Gavin Newsom has said he is abandoning a $77bn plan to build a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco and will focus instead on completing a 119-mile (190km) segment in the state’s agricultural heartland.
Voters approved a ballot measure in 2008 calling for the linking of northern and southern California, a rail project initially estimated to cost $33bn and be completed in 2020. Subsequent estimates more than doubled the cost and pushed the timeline to 2033.
“Let’s be real,” the California governor said on Tuesday in his first State of the State address. “The current project, as planned, would cost too much and, respectfully, take too long. There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
Newsom pledged to finish the segment already under construction through California’s Central Valley. He rejected critics’ argument that it would be a “train to nowhere” and said it could help revitalize the economically depressed region.
While that construction continues, Newsom said the state would conduct environmental reviews on the entire Los Angeles to San Francisco route and push for more federal and private money to connect the valley to the state’s economic powerhouses, though he didn’t say how.
“Right now, there simply isn’t a path” to complete the full line, said Newsom of the plan championed by his two predecessors, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown. Newsom also replaced Brown’s head of the state board that oversees the project and pledged more accountability for contractors that run over on costs.
His remarks on high-speed rail came during his first State of the State as governor of the nation’s most populous state. During the address, he said the state faced “hard decisions that are coming due” on clean water, housing and homelessness.
“Last week, we heard [Trump] stand up at the State of the Union and offer a vision of an America fundamentally at odds with California values,” he said. “He described a country where inequality didn’t seem to be a problem, where climate change didn’t exist, and where the greatest threat we face comes from families seeking asylum at the border.”
Brown had agreed to deploy troops last year at the Trump administration’s request, although he said they couldn’t participate in immigration enforcement.
Newsom, though, said there’s been a “gray area” in the troops’ duties that may have allowed some to inadvertently participate in immigration activities. A guard official said the state’s troops had not helped detain anyone.
Newsom’s speech also detailed his ambitious policy goals for the state.
He announced the creation of a new commission on homelessness and supportive housing to address what he said was a moral issue that had become a public health crisis. His administration recently sued the Orange county city of Huntington Beach, accusing it of not meeting its affordable housing goals.
The governor has invited the leaders of 47 other noncomplying cities to a meeting next week for what he called “a candid conversation”.
“I don’t intend to file suit against all 47, but I’m not going to preside over neglect and denial,” he said during his address. “These cities need to summon the political courage to build their fair share of housing.”
Newsom also promised to have a plan within 60 days for dealing with the recent bankruptcy filing by Pacific Gas & Electric Corp after years of devastating wildfires. He said he had convened a team of the nation’s best bankruptcy lawyers and financial experts from the energy sector to work with his administration to develop a strategy to protect the state’s power grid, wildfire victims, company employees and ratepayers.
“We are all frustrated and angry that it’s come to this,” Newsom said. “PG&E didn’t do enough to secure dangerous equipment or plan for the future.”
He also promised to address the pressure that climate change is putting on utilities.