Oakland Could Have Had California High Speed Rail

Oakland could have had California High Speed Rail, or more specifically a high-speed-rail terminus at West Oakland. That’s not a misprint.

What brought me to blog about this was a tweet I saw about the problems with getting California High Speed Rail off the ground, amid its cost of $77 billion and many delays, as well as a claim that consultants “may not have the best interests of the state as their primary motivation,” according to the Las Vegas Review Journal.

Then, my mind wound its way back to my time working as Economic Adviser to Oakland Mayor Elihu Harris between 1995 and 1999, and the initiative I spear-headed to put Oakland on the California High Speed Rail map.

Then, I started to get a bit weepy because the current crop of Oakland elected officials and staff don’t ask questions about anything that was done before –  they act like the World was born when they took office.  Then, they wind up re-inventing the wheel!

So, I dug up this old blog post from my Oakland Focus blog and posted 13, July, 2008. Have a read:

California High Speed Rail Authority Bypasses Oakland After My Work to Avoid This

California High Speed Rail, an issue I birddogged for Elihu Harris when he was Mayor of Oakland, is still alive and kicking. One of my major objectives was making sure Oakland was not bypassed in the formation of the route; something I also warned Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown about when he took office in late 1998.

At the time I encouraged Mayor Harris to hand off the issue to Jerry Brown, which led to the pair arriving at a “Mayor’s meeting” to advocate for Oakland’s inclusion in the route system. In 1997, I successfully pushed for this article to be developed and ran in the SF Chronicle, to get the “Oakland View” in the public eye.

At the time, Mayor Harris didn’t believe the system would ever be funded, and so viewed it as a lost cause. But I argued that we could not afford to take a chance on that outcome and that at least Oakland should be considered. Mayor Harris agreed.

I also worked behind the scenes, and sometimes in front, to cause the new train to be a part of the new Bay Bridge. Again, that was an initiative I was confident would see reality when I left the Mayor’s Office. It did not.

So, I went to apply a focus on the matter of the Super Bowl in Oakland, and forgot about High Speed Rail. Then I went to start Sports Business Simulations, and really just forgot about the matter entirely, but confident that the foundation I created would be built on by then-Mayor Jerry Brown.

It wasn’t.

If you look at the final route proposed (and that exists today in 2018), it’s clear Oakland’s no where on it. That makes me cry. All the work and advocacy I did just to have Jerry Brown drop the ball on that initiative too. That’s three “Jerry” failures: The Super Bowl, Uptown, and High Speed Rail, and a confirmation that precious few people really — if you excuse my french — really give a f— about Oakland.

Jerry Brown came here to remake his image in 1994; now the voters, which seem to be adverse to reading, rubber stamped him in as California AG. Look, that post is the right place for him, even better than the role of Governor, which he seeks, but Oakland has suffered under the weight of his personal ambitions.

That even points to the current scandal in Oakland as a sign of how really few people place the City’s interests ahead of their own. It stinks. And I have no desire to go back — don’t read into this — I got burned out on the selfishness long ago. I’m in a better place now, ironically, thinking about me rather than the City. . And besides, the Ciry doesn’t care enough about itself to have people involved who care about it.

Elihu warned me to “use that brain on yourself rather than others” because in the end, few would care.

Sadly, he’s right.

The Oakland I envisioned was a far better place than the City I live in. My Oakland would have hosted a Super Bowl, been on the final route for High Speed Rail, and had a real Uptown that consisted of 2 million square feet of shops and restaurants and 1,000 units of housing. That’s why I set up and present a meeting at The International Council of Shopping Center’s Spring Convention in Las Vegas in 1997 and eventually got Forest City here to come here the next year.

I still have letters from downtown Oakland real estate brokers thanking me for that.

Now what we have in Uptown is just a mear fraction of what we could build.

The City of Oakland and Jerry Brown foolishly permitted Forest City to talk it into residential and not commericial development. Why? Because it was making a retail development in Union Square in San Francisco and didn’t want competition.

Yep. Oakland let itself get screwed out of downtown retail. And nothing’s gotten better.

Let’s take Mayor Ron Dellums. I’ll take him. I hold out a smigen of hope — but not much. Not much at all.

More later. I’m pissed. Oakland insists on carrying the stench of loser city. So be it.

On Twitter, today, I added this:

Yep. One way that Oakland was taken off the High Speed Rail map was the California High Speed Rail consultants claimed that the West San Francisco Bay had a greater population than the East San Francisco Bay.

Take a read of this:

Alameda County (East Bay) – 1,663,190
Contra Costa County (East Bay) – 1,147,439
Santa Clara County (South Bay) – 1,938,000
San Francisco (West Bay)- 884,363
San Mateo County – (West Bay) 771,410

Score: East Bay Population 2,810,629, South Bay Population 1,938,000, West Bay Population 1,655,773.

At the time, and this was 1998, the California High Speed Rail consultants basically said that Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose, was entirely in the West Bay, and not the South Bay. The result was to throw their revenue models that once favored the truly more populated East Bay into a place where the West Bay looked better.


The consultants were under political pressure to favor the West Bay and San Jose, and one of the people applying that pressure at the time was Santa Clara County Supervisor Ron Diridon. To make a long story short, Diridon, a major High Speed Rail advocate, was not a fan of having Oakland in the High Speed Rail system. Between his blocking Oakland (and a cabal of South Bay politicians who worked to move the project to favor that part of the SF Bay Area), the consultants cooking the numbers to make one part of the Bay Area look better than the other, and then-Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown’s lack of interest in really making Oakland a part of High Speed Rail, Oakland faded out of the picture.

The Cost Problem Of California High Speed Rail And How To Solve It

The main problem of California High Speed Rail is simply the ability to capture needed revenue from the track and train frequency given the cost to build it. Looked at coldly, the simple fact is California High Speed Rail does not throw off enough revenue to cover expenses when construction costs are considered.

On top of that, the stations most likely to pick up riders are playing host to travelers who may not want to go all the way to LA but may want to stop in, say, Fresno from San Francisco. So, that demand has to be met – but again, the lowering of ticket prices cuts into Caltrains. So, what do we do with Caltrains?

The best way to deal with this is to allow use of tax increment financing at various points along the system and in addition to state funding – just how much is to be determined. But the State of California has to ask itself if its willing to have a transportation system that, by design, operates at a loss? Because that’s what it’s developing.

Stay tuned.

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