the past five elections. In 1994 Republicans re-elected a right-wing governor, narrowly won the Assembly, and came close to taking the Senate.

It’s been all downhill since then. The 1994 victory came by rallying whites against Latinos. But in the subsequent 20 years Latinos have soared in population and gotten politically organized to oppose the right and the Republicans. Many conservative whites left the state and those who remained have steadily grown more progressive.

California has changed, and its political system and its parties ought to change with it. If a party refuses to change and adapt, then that party should rightly suffer the consequences at the ballot box. That’s exactly what has happened to the Republicans. And that means they have lost any claim to playing a role in the governance of this state.

Ultimately, this raises the question of whether Skelton is still a useful political commentator on California issues. He clearly has a lot of background and expertise. But he also seems to not understand modern California. Until he realizes that the death of the Republican Party is a healthy thing for democracy, he’s going to keep advocating for unhealthy political practices merely out of a misguided desire to uphold political balance at the expense of political reality.

California Republican Party Calls Former Congressional Candidate a “Slut”

The war on women comes to California as Jennifer Kerns, the new communications director for the California Republican Party, unleashed a brutal twitter attack on former Democratic congressional candidate Krystal Ball for defending a woman’s right to birth control:

Stripper, or strategist? Democrat strategist on MSNBC raging against Limbaugh, her name is supposedly “Krystal Ball.” Speaking of #sluts…


Dem “strategist” Krystal Ball. What has happened to MSNBC… #smh

And in case the Tweets get taken down, here’s a screenshot (via Lisa McIntire):

California Republicans alienated Latinos, Asians, Blacks and young people in droves by 2010 and lost the governor’s race by 13 points. They haven’t won a statewide political race since 2006 and haven’t picked up a seat in the legislature or Congress in even longer. I guess they’ve now decided to alienate women as well.

No wonder we’ve called the CRP the Zombie Death Cult for many years here at Calitics. This is what a dying political party looks like – a party that only cares about inside jokes with its tiny, shriveling, pathetic, hateful base.

We’ll see if the CRP fires Kerns for this, especially as Republicans across the country are trying to distance themselves from Rush Limbaugh’s similar attack on a young law student, calling her a “slut.” But the damage is done, and Californians are now aware that the Republican Party has added women to the list of people they hate.

UPDATE: David Atkins points to a statement from CRP Chairman Tom Del Beccaro from last January about Kerns’ hiring:

Del Beccaro said in a statement that she “brings not only an unrelenting desire for our Party and for its goals to succeed, but also a great deal of creativity that will help us drive our message in 2012.”

And that message is apparently that women who disagree with the party’s policies are sluts.

Will Alan Lowenthal Side With President Obama or the Tea Party?

State Senator Alan Lowenthal is running for Congress in an open seat – California’s 47th district. The seat is centered on Long Beach and includes some pieces of Orange County, which was why Lowenthal spoke last Friday at the luncheon of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County.

Lowenthal has made a name for himself as a leading critic of the high speed rail project. Of course, this is the same project that is very strongly supported by President Barack Obama, Governor Jerry Brown, and the other Democrats who represent California in Congress, a group Lowenthal wants to join. HSR critics, on the other hand, are Tea Party Republicans like Jeff Denham and Kevin McCarthy.

So it makes sense that a group of Democrats would want to know which side Lowenthal is on – the side of HSR and Democrats, or the side of the Tea Party. A friend of Calitics was in the audience last Friday at the luncheon, and asked Lowenthal that question.

His answer was not encouraging:

“There’s an inadequate business plan,” state Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, said at a Friday luncheon of the Democratic Foundation of Orange County.  “A UC Berkeley study found the ridership projections were too high. We have $10 billion in state funds and $3 billion in federal funds for a $98 billion project. To start in the middle (of the state) when you have no (financial) commitment is too risky.”

Lowenthal’s answer is full of flaws. He cites a discredited Berkeley Transportation Institute in order to criticize the system’s ridership projections, but totally ignores the work of an independent peer review committee that found the ridership projections were sound. But Lowenthal ignores that because he knows that if he can tap into the belief that nobody rides trains in America, then he can undermine the project.

Further, as a member of Congress Lowenthal would be in a position to do something about federal funding. If he were concerned that the feds hadn’t kicked in enough money, he could simply pledge that he would go to Congress and vote for more HSR money, as opposed to a Republican who would presumably join the rest of his party in voting to defund high speed rail. Tellingly, Lowenthal made no such pledge.

Of course, if high speed rail isn’t built in California, then presumably the growth in travel will require an expansion of both the airport footprint as well as in the number of flights serving Long Beach and Orange County airports. One wonders if Lowenthal’s constituents are aware he is more willing to subject them to airplane noise rather than help build quieter, more sustainable trains that would help relieve the pressure on those two airports.

