The California High-Speed Rail project aims to link San Francisco and San Diego with trains that could travel at up to 220 miles an hour. Part of the proposed route could pass down or near the 10 Freeway. Assemblyman Mike Eng, whose district includes Alhambra, was recently named to the Assembly Select Committee on High-Speed Rail. The Alhambra Source spoke with him about what he thinks are the benefits of the project, concerns about displacement, and what Sacramento can do to ensure this is an effective participatory process. If you have additional questions or would like to have your opinion heard about high-speed rail, there will be an informational session on Thursday at the Alhambra City Hall Lobby.
Why do you think high-speed rail is important?
I think there are four major concerns in terms of any transportation issue: air quality, costs, time spent on the road and jobs. The concept of high-speed rail really touched on all these. The thing that seemed to capture the public’s interest when the bond measure passed appeared to be the jobs issue. There was the hope of about 450,000 jobs that this project would create.
What are residents’ concerns about the project?
Throughout the state of California there have been hearings and the concerns seem to be very similar. These are concerns that I share. Basically there is the concern that high-speed rail would negatively impact constituents’ homes, businesses and access routes. Residents are very, very concerned that they could lose portions of their schools and there would be impacts on their right of ways that would be catastrophic and unprecedented. It’s important in my district. There are schools, like Mark Keppel, which are very near the route. I share the concern that we really need to look at the impact on our local residents and that has to be one of the factors that weighs the obvious positive impacts of high-speed rail.
What’s your position on the proposed high-speed route down the 10 Freeway?
We’re still looking at the routes. I represent seven cities in my district. A couple of them have already weighed in and I think a couple others are considering taking additional action. I am going to wait a little longer to allow them to weigh in.
What role will the select committee play and what type of power will it have?
The purpose of the select committee is not to propose legislation, but to inform legislators and the public about major policy issues regarding high-speed rail that wouldn’t necessarily or couldn’t be addressed with the Assembly or the Senate commissions on transportation.
How do you ensure this is an effective participatory process so that local concerns are integrated into the planning process?
I think it’s a good question that probably applies to every major issue in the state of California. The question of how do you ensure that stakeholders in this — whether they’re local government, contractors that might benefit, lobbyists, elected officials — everybody knows at a certain point they need the public’s approval to move forward. Whether it’s going to be another ballot measure, approval for a public-private partnership, approval for more funding from the general fund, a bond that we would put on the ballot or someone else would put on the ballot — all of these things would fail unless the public has been fully involved in the process. I think that shows the underlying necessity for the public to approve this on every step of the way.
There was a concern that there was a conflict of interest of members of the high-speed rail authority, which is an example that if you don’t pay attention to the details, nobody will want to bless the next step. It’s not even that they did or said but something of a fear of what they could do, that they could possibly steal funds. The concern wasn’t that they have bad characters; the concern was that as a matter of public policy being able to serve possibly conflicting masters. That issue has to be resolved.
In addition, I think it has to be what I would call a participatory buy in on both sides. I think the state will do whatever it’s required to do for outreach. There also have to be local constituents to buy in to be part of it. It seems like local governments are very, very engaged on transportation issues. Every single grouping of elected officials these days seems to have a transportation committee that is very, very active.
I think the Alhambra city government has done an excellent job of asking the right questions and certainly informing me about the process, and that Alhambra residents are informative to other cities that are active on the issue.
Interview was edited and condensed.