By Andy Hoder, candidate for Redlands City Council
In the environment of the current election season for the Redlands City Council (two seats available, occupied by incumbents), the Rail to Redlands project is an important issue that seems to have polarized a large segment of the voters in this town. But whichever side you’re on, I think it’s vitally important to have your opinion based on truthful information.
The misleading name
First of all the title “Rail to Redlands” is not official. It’s just a working name, but it’s significant that the people promoting the train see the name “Redlands” as more appealing.
You might call it “clever marketing,” if you’re trying to get people to support the project.
Of course you could just as easily call it “Rail to San Bernardino,” since the train has to run in both directions. But who would want to ride a train to San Bernardino? No, that end of the line is referred to as “The Transit Center.” Much more palatable.
Overwhelming support of the voters?
Our City Council is quick to imply that the Rail to Redlands project was supported by 81 percent of the voters.
Simply not true.
They’re referring to Measure I, which was on the ballot in 2004 (at least that’s what they say they’re referring to).
Here’s what really happened. Measure I was simply an extension of an already existing half-cent sales tax increase (for an additional 30 years—with or without a train).
The purpose of the tax was described in the Voter Information Pamphlet, sent to every voter by the San Bernardino County Registrar of Voters. It’s an official, impartial document, not a campaign flyer. This is the pamphlet that many voters use when they go to the polls (or fill out their mail-in ballot) because it’s compact and easy to use. So it is very likely that whatever was written in that booklet was what had the most influence on how the voters came down on Measure I. The information is verifiable through the Internet or by contacting the office of the Registrar of Voters, if you want to take the time and trouble to do so—which I have.
Yes, apparently a vast majority of voters cast ballots in favor of Measure I. But here’s what they thought they were voting for:
The Impartial Analysis of Measure I (from the Voter Information Pamphlet) states that money collected through Measure I shall be used “solely for countywide transportation improvements and traffic management programs.”
The words “rail” and “Redlands” are nowhere in that paragraph.
However, for further enlightenment, this paragraph does refer the voter to Ordinance No. 04-01, which was printed in full elsewhere in the pamphlet. You read that all the way through before you cast your ballot, right? Sure.
The next paragraph refers to “traffic management programs set forth and described in the Transportation Expenditure Plan.” That was also in the pamphlet, on a different page. And I’m sure you read all of that, too. Yes, you did.
And that’s it. Nothing like “Rail-to-Redlands” anywhere in the text. Not even the word “rail.”
Arguments in favor of Measure I
The Voter Information Pamphlet includes Arguments in Favor and Arguments Against the Measure. If there was anything promoting a Rail to Redlands project, wouldn’t you expect to find it in the Arguments in Favor? Not. Nada. It ain’t there.
The “arguments” implore the voter to vote yes on Measure I because it will: “...relieve traffic congestion.” You might say a train takes people out of their cars, but how many of those thousands of cars on the freeway at rush hour are actually going between downtown San Bernardino and Downtown Redlands?
If you’re in Redlands, maybe you want to do some shopping at Harris’ Department Store in San Bernardino. Nope. That’s been closed for years. In fact, the entire Carousel Mall has been closed for years.
But that doesn’t matter so much because the train isn’t actually going to Downtown San Bernardino. It’s going to a “Transit Center” in a very run-down neighborhood on South E Street... although it’s just a short walk to the Branding Iron Country Western Bar and Dance Hall! Yahoo!
So would the Rail to Redlands really reduce traffic congestion? Probably not.
But wait. Measure I isn’t about Rail to Redlands. In its own words it’s implying that the Measure will reduce automobile congestion on the roads and highways. How, you ask?
The answer is in the next paragraph. It says a yes vote will “...synchronize traffic signals, repair potholes and improve roadways countywide.” Roadways. Not railroad tracks. The voter pamphlet goes on to tell us that a yes vote will “...add lanes, upgrade on- and off-ramps and improve safety on [Interstate and regional highways."
