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A High Speed Foundation

How to Build a Better California Around High Speed Rail

High speed rail could offer numerous benefits to California. According to proponents, the system can reduce the need for costly new highway and airport expansions in California’s congested short-haul air markets and crowded intercity freeways. High speed rail could also help the state’s economy by supporting more convenient and efficient travel as well as increasing traveler productivity. If implemented properly with supporting land use policies, the system could also reduce air pollution and improve public health, as well as help California meet state climate change goals with electrified mass transportation that relies on an increasingly renewable-powered grid.

High speed rail would encourage more sustainable land use development and transit usage in connected areas. This would result in three million fewer tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually by 2040 and potentially save $170 billion over 20 years.

High speed rail eschews the need for other transportation infrastructure such as highway lanes and airport runways. These costs would exceed $170 billion over 20 years, representing more than twice the cost of high speed rail.

Policy Needs

Policy Solutions

Creating a Valley-Wide Mechanism to Improve High Speed Rail Implementation.

Organize and Support a Valley-Wide Entity to Optimize the Economic and Environmental Benefits of High Speed Rail Implementation.

Valley Leaders

Identify an entity to champion this effort and develop a governing structure and strategic plan.

A collaboration mechanism within existing nonprofit or government structures such as the San Joaquin Valley Regional Planning Agencies Policy Council, could serve this purpose.  As another option, the entity could derive its authority from compacts among the various Valley regional planning agencies.

Valley Leaders

Mobilize area residents to support the entity and help implement decisions.

The entity should be responsible for implementing favorable high speed rail policies by mobilizing constituents and developing grassroots support. One possibility would be for leaders to build on outreach and support for SB 375 sustainable communities strategies, such as the regional “blueprint” process conducted by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in the Valley.

Federal/State Leaders, Businesses, & Philanthropic Organizations

Financially and organizationally support the entity.

To be successful, the Valley collaborative will require financial resources from federal and state sources as well as local business and philanthropies. In addition, the federal and state governments should partner with this entity to provide modeling software and current data on high speed rail implementation, as well as updated cost figures, station sites, and proposed alignments.

Federal & State leaders

Consider the Valley collaborative planning entity as a possible template for High-Speed Rail implementation in other contexts.

Should the Valley entity be successful, the California High-Speed Rail Authority as well as federal leaders may find that the regional model could work in other areas expecting high speed rail service.

Increasing Funds for High-Speed-Rail-Related Planning and Outreach.

Direct Resources to Regional and Local Planning and Outreach.

State & Local Leaders

Support long-term land use and transit planning and outreach related to high-speed rail, particularly in communities with depleted planning resources.

Unpredictable and recession-affected development fees have not been a reliable source of funds to support local government planning budgets in areas connected to high-speed rail.  States should support local governments to develop long-term funding for this effort. Local governments should also leverage funding and assistance from state entities to plan for transit connectivity to high-speed rail station areas.

State & Local Leaders

Gather and promote data on high-speed rail benefits.

Recent outreach efforts related to SB 375 in the San Joaquin Valley and in the City of Fresno have benefited from computer mapping and modeling programs, which can help the public to visualize the impacts and benefits of new development. Economic and development data can also dispel common misconceptions about the planning process and bolster support for the effort.

State & Local Leaders

Mobilize outreach leaders in each community.

Effective and cost-efficient outreach involves identifying and training key local leaders who can educate constituents about the planning process. The state can provide technical assistance to local governments help them develop a training program and access data necessary to inform the public. Local governments can help identify these individuals.

Reducing Subsidies for and Increasing Limits on Auto-Oriented Development.

Promote Policies to Encourage High-Speed-Rail- Coordinated Development that Preserves Open Space and Farmland.

State & Local Leaders with Philanthropic Partners

Develop and utilize computer mapping programs to calculate the economic costs of various development scenarios.

Auto-oriented development patterns in places like the San Joaquin Valley often mean converting productive, high-value agricultural land to urbanized uses. Compact development around high-speed rail station areas, urban centers, and the transit corridors that serve them can counter this trend.

State & Local Leaders

Continue to fund and develop “greenprints” to support alternative growth scenarios and protect agriculture resources and open space lands.

Greenprints involve local planning efforts that preserve open space, parks, and agricultural land by mapping these areas and recommending consensus strategies that will better manage these lands. State leaders should continue funding these planning efforts as part of the local planning process around high-speed rail stations and regional implementation of SB 375. Valley MPOs should also incorporate high-speed rail and related transit upgrades into the sustainable community strategies.