The OC Register article claims Lowenthal is a “high speed rail advocate” but that is a convenient fiction Lowenthal has maintained in order to try and hide his true opposition to the project. But Lowenthal will have an opportunity to prove that conclusion wrong later this year when he gets to vote on whether to release the voter-approved Prop 1A bonds for high speed rail construction. Republicans don’t want that to happen, preferring to kill a signature initiative of President Obama’s that California Congressional Democrats support.

So Lowenthal has a choice in front of him. Will he side with Obama, Brown, and Congressional Democrats and vote to build high speed rail in California in 2012? Or will he side with Tea Party Republicans and vote against high speed rail?

California is eagerly awaiting the answer to this question, even if he wouldn’t give his fellow Orange County Democrats an answer last week.

Three State Senate Democrats versus President Obama?

At this weekend’s California Democratic Party convention in San Diego, three likely attendees have some answers they owe to the assembled delegates. Why, in this election year, would any Democrat in the state legislature ally with far-right Republicans to undermine President Barack Obama’s re-election chances by attacking one of his signature projects?

The project in question is the California high speed rail project. High speed rail, like all forms of non-automobile transit, have been targets of Republicans since the 2010 elections. Tea Party Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Florida all killed their states’ high speed rail projects and rejected free federal money to build them in order to make an ideological statement that rail is bad and to cast the Obama Administration in a bad light. This despite the fact that the Florida HSR system, for example, would have been profitable according to two independent audits.

In 2011 House Republicans voted to defund high speed rail. Here in 2012 they have gone even further, passing a truly extreme Transportation Bill that would defund most forms of mass transit in America.

They’re doing this partly in service to their ideological values, but also in part to try and undermine President Obama. Republicans believe they’ve been able to turn “green jobs” into a scandalous idea thanks to the Solyndra issue. They would love to make high speed rail into a new Solyndra, casting the president as wasting tax dollars on something that doesn’t work.

Republicans have zeroed in on the California high speed rail project, the last one left standing after Florida’s governor killed the project a year ago, in order to make that anti-Obama argument. They want to claim that the California HSR project won’t generate ridership, won’t generate profits, that it’s some sort of “train to nowhere” and is generally a bad idea.

None of those claims are true.

• California high speed rail is expected to generate ridership and profits – just like every other HSR system in the world. The belief that it won’t is really what drives most high speed rail critics and opponents. It’s the equivalent of denying global warming – the evidence to the contrary is overwhelming. An independent peer review found the ridership numbers to be sound. The facts are in and they are clear: people will choose trains over planes when given the choice. Riders have flocked to HSR from planes around the world and in the Northeastern United States. Japan and France, Spain, Russia, Taiwan, even the Amtrak Acela. And California compares favorably to those globally successful routes.

• As to the “train to nowhere” argument, that’s nonsense. The segment from Fresno to Bakersfield is just the first place where construction begins. Nobody plans to build high speed rail there alone and call it done. Every major piece of long-distance transportation infrastructure was started in pieces. Interstate 5 took 19 years to complete in the Central Valley. The plan is to build from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles and Anaheim. You’ve gotta start somewhere, but nobody is crazy enough to just stop with a small section in the Valley.

The only issue with California’s HSR project is that the funding to build the entire system from SF to LA hasn’t yet been identified. But that’s a solvable problem, especially if one rejects Republican arguments and instead pushes Congress to fund high speed rail. After all, politicians should be in the business of solving problems, not ignoring them.

So where does the State Senate come in to the discussion? Despite the above facts, Senators Mark DeSaulnier, Alan Lowenthal, and Joe Simitian – all Democrats – have been recently repeating the right-wing criticisms of HSR, undermining President Obama in the process.

In a recent report in the Contra Costa Times, all three Senators were quoted making many of the same criticisms of Obama’s HSR plan as Tea Party Republicans made:

They voiced concerns about plans to start in the Central Valley with a 130-mile link that will not attract enough riders and could become California’s version of the Alaskan “Bridge to Nowhere.”

“This is an albatross potentially,” Lowenthal said.

Lowenthal has been attacking HSR for years, and has wanted to kill this project despite its known benefits. What is particularly interesting is that Lowenthal is running for an open Congressional seat in the Long Beach area, CA-47. Lowenthal would be in an excellent position to help bring more federal dollars to California, help the state get off of fossil fuels and improve transportation by federally funding HSR. Instead he’s joining Republicans to attack the project. Is that an appropriate thing for someone who aspires to become a Congressional Democrat to do?

DeSaulnier, who I like and respect a lot, has his own criticisms:

Instead, they are pushing to begin in urbanized areas. “You need to spend the money where the need is and where it will attract private-sector funds,” DeSaulnier said. “You need to put it where the ridership is.”

