The end of gaslight politics? The Unruh Institute/LA Times Poll results

Here is the story from USC News.

Overall, 55 percent of California voters said they want another chance to weigh in on whether the state should borrow money for high-speed rail, agreeing with the statement that “the plan for the project has changed, the total costs have increased and there are doubts that high-speed rail can actually turn a profit.”

In contrast, 36 percent of voters said they should not be asked to go back to the ballot box, agreeing with the statement that “a new vote could halt any planned construction, and even though the plan has changed, the intent is the same, voters have already committed funding and the project will finish earlier than projected.”

I don’t know how you fix this mess. There are people in the state who really believe in the project and think the money will be found somewhere, and cost escalations don’t mean much to them. They don’t want to vote again because they got their way–barely–on the first vote.

But the first vote was based on a set of straight up lies to voters about how much the project was going to cost. The ballot box initiative claimed Californians were getting 520 km of high speed rail and the $10 billion was going to be a quarter or a third of the amount needed to get there.So yes, voters approved of the project, and the intent is still there, but which intent? The part where we build HSR, or the part where we mislead people, take their money, and then ask them for a lot more money?

Here’s the quote from Dan Schnur I really like:

“Californians aren’t necessarily against the idea of high-speed rail. But they don’t want to spend all that money right now, and they don’t trust the state to make the trains run on time,” Schnur said.

They shouldn’t trust the state to make the trains run on time, not given the behavior surrounding HSR.

Large project development has always had a degree of gaslighting around it. Gaslighting refers to a (great) movie with Charles Laughton and Ingrid Bergman where the husband (a con man and murderer) purposefully says things, and then denies he says things, to his wife in order to make her believe she is losing her mind. It’s become a term of art to use around verbally abusive people who lie to you, then claim they never said what you fully remember them saying–but they are so convincing and good at undermining your confidence that you start to wonder if they’re right and you’re crazy.

Rail fanboys–and I do mean boys–are very fond of this maneuver. By now, we should all be aware of it. For decades we’ve been listening to the jibber jabber about how each and every billion-dollar rail project will clear the air, make us thin, clear up congestion, etc etc etc. And then after the money is spent and project is built, it’s….quite nice, but not universe-altering. And when it’s fine but not universe-altering, the fanboys say “well, we told you the project would be nice. But this NEXT project, this NEXT one will be the one that makes the WHOLE SYSTEM come together. That’s the ticket.”

We usually get away with it in light rail development because there are ready pots of funds available. In the case of HSR, the fanboys asked voters to issue general obligation bonds with a terrible business plan. That plan ran up against people who actually know how finance works, and they couldn’t force the state’s bond folks to try to sell bonds with a terrible business plan. Instead the CALHSR folks had to issue a new, more realistic business plan, and once voters saw that, they were furious.

The Unruh/LA Times poll really shocks me, though, here:

By region, residents of the San Francisco Bay Area were the most likely to support high-speed rail. In the Bay Area, 47 percent of voters said they would vote to fund high-speed rail, and 45 percent said they would oppose it. In LA County, 37 percent of voters support high-speed rail, and 56 percent oppose it. In the Central Valley, 21 percent of voters support high-speed rail, and 66 percent oppose it.

Whoa. I have always argued the project might be worth doing in order to get greater access for those in the Central Valley–a part of the state that has no airports and where people face long drives or bus rides to get to intercity or interstate travel. But if they don’t even want it…

2 Comments

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2 responses to “The end of gaslight politics? The Unruh Institute/LA Times Poll results

  1. Whoa. The Central Valley has airports. Having spent more time than anyone should in Fresno, I can vouch for the existence of Fresno Air Terminal (FAT), there are flights from PHX, Las Vegas, and Denver at least. Sacramento also has a real airport. Bakersfield has less service, but non-zero. The drive from Fresno into the Bay Area is two and a half hours, about the time the train would take point-to-point considering access costs and waiting etc.

  2. I didn’t realize that Bakersfield had service. I wasn’t thinking of Fresno–I was thinking of those really marginal places outside of Fresno. But I stand corrected.