State & Local Leaders

Continue to develop comprehensive agricultural mitigation policies.

Agricultural mitigation policies, which require developers with projects on farmland to protect farmland elsewhere in the region as compensation. Local governments can institute such policies, with the help of state leaders, to ensure that growth connected to high speed rail minimizes impacts on farmland. Cities and counties in the Valley may also need to enter into formal regional agreements to curb development on prime farmland.

High Speed Rail Authority

Condition station-area spending on supportive station-area and transit corridor land use planning.

State officials should direct high-speed rail funds first to communities that allow higher-density, pedestrian-oriented development around station areas, as envisioned by SB 375 and AB 857.

Increasing Financing for High-Speed-Rail-Connected Development.

Develop New Public Sector Financing Tools and Bolster Existing Options.

State and Local Leaders

Perform an economic analysis of the likely costs and benefits associated with high-speed-rail-connected development plans and catalogue the specific infrastructure needs.

The California High Speed Rail Authority and Strategic Growth Council should continue to fund and expand computer mapping and modeling programs to help local governments undertake this analysis and demonstrate the economic benefits of high-speed-rail-connected development patterns.

State Legislature

Allow tax-increment financing for high-speed-rail-connected areas.

The state government should pass legislation allowing local governments in areas connected to high-speed rail to borrow against projected future property tax increases to finance infrastructure improvements in high-speed rail station areas and mobility hubs connected to high speed rail, as SB 1 (Steinberg) proposes.

State Leaders

Ease the formation of infrastructure financing districts for high-speed-rail-connected areas.

State legislation could help local governments create infrastructure financing districts, borrowing against future growth in property taxes, to finance improvement projects in high-speed-rail-connected areas, as recommended by SB 33 (Wolk).

State Leaders

Provide additional funding for existing infrastructure grant programs.

State funds, such as from cap-and-trade auction revenue or high speed grants, could bolster existing infrastructure grant programs, such as the Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) Housing Program and the Infill Infrastructure Grant (IIG) Program, to fund projects and redevelopment efforts in high-speed-rail-connected areas.

Local Leaders

Develop public-private partnerships to catalyze investment in high-speed-rail-connected areas.

Public-private partnerships to spur investment in high speed rail communities can take the form of local government seed capital to leverage private investment, assistance with land assembly and rezoning, funding of environmental remediation, gap-financing, and reduced fees, among other options.

State Legislature with the High Speed Rail Authority

Create an infrastructure finance bank to support projects connected to high-speed rail station areas.

Seed funding for an independent infrastructure bank, or a repurposing of the existing state infrastructure bank, with government oversight and accountability could finance meritorious infrastructure projects in high-speed rail station areas and connected neighborhoods.

State Legislature

Subsidize loans to local governments borrowing against existing revenue streams in high-speed rail areas.

As currently done by the federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program, subsidies can help local governments borrow against existing funding streams like local transit sales taxes for high-speed-rail-connected investments.

State Leaders

Direct cap-and-trade auction revenues to finance projects in high-growth areas with access to high-speed rail.

California’s recently launched cap-and-trade program generates revenue from the auctioning of allowances (permits to regulated businesses for their carbon emissions), which could be directed to projects in high-growth areas connected to high speed rail.

State Legislature & Local Governments

Create a permanent source of funding for affordable housing.

A housing trust fund would help pay for affordable housing projects in high speed rail areas, as proposed by SB 391 (DeSaulnier), to ensure that these neighborhoods become vibrant job and housing centers that are accessible to Californians of all income levels.

State Legislature

Retool enterprise and empowerment zones to boost development in high-speed-rail-connected areas.

Reform of the business tax credit zones could benefit high-speed rail areas by stimulating development in these neighborhoods and in connecting corridors.

State Leaders

Direct pension investment funds to finance credit-worthy projects and infrastructure improvements in high-speed-rail-connected areas.

State investment funds like the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS) could invest in infrastructure bonds and other financing tools to build credit-worthy high-speed-rail-connected projects and infrastructure.

“We have cleaned up our act quite a bit, and we are going to start building this thing. This would be a really good time in trying to hit the reset
button about what the benefits are for the Valley among Valley representatives."

Dan Richard, California High Speed Rail Authority