As it turns out, the California High Speed Rail Authority does plan to spend money in urban areas. But DeSaulnier here is really repeating the “train to nowhere” argument. The project is merely beginning construction in the Central Valley. To help connect to the coastal areas and tap into the highest ridership levels, we need people like DeSaulnier to step up and help fund that part of the project, rather than take shots from the sidelines.

Senator Simitian’s claims are among the most objectionable of all:

“Whether they are federal funds or not, they should be used wisely,” Simitian said. “Whenever someone tries to hustle you into a quick decision, that should give you pause. I feel like we’re getting jammed by the threat of losing the federal funds.”

As he points out, the state should not “make a $100 billion mistake to save $3 billion” from Washington.

This is very similar to talking points made by Tea Party governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin and Rick Scott in Florida when they rejected their HSR systems – that somehow they were saving money. Of course, we know that the cost of not building high speed rail would be far higher than HSR – at least $170 billion to expand freeways and airports to handle the same amount of demand that HSR would handle. And unlike freeways, HSR would pay its own operating costs without adding more carbon to the climate.

Governor Jerry Brown defended HSR in his State of the State address and just this week Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood came to California to show support for HSR. Yet these three State Senators appear willing to go against their fellow Democrats – in an election year – and for what? For the prize of siding with Republicans to destroy something that can help California build a better future?

So if you’re a California Democratic Party delegate in San Diego this weekend, and you happen to run into Senators DeSaulnier, Lowenthal and Simitian, you might want to ask them why they’re ignoring the facts in order to side with Tea Party Republicans against President Obama. I think we’d all like to hear the answer.

ProPublica Continues to Evade the Key Questions

Yesterday, shortly after I posted my latest entry on the ProPublica redistricting story scandal, ProPublica posted a response to critics. Unfortunately, the response continues to evade the key questions and criticisms made of their article, particularly their lack of knowledge of California politics and their strange assumption that somehow it’s wrong if Democrats wind up benefiting from the new lines.

Q: If California Democrats actually succeeded in manipulating the redistricting commission, then why did some Democratic incumbents lose?

A: Our story did not assert that every Democrat got what they wanted from the Commission. Indeed, we noted that Democrats faced a particularly difficult challenge getting what they wanted in densely populated, ethnically diverse Southern California.

Still, fewer Democrats might have lost than it seems.

Some have argued, for instance, that the high-profile retirement of Rep. Lynn Woolsey, in Northern California, was a result of redistricting.

But as it turns out, Woolsey announced her retirement before the lines were completed, and has said redistricting had nothing to do with her decision.

This is a non-sequitur answer. One of the key reasons for the commission was voter anger that incumbents were essentially “drawing their own lines.” It should be noted I didn’t share that reasoning, and I in fact opposed this commission. But the commission was given loud and clear direction by voters to ignore incumbency and that is precisely what they did.

Q: What about Reps. Berman and Sherman getting drawn [4] into a district together?

A: As many have noted, Democratic U.S. Reps. Brad Sherman and Howard Berman were drawn into the same district [5], and as were Reps. Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson.

Several people — including members of the redistricting commission [6] — have pointed to the Berman-Sherman face-off, in particular, as evidence that the commission was not manipulated by Democrats.

But even in that case, there appears to be evidence of an effort to influence the process.

According to FEC records, on May 23, Sherman’s PAC paid $15,000, to an entity it called “PMPA” in their disclosures. The address of PMPA is the home of redistricting consultant Paul Mitchell’s mother in Glendale. One of Paul Mitchell’s firms is called Paul Mitchell Public Affairs, or PMPA. It’s not clear what the work was for. Mitchell didn’t respond to our request about his work about Sherman.

In the end, Sherman appears to have come out ahead. The so-called Berman-Sherman district was 60 percent from Sherman’s old district, and 16 percent from Berman’s district.

Sherman’s office did not return our requests for comment.

As for Berman, he told ProPublica he didn’t try to influence the commission: “I’m not unfamiliar with the redistricting process. I wasn’t caught flat-footed. I just chose not to do what many on both sides of the aisle did: try to sway the commission to do something that was good for one member. The whole process was supposed to draw lines without consideration to incumbents. I respected that process.”

So people tried to influence the commission. Big fucking deal. That in and of itself is not a news story. What ProPublica asserted – and has so far been entirely unable to prove – is that these efforts to influence actually succeeded in swaying the commission’s decisions. But commissioners themselves – whom ProPublica did not deign to interview – have consistently denied that their decisions were affected by this lobbying.

Q: Didn’t Republicans and others try to influence the commission too?

A: Yes, they did. In fact, our reporting began with one such attempt. But we also found that Republicans were far less organized or effective than Democrats.