But, admittedly, the following paragraph does say Measure I will “...provide new and more frequent Metrolink service.” Yes, Metrolink runs on rails, but in 2004 the train stopped at the old Santa Fe Depot on the west side of San Bernardino.
And what about the “new” service it hinted at? I guess you could interpret that to mean anything you want, though once again the word “Redlands” isn’t in there. But maybe in 2004 they were talking about the 1-mile link (i.e. extension) that now goes from the old depot to the new Transit Center?
It only took 11 years to get that done. And the cost? I have no idea, and I’m not sure anyone else does, either. But I’ll bet there’s a good chance it was charged up to Measure I funding.
Further arguments state that Measure I will “...keep bus fares low and expand special transit services for seniors and riders with disabilities and create a new express bus system to link communities.” Bus service. Not trains.
Hey, but they did manage to get the SBX bus service into operation. It goes from downtown San Bernardino to the VA hospital in Loma Linda.
However, since nobody lives in downtown San Bernardino, I’m not sure how that’s a benefit to anyone.
But if there is anyone living near downtown San Bernardino, there’s an even chance they don’t have a car (because that’s the kind of depressed neighborhood it is), and therefore, in their case, riding the bus does nothing to reduce traffic congestion.
The SBX bus is HUGE (to coin a popular phrase). It’s really two buses connected in the middle with a “hinge” so they can get around corners. I’m sure at full capacity this thing could carry well over a hundred passengers.
I’ve watched it on many occasions because I happen to be a regular visitor to the VA hospital. Sometimes I see as many as three or four passengers in the SBX bus. On a good day. Is this what the $250 million Rail to Redlands is going to look like?
But if you still need more persuasion, the pamphlet goes on to promise that Measure I will “...ensure firefighters, police and ambulances can get through traffic in emergencies.” So the law enforcement officers, firemen, and paramedics are going to ride the train?
No, dummy, because the word “train” isn’t in there. That’s because, with the exception of the word “Metrolink,” Measure I isn’t about trains. It’s about ROADS (not RAILroads, car and truck roads, OK?).
Which brings up another point, talking about traffic congestion. Will there be fewer trucks on the road because of Rail to Redlands? Of course not.
And if you’re talking about reducing pollution, it’s the trucks with their big diesel engines that pump out an awful lot of it.
While you’re at it, remember also that the Rail to Redlands is going to be pulled by locomotives with diesel engines because the transportation authorities voted against using electric power.
This section of the voter pamphlet concludes with a list of endorsements, including one from the Automobile Club of Southern California (otherwise known as “Triple A”). Think about it. Why would an AUTOMOBILE club endorse a train? Perhaps it’s because they thought Measure I was finally going to bring some much needed repairs and improvements to the ROADS on which the automobiles run—because that’s what the text says, over and over. Ya think?
San Bernardino County Ordinance 04-01 (Measure I)
Oh, but we’re not done yet. Remember that reference to Ordinance 04-01? You’re probably thinking that’s where we’re going to discover the resounding support for Rail to Redlands. Well, if you’re having trouble sleeping at night, go dig out the ordinance and read it.
But I’ll save you a little time. The ordinance repeats a lot of the language from the Voter Information Pamphlet, but eventually, if you get to Page 3, Paragraph VI, you’ll see the word “Purposes.”
It says that revenue from the Measure I tax will only be used for “...the construction, maintenance, improvements, and operation of local streets, roads, and highways, state highways and freeways, public transit systems including rail, and related purposes.”
Finally the much anticipated word “rail.” Not “Rail to Redlands.” Just “rail.” But it’s only the ninth item in the list, after “streets, roads, highways and freeways.”
Does that in any way convince you that at the central core of Measure I was a train coming to Redlands?
If you care to go through all 24 pages of Measure I, you can find another similar reference in Exhibit C, where it lists the basic categories in which Measure I funds are supposed to be spent. There are just five items, four of which have to do with roads and things that run on roads (not RAILroads). The fifth and last item is: “Expanding Metrolink commuter rail.”
