Gov. Jerry Brown devoted most of last month’s State of the State address to excoriating Donald Trump, who had been president for just four days.
“We have seen the bald assertion of alternative facts,” Brown complained. “We have heard the blatant attacks on science. Familiar signposts of our democracy – truth, civility, working together – have been obscured or swept aside.”
However, buried in Brown’s anti-Trump screed were two paragraphs of semi-cordiality:
“In his inaugural address, he (Trump) said: ‘We will build new roads, and highways, and bridges, and airports, and tunnels, and railways all across our wonderful nation.’
“And in this, we can all work together – here in Sacramento and in Washington as well. We have roads and tunnels and railroads and even a dam that the president could help us with. And that will create good-paying American jobs.”
Brown’s “tunnels and railroads” obliquely refer to the two immense public works projects he hopes will be a legacy – twin water tunnels under the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and a north-south bullet train system.
Both are financially shaky, together lacking the $100 billion or so they would require, and both need federal money and/or permits to proceed.
The Obama administration gave California a few billion dollars to partially finance an initial bullet train segment in the San Joaquin Valley – money the state was supposed to match, but hasn’t yet, thanks to a waiver.
Trump could demand the matching money or cut off a $650 million grant for electrifying Caltrain commuter service on the San Francisco Peninsula, a vital part of the “blended” bullet train system. California’s Republican congressional members have urged Trump to hold up the grant.
Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield, the House majority leader, is an implacable bullet train foe and has the closest relationship with Trump of any congressman, which should make its advocates very nervous.
Without Caltrain electrification, the already uncertain – and not popular – bullet train project may become a zombie, not quite dead, but certainly not alive and well.
And then there are the tunnels, which already face fierce opposition in Northern California and whose chief backers, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California and the Westlands Water District, have not yet made multibillion-dollar commitments.
There’s significant reluctance within those two agencies, most notably mounting criticism about the tunnels’ need and cost by the Met’s biggest sub-agency, the San Diego County Water Authority.
The state may need federal funds to make the project pencil out, but even if the feds don’t put up money, they still hold the whip hand on environmental permits.
The train and the tunnels, in brief, are two very vulnerable targets should those in the White House and Congress want to score hits on California.