For instance, Howard “Buck” McKeon, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, tried to enlist his allies to urge the commission to draw him a friendly district. Last April, McKeon emailed a local trade group with defense industry tries encouraging them to “advocate to the Redistricting Commission” for McKeon’s ideal district. (Read the email [7].) McKeon didn’t return our requests for comment.

The group, the Antelope Valley Board of Trade, did not testify in favor of his district. McKeon ended up getting part of what he wanted but not all of it.

Again, ProPublica asserts that Democratic influencing efforts “succeeded” without having any evidence to defend this claim. The fact that anyone was trying to influence anything is itself unremarkable.

Q: California is a blue state. In a fair process, shouldn’t the Democrats [4] “win” [8] redistricting?

A: There haven’t yet been elections based on the newly redistricted lines. So any projections about how Democrats and Republicans will fare are just that, projections.

We interviewed multiple experts who said that Democrats could be expected to gain a seat or two via redistricting. The previous district lines had actually been the result of a bi-partisan backroom gerrymander that created a few Republican seats. A fair redistricting process might have eliminated those safe seats.

But after the districts were drawn, internal Democratic Party analyses projected a gain of six or seven seats.

More importantly, the way lines are drawn doesn’t just affect the balance of power between Democrats and Republicans. Particular lines can also protect particular politicians.

Rep. Judy Chu’s Southern California district, for example, would likely remain safely Democratic in any redrawing. But, as our story shows, a group with ties to Rep. Chu successfully intervened in the commission process at the last minute to tweak lines that will likely make it easier for Chu herself to defeat any Democratic challenger.

That’s particularly relevant because California is moving to a new “open primary” system where the politicians who get the largest number of votes go on to face each other in a second round — regardless of party affiliation.

This is a response to my criticism on Thursday – or at least it’s intended as a response. Note that ProPublica does not actually deal with the substance of my question.

Democrats have a 44-30 registration advantage over Republicans. And many voters registered as “Decline to State” actually vote consistently for Democrats. Remember also that Republicans got swept in the 2010 elections and dating back to 1998 have had trouble winning more than one or two statewide seats. Their last US Senator was elected in 1986. They last had a majority in the state legislature in 1970.

In short, given the fact that California voters have consistently favored Democrats for the last few decades, any outcome that did not result in increasing opportunities for Democrats to win seats would not have been an accurate reflection of political reality.

As to Judy Chu, ProPublica asserts that organizing efforts were done on her behalf. In fact, organizing was done to ensure Asian-Americans had a majority district. The redistricting commissioners were subject to both state and federal Voting Rights Act rules. And Asian-Americans have faced historic discrimination in California. So it makes sense that there will be at least one Asian-American district in the state. And many Asian-American voting rights advocates were actually disappointed in the work of the commission. The district benefits an Asian-American candidate and it won’t necessarily be Judy Chu.

Q: The Commission was never meant [9] to be non-partisan.

A: We’ll let readers judge for themselves. The voter referendum creating the commission called for “nonpartisan rules designed to ensure fair representation.”

Here is the language voters saw in the ballot box [10]:

   The People of the State of California hereby make the following findings and declare their purpose in enacting this act is as follows:

   (a) Under current law, California legislators draw their own political districts. Allowing politicians to draw their own districts is a serious conflict of interest that harms voters. That is why 99 percent of incumbent politicians were reelected in the districts they had drawn for themselves in the recent elections.

   (b) Politicians draw districts that serve their interests, not those of our communities. For example, cities such as Long Beach, San Jose and Fresno are divided into multiple oddly shaped districts to protect incumbent legislators. Voters in many communities have no political voice because they have been split into as many as four different districts to protect incumbent legislators. We need reform to keep our communities together so everyone has representation.

   (c) This reform will make the redistricting process open so it cannot be controlled by the party in power. It will give us an equal number of Democrats and Republicans on the commission, and will ensure full participation of independent voters-whose voices are completely shut out of the current process. In addition, this reform requires support from Democrats, Republicans, and independents for approval of new redistricting plans.

   (d) The independent Citizens Redistricting Commission will draw districts based on strict, nonpartisan rules designed to ensure fair representation. The reform takes redistricting out of the partisan battles of the Legislature and guarantees redistricting will be debated in the open with public meetings, and all minutes will be posted publicly on the Internet. Every aspect of this process will be open to scrutiny by the public and the press.

   (e) In the current process, politicians are choosing their voters instead of voters having a real choice. This reform will put the voters back in charge.

ProPublica is imparting their own meaning to this question. The commission was in fact never meant to be non-partisan because it had partisan representation written into the proposition that created it. In fact, one reason I opposed the commission is that it gave an unfair advantage to Republicans, giving them the same number of seats as Democrats even though they had many fewer valid registrations.

Further, the commission did act in a non-partisan way by refusing to review party registration when drawing up boundaries, a fact ProPublica criticized them for doing. So it seems ProPublica wants to have it both ways here – criticizing the commission for being “partisan” while also criticizing them for ignoring partisanship.

