HANFORD - Gov. Jerry Brown has failed to address problems with California's $98.5 billion plan to connect the Bay Area and Los Angeles with high-speed trains slicing through Kings County, local officials said Tuesday in a press conference slamming the project.
Approximately 100 people attended the event at the Kings County Government Center. They questioned Brown's priorities and said the state's funding crisis means the rail project should take a back seat behind education and other needs.
"How can you begin construction this year when you have failed to resolve grave deficiencies?" asked Diana Peck, Kings County Farm Bureau program director.
Peck's question was one of several addressed directly to the governor, who is spearheading a public relations campaign to drum up support for the troubled plan. In recent days, Brown has suggested the project will cost less than $98.5 billion and can be paid for with cap-and-trade fees levied on businesses to reduce greenhouse gas pollution.
Brown's suggestions were fodder for criticism Tuesday as county officials slammed "planning inconsistencies, unresolved conflicts and a lack of due process" in the project. Several recent independent studies have identified critical flaws with the program to start building tracks with only $6 billion of federal and state money in hand.
School officials were particularly critical of the governor's plan to slash nearly $5 billion from public education if voters don't pass a series of tax increases.
"It's the schools that are cut, and even now Gov. Brown is asking us to support a tax hike or he will make more cuts to schools," said Leonard Dias, president of the Kit Carson Union School District Board of Trustees. "Yet the governor sits and tells us he can find more money for high-speed rail."
One proposed alignment cuts through the district, taking out several houses.
"The governor has said that high-speed rail is the future of California, no matter what the cost," Dias added. "I believe that the future of California lies in the education of our children."
Officials spoke in front of a giant blow-up of an Aug. 25, 2011 letter supervisors wrote to Brown asking him to intervene to force the California High-Speed Rail Authority to address concerns about economic and environmental impacts, including harm to farms, dairies and businesses. Brown never responded, officials said.
Brown press secretary Gil Duran said that Dan Richard, who takes over as Authority chairman on Thursday, will "respond to the letter and request a meeting with the board as one of his first acts."
Supervisors released a new letter to Brown and other leaders Tuesday that used stronger language than the first one.
"It is with great disappointment that we must write again to inform you that our emphatic plea for necessary and timely intervention has fallen on deaf ears and received no response," the letter stated.
Also on Tuesday, state Controller John Chiang said the state will run out of cash in early March, according to published reports.
Duran defended spending state bond money on the project, saying it will attract "significant private investment over time."
"High-speed rail will help strengthen California's economy in the short and long term - especially in the Valley," Duran said.
Speakers at Tuesday's conference were flanked by several posters, one of which listed 15 cities, three counties (Kings, Tulare and Madera) and several school districts, water districts and community service districts that have passed resolutions opposing the project.
Recent polls have shown voters souring on high-speed rail. A group of rail opponents has started gathering signatures to qualify a measure for the November ballot that would give Californians a chance to reject the whole project.
"We are likely to see more communities oppose high-speed rail," said Greg Gatzka, Kings County Community Development Agency director.
Kings County was one of the first Valley jurisdictions to oppose the project completely. If high-speed rail comes through anyway, officials say, the Authority still must confront a raft of unresolved issues.
"We're still saying we want them to follow due process," said Deb West, assistant Kings County administrative officer.
Construction on tracks in the San Joaquin Valley is set to begin this fall.
The reporter can be reached at 583-2432 or snidever@HanfordSentinel.com.