From Merced with love

Apr 2, 2012

A reduced, recalibrated, reconstituted  business plan for California's high-speed bullet train is poised to be uveiled today -- billions of dollars cheaper than its earlier plan and with its first leg extending some three hundred miles from the farm belt to the L.A. basin. All aboard..


From the Chronicle's Michael Cabanatuan: "State transportation officials have slashed the price tag for California's controversial high-speed rail project by $30 billion and expanded the first stretch of track to run from Merced in the Central Valley south to the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles."


"The California High Speed Rail Authority's revised business plan, which will be released Monday in Fresno, calls for those dramatic changes as the agency prepares to ask the Legislature to use $2.7 billion in state high-speed rail bonds to start construction by early next year."


"The drastic revision, which puts the proposed cost of the system at $68.4 billion instead of the $98.5 billion estimated in November, intends to cool opposition to the project, which has been labeled a "train to nowhere" for its plans to start in the state's rural center, and criticized for its high costs and uncertain funding plan."


Downsized or not, the money to finance it has to come from somewhere, and maybe the state's greenhouse gas law is a place to start. The Fresno Bee's Tim Sheehan has the story.


"A new financing strategy is a centerpiece of a revised business plan that state leaders will unveil Monday in Fresno for the proposed high-speed train system.

Rather than rely on uncertain future federal transportation funds, money from the auction of air-pollution credits -- the state's "cap-and-trade" program -- can provide a "backstop" source of money for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, authority chairman Dan Richard told reporters Saturday."


"The state has about $3.5 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds from the Obama administration to build from Fresno to Bakersfield. That would be matched by almost $3 billion from Proposition 1A, a high-speed rail bond approved by California voters in 2008."


The high-stakes issues of tribal gaming, a critical piece of the California political landscape, are getting a new look from Gov. Brown, who says he wants the tribes and the locals  to settle disagreements about casino impacts.


From the Press-Enterprise's Jim Miller: "In the biggest tribal casino deal of his tenure, Gov. Jerry Brown signaled Friday that he wants tribes and surrounding communities, not the state, to take the lead on settling any disagreements about casino impacts. That could have implications for future pacts as tribes, including some in Inland Southern California, prepare to renegotiate compacts that expire in 2020."


"Friday's compact between the state and the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria allows the Rohnert Park-area tribe to install up to 3,000 slot machines on its 254-acre reservation."


"In return, the tribe would make payments to benefit non- or limited-gaming tribes, pay for gambling regulation, and mitigate casino impacts. The payments wouldn't kick in fully until the compact's eighth year. The delay is meant to give the tribe financial breathing room after it spent $200 million in "predevevelopment" costs."


The tale of Ross Mirkarimi, the suspended San Francisco sheriff who got into a domestic violence dispute that cost him his job, is far from over. Mirkarimi says he was unfairly canned, and his case now goes before the San Francisco Ethics Commission, which has its own chorus of critics.


From the Chronicle's Heather Knight and John Cote: "Former ethics commissioners say the panel is more than capable of rendering a fair decision, but critics say that if its past work is any indication, observers shouldn't expect a very inspiring performance."


"The five-member commission is perceived by some as notoriously slow, and it has never recommended the removal of anyone from office for official misconduct. Some critics also have accused the commission of watering down or ignoring rules governing campaign finance, lobbyists and public disclosure of documents, while others say it has lacked the courage to make hard decisions."


"I wouldn't even call them a paper tiger," said David Latterman, a political consultant and public policy lecturer at the University of San Francisco. "I'd call them a paper sloth."

The fallout from Nathan Fletcher's defection from then Republican Party is all over the map, from those who say it represents a wake-up call for California's GOP to those who believe it was a move dictated by the realities of the San Diego mayoral race.


Here's a local report from the Union-Tribune's Craig Gustafson: "Fletcher’s success or failure in the race now hinges on his ability to convince city voters that his change of heart is genuine and not an attention-grabbing ploy from a candidate struggling in the polls. His opponents — City Councilman Carl DeMaio and District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, both Republicans, and Democratic Rep. Bob Filner — have already begun fashioning the latter narrative in an attempt to marginalize his candidacy."


"If nothing else, Fletcher is finally getting the attention his campaign has been starving for since it kicked off 10 months ago. The YouTube video in which he announced the decision has been viewed about 15,000 times. New York Times columnist David Brooks called Fletcher a “nationally important test case” for moderate conservatives disillusioned by party politics in Friday’s edition. His campaign collected more than $50,000 in donations from 30 states since Wednesday’s declaration of independence."


And from our "Ultimate Cool" file comes the tale of every child's fantasy -- the world's largest tree house.


"Devout builder Horace Burgess spent 11 years building the incredible structure after he said he got the nod from God to start work."


"It is an amazing 10 storeys tall - comprising 10,000 square feet of living space - and cost just £7,500 thanks to the liberal use of recycled materials. Inside, it resembles a castle with a spiral staircase, choir loft, balconies – and a basketball court."


"Horace has said: "I was praying one day, and the Lord said, 'If you build me a treehouse, I'll see you never run out of material'."


Waiting for the first high wind.... 


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