Group launches Central Valley campaign against high-speed rail project

June 3, 2011 12:21pm
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•  Calls it the "Train to Nowhere"

•  But will not say who’s paying for ad blitz

As any business owner knows, billboards aren’t cheap. But an organization that says it’s a “grassroots” group is spending some amount of money on billboards placed in the Central Valley to call the state’s high-speed rail project a boondoggle.

High Speed Boondoggle, apparently based in a post office box in Burlingame, is the group that says it is “devoted to providing clarity about the real impact of the state's proposed High-Speed Rail system.”

It has ordered up “nearly a dozen” 30 x 6 foot signs affixed to cotton trailers and put them along Highways 43, 99, 152 and 198.

“The signs are intended to raise awareness in the Central Valley about the ill-conceived and financially irresponsible plan to break ground far from either San Francisco or Los Angeles, the two cities the statewide project is supposed to connect,” the group says.

But if it’s promoting clarity about the rail project, it is vague about where it’s getting its money.

“High Speed Boondoggle is a grassroots organization, with no political affiliations and no reportable entities,” says Tara Klein, who represents the group, in an email response to a CVBT inquiry about funding.

“We are not a tax exempt trust; donations to our organization are not tax-deductible. We only accept individual donations and those from other non-political grass-roots groups,” she writes.

The clearest Boondoggle gets as to who’s shelling out the money is a comment in a press release that “together with many local farmers, High Speed Boondoggle sponsored the installation of the roadside signs.”

In addition to the billboards, hundreds of lawn signs apparently have been printed and distributed. They say "Here Comes High Speed Rail, There Goes My Farm."

Boondoggle also says it has been spending money on “full-page newspaper ads, lawn signs, banners, bumper stickers, t-shirts, videos and public rallies” elsewhere in the state.

The group’s ad blitz is one thing. Action by state lawmakers is another. Two bills that are similar in nature are moving through the Legislature that would strip most or all of the power of the California High-Speed Rail Authority and put it in the state bureaucracy.

Friday morning the Assembly approved AB 145, which would turn the authority into an advisory body and have the system actually controlled by a brand new state agency dubbed the Department of High-Speed Trains.

Wednesday, the state Senate approved SB 517, which would move the rail authority into the state’s largest agency, the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency.

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Comments on this story

A HighSpeedBoondoggle Contributor 6/3/11 6:01 PM
You don't sound like you think there could possibly be enough private contributors angry at the HSR project to pay for the signs. That would be naive, and something the HSR Authority conveniently loves to ignore. High Speed Boondoggle is in fact 100% grassroots, all volunteer, and growing. It is also not backed by big oil or the like, which is what it sounds like you want your readers to think. I understand this is a business oriented magazine, and HSR means big business, but instead of trying to avert attention away from the real problem by creating an issue where there is none, why don't you focus on the real issues and they lie squarely with the HSR project itself. Otherwise, I might question who is backing you?

Another Highspeedboondoggler 6/3/11 6:42 PM
Clearly you've not taken the time to review the most recent or 2010 LOA report. Both are scathing and call the CAHSR to task. You've also not educated yourself about the very serious financial issues that face this project. For instance, no clear source of revenue to complete the project let alone run and mange it in the future or the fact that the ridership projections have been debunked. You really ought to spend some time researching some of these issues. Yes, The project is complex, but I'm sure you with a little work on your part you might figure out that this proposed train is nothing but a financial "train wreck" for the state of California. You could start your research with I'll be more instersted to review something form you that has a bit more fact base reporting. That will be more welcomed than your current sniveling. Thank you

Mary Griffith 6/3/11 6:52 PM
Clearly you have not availed yourself of the myriad of resources that definitively show this is the "Train to Nowhere". Before you make sweeping statement about those of us who oppose this project you might start by reviewing the recent LOA report 2010 & 2011 editions; both are scathing. The ridership numbers have been firmly debunked casting a doubt on the Authority's projections. Or I guess you just missed the fact that the authority lacks a financial grade business plan. I guess you missed Lockyear's comments about the lack of salability of the Prop 1A bonds... In case you're not clear on the concept this project is nothing but a financial boondoggle for the state of California. As a tax payer I'm not willing to pay for it. Hummm back to the drawing board for you. Start here it might help!

John Burrows 6/3/11 11:56 PM
"Grass roots organization" we usually think of as being a local organization. And when we have an apparently well funded anti-HSR effort that may be coming from outside The San Joaquin Valley, then we have news that is worth reporting.

