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Brown knows how to play the ACE card

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POSTED April 13, 2017 1:44 a.m.

Jerry Brown is shrewd.
How shrewd is he?
In order to get passage of the 43 percent gas tax hike and the surcharge registration last week to generate $52 billion to address California’s growing backlog of road and bridge maintenance a deal was struck using $927 million in “pork”.
It included $427 million for new road projects in Riverside County to keep two wavering Democrat votes — one in the Assembly and one in the State Senate — in line. Another $100 million went to a new parkway to connect the University of Merced to Highway 99.
The original premise was the gas tax hike would only go toward maintaining existing road infrastructure.
The parkway happened to be in State Senator Anthony Cannella’s district. The Ceres Republican is also credited with getting $400 million to extend Altamont Corridor Express rail service to Merced.
But as Donald Trump likes to brag as immortalized in “The Art of a Deal” Brown really didn’t toss away $400 million in “pork” when it came to the ACE deal crafted with the help of State Senator Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton and Assemblyman Adam Gray of Merced, both Democrats.
The $400 million will actually help move one of Brown’s two major initiatives forward that is meeting pushback from a cross-section of Republican as well as Democrat lawmakers — the high speed rail project.
The deal Brown orchestrated got lawmakers in his own party from Los Angeles and San Francisco that aren’t thrilled about high speed rail to cast votes that will help it pick up steam.
ACE had originally planned to go to Merced even before high speed rail came on the radar. The hope was to do so by 2025. The question was funding.
Here is where Galgiani — who has been an effective advocate for the Northern San Joaquin Valley as a capitol staffer, Assembly member and State Senator — comes into the picture.
Back in 2008 the ballot measure authorizing $9.95 billion in bonds for the initial high speed rail work was approved by voters. As an Assembly member, Galgiani got language into Assembly Bill 3034 that led to Proposition 1A that made funding of high speed rail on the ACE corridor over the Altamont Pass a possible use of the bond money. The bond also sets aside $760 million of the $9.5 billion bond for urban and commuter rail. While this is where CalTrain wants to get $750 million toward $2 billion to electrify track down the San Francisco Peninsula, the recent Trump administration blocking of a federal grant to pick up essentially the rest of the tab opens the door for ACE to potentially get up to $500 million of that $750 million pot to complete the ACE extension to Merced.
But wait, you say, the CalTrain project dovetails into the plan to get high speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco as that is the preferred and currently adopted corridor. The folks at the California High Speed Rail Authority didn’t just fall off the turnip truck.
Last year realizing it could be decades before they could get high speed rail per se into LA or SF due to local opposition — embraced by Democratic lawmakers — that made opponents in Merced County look like high speed rail boosters, CHSRA came up with an “interim” plan to get the system up and running.
High speed rail would run from Merced to Bakersfield and then switch to conventional heavy rail with the latest diesel engines to provide optimum speeds to reach LA and San Jose. While the hybrid service is in place, they’d continue forward with high speed lines from downtown San Francisco to Anaheim.
The CHSRA working with ACE came up with ACE Forward to get high speed rail passengers to San Jose. Once in San Jose they would switch to CalTrain if needed to get up the Peninsula to San Francisco or get off earlier at Pleasanton and take a 10-minute connector bus to reach the BART station and head directly into downtown San Francisco.
What Brown managed to do was negotiate $400 million of “pork” that actually will help move high speed rail that he views as his legacy project forward as part of the deal to generate $54 billion in funds for road and bridge maintenance.
He got Democrats trying to derail high speed rail on board. And — if you are taking a pragmatic stance on high speed rail from LA to SF — the Brown deal is advancing an “interim” Bay Area route that ultimately might make better sense as the primary route.
Double tracking the Altamont Pass is a no brainer. But more importantly if the ACE tracks from Merced to San Jose were converted to high speed rail tracks it would serve the corridor where the most population and job growth is likely to occur in the coming years in the Northern California Mega Region. And even if high speed rail per se doesn’t go farther north than Merced for decades, ACE Forward provides a direct link — with a train switch in Merced — to the primary job and population center of the Bay Area in San Jose and the Santa Clara Valley with easy transit connections to San Francisco, the Peninsula, and the East Bay.
The $400 million for ACE wasn’t “pork” in the scheme of Brown’s agenda for California.
He managed to use it in such a manner that made it look like he was giving up $400 million when he was actually able to kill two political objectives with one stone.
Now that’s shrewd.


This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA.  He can be contacted at or 209.249.3519.

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