Why do you say the commission limited opportunities for public input? Didn’t it have dozens of hearings?

The public hearing transcripts clearly show that a lot of testimony was received by the commission. But the commission cancelled a second round of draft maps and the hearings they said they would do with them. Many groups criticized this move [11] as limiting citizen input.

Instead of releasing a promised second round of draft maps, the commission chose to release daily ‘visualizations,’ which were drawn at meetings in Sacramento. While the general public could comment via email, transcripts show individuals in attendance joined what became impromptu hearings at the beginning of each meeting. Transcripts show that these in-person comments and map submissions were influential. But they were only an option for those with the resources both to anticipate which districts would be discussed on a particular day, and appear in person in Sacramento.

Here is the commission’s statement [12] on our article.

Of course, commissioners were not sequestered either. They were well aware of all efforts to influence them – and in fact took steps to minimize that influence. Cancelling the hearings was in fact an effort to do just that. Once again ProPublica wants to have it both ways in their criticisms.

Ultimately this “response” does not really address the key questions. So I’ll state them again:

1. Does ProPublica have any hard evidence establishing a causal link between efforts to influence the commissioners and the commissioners’ decisions as reflected in the final maps? By “hard evidence” I do not mean circumstantial or correlative evidence, but something that actually proves, beyond doubt, that commissioners made their decisions based on the influence they were given?

2. Does ProPublica acknowledge that for at least 13 years California voters have made their preferences for Democrats extremely clear, and that under no logical argument can a case be made that Republicans “deserved” more favorable seats?

3. Can ProPublica explain why they did not bother to interview any commissioners for their article?

4. Can ProPublica explain why they did not bother to quote PPIC expert Eric McGhee even though he explained Democratic gains were a logical outcome of the process in an interview with Olga Pierce?

5. Following up on #4, can ProPublica confirm or deny that their article was written with the intent to question California redistricting because it is projected to favor Democrats, and all dissenting voices were excluded from the article in order to produce that conclusion?

6. Did ProPublica write this article in an attempt to placate the right and/or Republicans after they published a series of articles criticizing pro-GOP redistricting?

7. Does ProPublica have any detailed knowledge of California political trends?

8. Does ProPublica have any detailed knowledge of California demographic trends?

Feel free to add other questions in the comments.

From what I can tell, ProPublica is just another one of these supposedly “independent” news sites that actually gets stories fundamentally wrong because they are interested in making everyone look bad and finding “evidence” of wrongdoing even if no such evidence exists. Rather than tell their readers the truth – that Republicans were doomed to lose out in any fair redistricting process and that they are now whining about it to anyone who will listen – they are misleading their readers by concocting a story in an effort to score cheap journalistic points.

One of the primary reasons blogging exists is because for media outlets like ProPublica, telling the truth is no longer valued.

ProPublica Ignored Expert Advice When Producing Redistricting Story

The scandal surrounding the ProPublica article on California redistricting is intensifying today as more damning revelations emerge about the flawed way the article was assembled. Over at Calbuzz Jerry Roberts and Phil Trounstine break an important part of the story – that the article’s authors interviewed a Public Policy Institute of California expert who explained why the final district lines were sensible, but that this never made it into the article:

All you really need to know about their over-reaching piece is this: the reporters studiously ignored documented research and statistical evidence they were provided that conflicted or undercut their conclusion – that projected Democratic gains in the state’s House delegation are the result of a secret and nefarious partisan manipulation of the political naïfs on the commission.

In the course of their reporting, Calbuzz has learned, Pierce interviewed Eric McGhee of the Public Policy Institute of California, one of the state’s top non-partisan reapportionment experts, who explained to her that the gains forecast for Democrats represent a logical and expected result given a) demographic changes in the last decade and b) the criteria the commission was charged with using.

McGhee even emailed Pierce an advance copy of a 45-page analysis of the commission plan he co-authored with Vladimir Kogan of UC San Diego, which is scheduled to be published in the California Journal of Politics and Policy in a few months. Among its conclusions: given the gerrymandered districts used for the last decade, “it seems unlikely that it is possible to draw any plan that increases competition among congressional seats without also advantaging the Democrats.”

But when the ProPublica report published Wednesday – claiming that Democratic operatives had “managed to replicate the results of the smoke-filled rooms of old” (yes, they actually wrote that) – there was no mention of the detailed and comprehensive McGhee-Kogan research, nor even a reference to the facts, background and context on which it is based.

“If there was a credible argument on the other side,” of ProPublica’s conclusion, McGhee told us, “I don’t understand why they didn’t include it.”

That’s pretty damning. Nowhere in the ProPublica article was this analysis ever mentioned or hinted at. One would assume that if the authors were interested in serious journalism, they would have included this perspective in some form.