Tom Griffith 6/6/11 11:23 AM
It's not that I have anything against "grassroots" efforts at exercising their constitutional rights to seek redress of grievances. That's one thing that is very good about our form of government. However, I am also aware that organizing the folks in the "grassroots,' to say nothing about organizing the purchase of billboards, newspaper ads, and banners on the sides of trucks requires a pretty knowledgeable staff member or members. Salaries for folks like those cost a pretty penny, as does the cost of all of those advertising ventures. If "grassroots" can afford that, great. But why the secrecy? Why are the "grassroots" not willing to put out a list of their own names, saying "this, we believe"? Why is it such a secret as to the name(s) of the staff members who are making this possible? At some point, this kind of effort moves, legally, from being a "grassroots" expression of individual beliefs into being a PAC. Has this effort crossed that line? And, for what it is worth, why is the staff and the office for this effort of "grassroot" folks from the central valley, so far from the central valley that they cannot even see members of the "grassroots," face to face, easily. Burlingame, in the San Francisco Bay area, is a long drive from the central valley. It's not the "grassroots" effort at sharing its point of view that bothers me; it's the secrecy as to whom they are and where their money is coming from that bothers me a lot.

HSR Now! 6/6/11 4:33 PM
Don't be fooled by this "grassroots" organization! The "Boondoggle" group is nothing more than a bunch of extremely wealthy SF Peninsula NIMBY's who are trying to block the project with any sort of lie and distortion they can think of. They believe that the people of the Central Valley are a bunch of "hicks" who will believe anything they're told. They believe that their lavish suburban lifestyle is more important than the needs of all the people of California. Stop and think a minute. I-5 did not destroy agriculture in the Central Valley. The California Aqueduct did not destroy agriculture in the Valley. Agribusiness is thriving despite those two projects, which between them took far more land than HSR will. The truth will win out in the end. That truth is not the message of the "Boondoggle" group. Don't fall for their lies!

A HighSpeedBoondoggle Contributor 6/7/11 3:37 PM
Tom, You have valid concerns and ask good questions. I'll answer as best I can. For one, the learning curve on HSR is very steep, so few have a real good grasp of all aspects, but these folks have become extremely knowledgeable by fire as they have been paying attention to the details for several years now - reading, participating and generally doing anything to understand all sides of the argument. Myself? Naively, I voted for the bond measure because I read it as a feasibilty study. Personally, I didn't believe they could do it as promised, but I was willing to give it a chance. If they couldn't afford to do it as promised, then it wouldn't move forward, right? Reasonable? I thought so. I became outraged when I realized that the legislators and the HSRA took the YES vote as an open invitation to build HSR no matter what. Is HSB a PAC? No. They do not try to effect the outcome of political elections, nor do they endorse any candidates. They do meet with politicians of all persuasions bringing forth the facts which they encourage them to verify themselves and draw their own conclusions. As stated earlier, HSB is all volunteer - no salaries whatsoever. Many are personally out of pocket several thousand dollars, never mind the countless hours and disruption to their lives. As for location, it just so happens that Burlingame is where it originated, but this group works with satellite groups of grass roots folks all over the state and they do travel at their own expense to meet with whoever wants their help. Naturally, they also use e-mail and telephones. How can so many be involved? HSB gets requests all the time from people who are upset and asking how they can help? HSB primarily provides the consistant visual element and any support that might be needed. For the most part, the people most familiar with their area take it from there. Who are the board members? They are not who 'HSR Now' would like you to think. (Jeez, talk about a liar!) They are not extremely wealthy and they don't think the people of the CV are hicks. CV resident Kole Upton, mentioned in the article, is a Stanford grad, a second generation farmer and an elected official for crying out loud. No one's going to tell him how to think, and they don't. With a little effort, you can find the primary players' names as they are out in the public domain, but for safety reasons, they don't like to make them too obvious. In one instance there was a death threat, and there have been many lesser threats, too. I can only assume these threats come from folks for whom HSR is apparently a religion and any objectivity is long gone. HSR is not worth dying over, especially when you are volunteering your time. For the same reason, they do not like to publish their contributors' names and are under no obligation to do so. If you were a contributor, would you like them to publish your name, especially when you are not receiving any tax benefit? I can understand your wanting to know where the money is coming from, as it is only natural. All I can say is what has already been said - there is no conspiracy. I'm not saying these are real numbers or even close, but think about it; if you take 1000 angry people and each contributes just $25 you're talking good money. Combine that with an all volunteer, resourceful effort and you can accomplish alot. You don't need an auto manufacturer or an airline or an oil company to pay for the kinds of things HSB is covering. Only the HSRA seems to need a $9M contract with a PR firm like Ogilvy from whom the taxpayers are not getting what they are paid for, and that was supposed to be increased outreach, and not increased hype.

A High Speed Contributor 6/7/11 6:54 PM
John Burrows, It is news, but not exactly for the reason you think. The uprising is coming from within, not from outside. For now, the tools are coming from outside the San Joaguin Valley, but the funding and the man power is coming statewide. That is the story. Ex-HSRA Board member Rod Diridon used to claim the only naysayers were 20 noisy people on the Peninsula. That couldn't have been further from the truth. By adding a visual element to the outrage, HSB has proven that was not the case. That is the story.

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