The Orange County Transportation Authority is considering sending state high-speed rail officials a memo urging them to “pull the plug” on the proposed $98-billion Anaheim-to-San Francisco project.
The 17-member board will vote next month on the wording of a message it plans to deliver to the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority, which has overall authority to contract for construction of the rail system if the state Legislature and federal officials approve financing.
OCTA plans and builds most Orange County highway and rail systems, using federal, state and local tax money. But it has no jurisdiction over the planned 520-mile high-speed rail project.
A vote of no-confidence would come in part from a Republican-dominated board and be directed at Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic legislators and members of Congress who support the rail plan.
But it was a Republican, former Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle, who spearheaded much of the local support for the project. Pringle also served on the OCTA board and chaired the High-Speed Rail Authority in 2009 and 2010.
With Pringle gone, no one on the OCTA board spoke up for the rail system during Monday’s meeting.
And at least six of the OCTA board members said they opposed the way the project is being handled.
The high-speed rail project has been beset by management problems. Voters approved the system in 2008 on the condition that when it is finished, no tax money will be used to operate it.
A new business plan released earlier this month was hailed for its realistic approach. But that created other problems, because the plan estimated the cost would be $98.5 billion, more than double the previous $43-billion estimate. It also predicted that most private investment, which had been promoted as a way to offset tax money, wouldn’t materialize until after the system is up and running.
The rail authority’s new business plan is open for public comment through January, which prompted OCTA board member Peter Herzog, a Lake Forest City Council member, to suggest the board send its own comments. Some wanted to vote immediately to oppose the project.
“The emperor has no clothes,” said Supervisor John Moorlach, one of the OCTA directors. “Sometimes with a deal, it’s good to tell someone ‘no.’ “
But OCTA Chairwoman Pat Bates, also a member of the Board of Supervisors, said, “Today, I don’t think, is the day we should say ‘pull the plug.’ I think we should have a deliberative process and not just knee-jerk here.”
The board asked two of its committees to review the business plan and next month recommend what to tell the High-Speed Rail Authority.
Even though a no-confidence vote would have no legal effect on the rail authority, OCTA board members said such a vote coming from the transportation agency in California’s third largest county would carry impact.
“Orange County already is left out of most of it,” said Fullerton City Councilman Don Bankhead. “The whole thing doesn’t make sense anymore.”
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