Instead they were pursuing a “Democrats are bad too!” story intended to balance out their reporting on genuine ways Republicans monkeyed around with redistricting in other states. Like Politifact, ProPublica put their desire to placate Republicans ahead of getting the story right.

Over at the San Francisco Chronicle, Carla Marinucci spoke to one of the Decline to State commissioners who dismissed ProPublica’s charges as “dead wrong”:

“As a commission, we ran a very transparent process, so some of the allegations made in the story are easily disproved by a look at our website and the criteria we used,” said Connie Galambos-Malloy, one of four “decline to state” voters on the 14-member commission. “If the voters investigate, it’s clear that most of the allegations are dead wrong.”…

Galambos-Malloy said the commission “wasn’t contacted before the story” for comment prior to the piece’s publication – a move she calls regrettable.

“I wasn’t reached out to,” she said. “And the story just doesn’t match the process we went through.”

Rob Wilcox, the media spokesman for the commission, confirmed in an email today: “Three Commissioners were interviewed in general about the Commission’s process in early November.”  But “ProPublica did not contact the Commission for comment on the specifics of their investigation following those initial conversations,” he said.

That’s pretty shoddy journalism from ProPublica, and casts further doubt not only on the conclusions reached in their story but also their basic credibility as a news outlet.

One of the authors of the story, Olga Pierce, took to Twitter to respond to David Atkins’ post at Hullabaloo. Pierce dodged the substantive issues raised by Atkins and by others who have questioned her article to make what was essentially a non sequitur:

@DavidOAtkins I greatly respect your opinion, but we didn’t say anything in our story about the California state democratic party.

So? If she was hinting at the DCCC, it still doesn’t make any difference. The criticisms we’re making weren’t about the California Democratic Party or about Democrats more broadly. No, we are challenging her “correlation equals causation” reasoning that ignored the evidence showing why the new district lines were a reasonable outcome and how there’s no evidence to indicate any of the organizing efforts actually impacted the final maps.

Indeed, if the DCCC was trying to influence the outcome (and there’s nothing wrong with doing so) they did not exactly succeed. Howard Berman and Brad Sherman are drawn into a district together, as were Jim Costa and Dennis Cardoza (who chose to retire, costing Democrats a representative in the crucial Central Valley). So too were Janice Hahn and Laura Richardson. Lois Capps’ seat became much less safe and she will face a stiff challenge from Abel Maldonado next year.

Neither Pierce nor ProPublica have yet seen fit to offer any other responses to the mounting criticism their article is facing. Instead they appear content to let their reputations erode in the hopes that at least they made California Republicans happy.

Finally, I got an email from Dave Meyer of the Rose Institute who was upset at my post yesterday. In that post I quoted California Democratic Party chair John Burton who called the Rose Institute “Republican funded.” Meyer said “the Rose Institute takes non-partisanship extremely seriously. We receive no support or funding of any kind from any political party.” Of course, that wasn’t exactly what Burton charged – he was saying Republican donors back the Rose Institute and claimed Rose has “Republican ties,” which wasn’t the same as Meyer’s denial. Additionally, the Rose Institute lost the contract to advise the redistricting commission earlier this year in part due to failure to disclose information, including their donors, that the commission required.

Still, I’ve included Meyer’s comments above so you can decide who’s right and who’s not. That’s more than can be said for ProPublica and Olga Pierce.

ProPublica’s Absurd Attack on California Redistricting

California Democratic Party chair John Burton and I agree on many things (one reason I voted for him to be chair back in April 2009). One of them is that this ProPublica article attacking California’s redistricting is complete bullshit.

ProPublica’s argument is basically this: California Democrats organized to try and influence the Citizens Redistricting Commission to produce outcomes favorable to Democrats. Ultimately, the Commission produced outcomes favorable to Democrats. Therefore, California Democrats successfully manipulated the commission to produce that result:

As part of a national look at redistricting, ProPublica reconstructed the Democrats’ stealth success in California, drawing on internal memos, emails, interviews with participants and map analysis. What emerges is a portrait of skilled political professionals armed with modern mapping software and detailed voter information who managed to replicate the results of the smoked-filled rooms of old.

The losers in this once-a-decade reshaping of the electoral map, experts say, were the state’s voters. The intent of the citizens’ commission was to directly link a lawmaker’s political fate to the will of his or her constituents. But as ProPublica’s review makes clear, Democratic incumbents are once again insulated from the will of the electorate.

This is, as Burton and I both said, complete bullshit.

First, ProPublica seemed to not notice that pretty much everybody in California organized to try and influence the commission. That includes Republicans, Democrats, unions, businesses, progressives, teabaggers, MALDEF, Asian American voting rights activists, white supremacists, and so on. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. That’s how democracy works, and the commission was mandated to take public testimony.