Again, Measure I was primarily about ROADS, not trains. So have you seen any potholes or broken pavement around Redlands?
Gee, I thought Measure I was supposed to take care of that because: It says so!
It’s only been 12 years since Measure I was passed. Maybe Redlands just needs a little more time to get the job done. After they build the new train station.
Funding for Rail to Redlands
Measure I also gives us an estimated distribution of the funds raised through the half-cent sales tax. Metrolink (which is really what the “Rail to Redlands” is) gets just 8 percent of the pie. Yes, 8 percent. (Page 8, paragraph G)
Does that sound like Measure I was overwhelmingly committed to a rail project? Nope.
The other 92 percent of the money is spelled out, line by line, and it’s all supposed to go to: You guessed it. ROADS and things that run on roads (not RAILroads).
By its own calculations, Rail to Redlands is estimated to cost $250 million for eight miles of track and the associated fixtures. That’s about $31.25 million per mile.
Interestingly enough, the city of San Diego is currently proposing to extend its own light rail system (which, incidentally, runs on ELECTRICITY) by a distance of 11 miles, at an estimated cost of $2.1 billion (San Diego Union-Tribune, Oct. 7). That calculates to about $191 million per mile.
So either somebody needs a new calculator or somebody isn’t telling us the truth.
Certainly there are some differences between the route the San Diego line would take and the route proposed for Rail to Redlands. But it does make one wonder how we can build our train for just a sixth of the cost San Diego is facing. Could it be that the price of our train is bound to go up? Has a government project ever gone over budget before? And what happens if there isn’t enough money to finish the Rail to Redlands (after we get done fixing our roads)?
Maybe you’ll be able to catch the train on the tracks behind WalMart.
Passenger Rail Service between San Bernardino and Redlands
But don’t give up. The train is coming. The mayor even told us so!
And how does he know that? Because, if you haven’t already fallen asleep, you’ve gone completely through the Voter Information Pamphlet (without finding “Rail to Redlands”), and you’ve read all 24 pages of the tedious mind-numbing verbiage in Measure I, Ordinance 04-01 (without finding a “Rail to Redlands”).
But. But... in San Bernardino Valley Subarea Expenditure Plan, Page 8, paragraph G (the Metrolink paragraph), yes, there it is! It says Measure I money will be used for “...construction and operation of a new passenger rail service between the cities of San Bernardino and Redlands, and construction and operation of an extension of the Gold Line to Montclair.”
Wait. What? How did Montclair get in there? Yes, that’s what it says. Are they going to get half of the 8 percent of Measure I money committed to an “extension of Metrolink?” Is the Rail to Redlands project really only going to get 4 percent of the Measure I money? Is that enough cash to bring a train into town?
Say, who’s in charge of this mess, anyway? Ah, SanBAG. It’s San Bernardino Associated Governments, i.e. a coalition of representatives from several different communities in the San Bernardino area (to include some high desert communities).
SanBAG is the only political agency I know of that is not elected by the voters. The people who hold office there are self-appointed. Yes, that’s right. They control millions and millions of dollars of public money, but they never have to run for office—at least not in a public election.
But in partial defense, they are—in part—representatives from local governments, city councils, county supervisors, etc. So they do face the voters in their own communities. But did you ever vote for a Redlands City Council candidate based on what they decided to do in a meeting at SanBAG?
Jerry Brown’s High Speed Rail project is a multi-billion boondoggle that is sometimes referred to as the “Crazy Train.” Perhaps, on a smaller scale, the Rail to Redlands project could be called the “Fuzzy Train,” because so many of us love to love it.
After all, who doesn’t love a train?
We might also call it fuzzy because we’re not really sure what it’s going to cost, when it’s going to arrive, or where it’s going to stop (except that we’ve already been told it can’t stop at the historic old Santa Fe Depot in downtown Redlands).
Something tells me we shouldn’t run out and buy tickets for the Rail to Redlands just yet.
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