Second, ProPublica did not bother to actually to look at California’s demographics or voter choices. They claim that the new maps did not reflect the will of the people. One reason they say this is that supposedly population growth benefited Republicans:

“Very little of this is due to demographic shifts,” said Professor Doug Johnson at the Rose Institute in Los Angeles. Republican areas actually had higher growth than Democratic ones. “By the numbers, Republicans should have held at least the same number of seats, but they lost.”

We’ll come back to the Rose Institute in a moment. But this claim itself is absurd on its face. Most of that population growth came from Latinos – who, as anyone familiar with California politics knows, have little love for Republicans. The reason is obvious: the California GOP is a white man’s party that despises Latinos. So why on earth should Republicans benefit from Latino population growth?

In fact, the notion floated by the Rose Institute that certain parties have a claim on districts is exactly what the commission was intended to challenge.

Of course, the core assumption that California Republicans deserved any new seats is challenged by their collapse in the November 2010 elections. While Republicans across the country were having a banner night, California Republicans lost every single statewide election (including losing the governor’s race by 13 points despite outspending the Democrats nearly 10 to 1). They also failed to pick up a single seat in either the legislature or Congress, losing one Assembly seat. California voters made explicitly clear in November 2010 that they do not like Republicans. That doesn’t appear to have actually influenced the commission’s deliberations, but it does mean the claim that Republicans had any reasonable expectation of gains is ridiculous.

And as it turns out, the Rose Institute is not a neutral observer, even though they were treated as one by ProPublica. John Burton and the CDP pointed out in their press release about the article that the Rose Institute is Republican-funded and had a score to settle with the commission:

Sadly, Pro Publica chose to recycle talking points from the Republican-funded Rose Institute without checking with the Democratic Party. The Rose Institute, which was knocked out of the redistricting process earlier this year because of its explicit ties to the Republican Party, tried to make these charges at beginning of the Commission’s deliberations where they were clearly rejected. If the Rose Institute and the Republican Party believed the Democratic Party controlled the independent Commission, one would think they would have challenged all three redistricting plans in court, instead of just one.

Ouch. If I followed ProPublica’s method of analysis, I would conclude that they were collaborating with the Rose Institute to produce an article smearing the commission – which is essentially the charge they’ve leveled at Democrats and the commission.

Instead I’ll continue pointing out other absurdities in their article. They claim that the fact that Jerry McNerney and Judy Chu got favorable districts proves Dems gamed the system. But tell that to Dennis Cardoza, drawn into a Valley district with Jim Costa. Tell that to Howard Berman and Brad Sherman, drawn into a battle-to-the-death in west LA. Tell that to Janice Hahn, backed by the party establishment only to be drawn into a south bay district with Laura Richardson.

Even Bob Mulholland managed to say something useful about this, pointing out that the way the commission was set up made it impervious to bias:

Democratic Party campaign advisor Bob Mulholland, in an email, said it would have been “easier to influence North Korea” than the redistricting commission, which was made up of three Republicans, three Democrats and two decline to state voters chosen through a lengthy vetting and lottery process.

ProPublica also took issue with the fact that the commission ignored voter registration when drawing the lines. But wasn’t that part of the entire point of the commission?

John Myers has an interesting take on the report that is half right and half wrong in its conclusions. First, what he got right:

Finally, an observation about a mindset that seems to exist not only with ProPublica’s national reporting team but others who have watched or participated in the redistricting commission’s work. And that is that California voters created a “nonpartisan process” for drawing political districts. However, neither Prop 11 nor Prop 20 ever specifically promised a “nonpartisan” commission — that is, one made up of members and opinions with no formal political allegiances. Instead, what the two initiatives promised was a commission “independent” from elected officials and the tendency to gerrymander.

That’s a key distinction. 75% of California voters have chosen to identify with a political party. Most of the remainder have chosen to identify with no party at all, choosing “Decline to State” as their option – though as we know, most of these DTS voters wind up voting Democratic anyway. In any case, with 3 out of 4 Californians openly embracing a partisan identity, it makes sense that they did NOT want a “nonpartisan” commission since the electorate itself is willingly partisan.

No, the primary selling point of the commission was that elected officials could not control it. The ads and arguments for it played on public distrust of politicians, not of political parties.

Myers should know that, which is why his final paragraph is so odd:

And yet time and again through the process, some observers criticized Democrats on the panel for acting like — well, Democrats — and Republicans for acting like — well, Republicans. (The criticisms were much more numerous, it should be noted, against the commission’s Dems.) Four other members of the commission were unaffiliated with either party, but often had to make decisions that favored one partisan mindset or the other. If the public truly expected an apolitical redistricting process, then they were set up for disappointment from the very start.

But they did NOT expect an “apolitical” redistricting process. Voters are not idiots. They know there is no such thing as “apolitical.” They liked the commission because it was designed to limit the influence of elected officials, and it quite clearly did so. Finally, given that Californians have so strongly endorsed Democrats on Election Day, it is hard to believe that the outcome of the commission was anything close to a disappointment.

ProPublica’s article relies on flimsy evidence and assumptions that fly in the face of common sense. Anyone who knows anything about California politics could easily see the flaws here.

Democrats didn’t get favorable maps because they organized for it. They got favorable maps because California favors Democrats and has clearly rejected the Republicans. The California GOP is a dying party, increasingly being left behind as state politics realigns toward a system where progressives and corporate-friendly politicians are the two dominant forces, with Republicans on the fringe.

ProPublica knew nothing about California’s demography or politics, and produced a ridiculous article either out of gullibility or conspiracy. In the end it doesn’t matter which one it was. Their article should be laughed out of the room and ProPublica shouldn’t be taken seriously again, at least not until they retract that article.

Will the State Legislature Abandon California’s Future?

In the 1930s, California legislators of both parties came together to work to end the Depression by putting people back to work building infrastructure that provided lasting value. They weren’t cowed into submission by costs or financial concerns. They did what was necessary and what was right to solve the crisis and build a better future by building bridges and dams and canals across the state.

A generation later, legislators of both parties did it again. This time the economy was booming and money was no problem, but still our leaders recognized that the California Aqueduct, the freeways, and schools and universities were essential to current and future prosperity.

We’re living on the benefits of those investments. But it is time to make new ones, for a new century, to face new challenges, and get us out of a new crisis. Sadly, the present leadership in the legislature – especially the Senate – appears to want to reject the proven path California took in the 20th century. Rather than spend money to create jobs and lasting economic value through new infrastructure, several Senate Democrats are now sounding just like right-wing Republicans in their attacks on the high speed rail project:

“The Field Poll confirmed what I already had come to believe: The public patience for this project is about exhausted,” said state Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee.

DeSaulnier said he has long supported the bullet train service as a way to fight congestion and greenhouse gases.

But he said Tuesday that he could turn against the project unless the California High Speed Rail Authority soon can answer questions about spiraling costs and uncertainty over federal and private funding for the project.

“I think it’s time to fish or cut bait with this project,” he said. “It may be too late.”

DeSaulnier, who I have had a lot of respect for, is clearly out to lunch on this one. He’s going to let one poll that asked a limited question about HSR and therefore isn’t actually a good guide to public opinion on the subject convince him to give up on building California’s future?

That’s an absurd attitude to take. It’s defeatist. And many of the infrastructure projects California now enjoys faced similar problems. After voters approved the Golden Gate Bridge bonds in November 1930, the financial crisis nearly made it impossible to sell the bonds. Ultimately the federal government worked out a deal to help back the bonds, and construction got under way by 1933, with the project completed by 1937. California didn’t quit when the project got difficult. They worked hard to find solutions and got it done.

DeSaulnier, by contrast, appears ready to just give up. It makes no sense.

Especially when so much of California’s hopes at economic recovery are riding on this project. The Central Valley initial construction segment could create over 10,000 construction jobs in the coming years. There is nothing else on the horizon to produce nearly that many jobs in this state, especially in one of the parts of the state where unemployment is the highest. DeSaulnier is reckless to just toss those jobs to the wind.

Particularly since California isn’t actually risking anything by moving ahead with that segment. Prop 1A is quite clear that $9 billion in bonds are all that are authorized, and can only be spent on a 1:1 match with federal funds. If no more federal funds come, then no more state money is spent. The worst possible outcome is a bunch of people are paid good money to build unfinished rail infrastructure in the Valley and we call it a day. Even that would be a big stimulus for the Valley and the state.

And yet we know that outcome isn’t very likely. The federal funding picture isn’t very bright right now, but that is likely to change in the next few years. If not, again, the state isn’t on the hook for anything else, so there’s no risk but lots of potential rewards.

California’s present crisis is the product of legislators who weren’t willing any longer to do what it took to produce a stable, lasting prosperity. Rather than take their cues from Republicans and Democrats of the ’30s, the ’50s, and the ’60s, they began to simply hide from their obligations and responsibilities. The state’s education system is in crisis, unemployment is sky-high, poverty is rising, and because legislators wouldn’t do enough to reduce dependence on oil, the state is in a lasting economic slump.

High speed rail is one way to help get out of it, by following a proven path of using infrastructure to provide short-term stimulus and long-term value. Democrats in Sacramento should know as well as anyone the need to do this and benefits it brings. I am pretty damn sure Mark DeSaulnier knows better than to just give up on California’s future. And yet he might just do it all because one of unfavorable poll? That’s a pretty damning indictment of the state legislature’s ability and willingness to do what it takes to fix California.