California Proposition 1, Bonds for High-Speed Rail (2008)

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Proposition 1, or the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century will appear on the November 2008 ballot in California as a legislative referral.

In late August, legislative action removed Proposition 1 from the ballot, replacing it with Proposition 1A.

Proposition 1 asks voters to approve the issuance of $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds. This would partially fund a $40 billion, 800-mile high speed train under the supervision of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The train would run between San Francisco and Los Angeles, with Anaheim, California, designated as the southern terminus of the initial segment of the high-speed train system. Estimates are that the train system would be completed in 2030, and that it would take passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about 2 hours and 40 minutes.[1],[2],[3]

$950 million of the bond proceeds would be available for capital projects on other passenger rail lines to provide connectivity to the high-speed train system and for capacity enhancements and safety improvements to those lines.[4],[1]

AB 3034 may change Prop 1

The California State Assembly approved AB 3034 on May 30 by a vote of 60-3. The goal of AB 3034 is to "make the rules for spending the bond money more flexible if voters sign off on the bonds in November."[1] The Senate Appropriations Committee is considering the bill.

AB 3034 has to be signed no later than midnight on July 15 in order for the language in it to be included in the ballot pamphlet for the November 4 election.

As it is currently written, Prop 1 gives top funding priority to a route between Los Angeles and San Francisco. If AB 3034 becomes law, Prop 1 would be:

  • Amended to give all high-speed rail corridors, including the route through Altamont Pass, an equal opportunity to compete for a share of the $9 billion.


In 2004 the Californian Legislative Analysts Office published a budget bill saying:

The budget proposes to repeal Chapter 697, thereby removing the high-speed rail bond measure from the November 2004 ballot. Our review shows that postponing the bond measure to a later date would likely not cause delay in the development of a high-speed rail system. However, total costs of the system have been revised upward and will be significantly higher than previously reported to the Legislature.[5]


The High Speed Train Bond Act has been delayed 4 times. It was originally scheduled to appear on the November 2, 2004, General Election ballot. Then Senate Bill 1169, Chapter 71, Statutes of 2004, pushed it off the '04 ballot provided that it appear on the November 7, 2006, General Election ballot. The initiative was removed from the 2006 ballot as part of whatever compromise lawmakers strike with the Republican governor over his proposed 10-year, $222 billion public works spending plan the Governor implemented.

"We feel like the guns are drawn, they're circling the project and are ready to pull the triggers,
-Alan C. Miller, executive director of the 1,200-member Train Riders Association of California.[6]

However, most recently, Assembly Bill 713, Chapter 44, Statutes of 2006, provides for the submission of this Act on the November 4, 2008, General Election ballot instead. [7]


  • The California High-Speed Rail Authority
  • "SB 1856 is a balanced transportation improvement package offering statewide benefits."[8]
  • The Planning and Conservation League supports the rail system, saying it'll reduce air pollution.[9]
  • Transportation and Land Use Coalition (TALC) has been hired by the California High-Speed Rail Authority to spearhead outreach to environmental and social justice organizations across the state.[10]

Legislative Support

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger wrote an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle supporting the rail expansion in May.[11]

As of January 2008, the Governor has switched his viewpoint from active support to trying to sideline the project indefinitely. He has asked that lawmakers remove the $9.9 billion dollar bond from the Nov. ballot and instead has asked for legislation that would tie the state funds to guarantees from either the federal government or private sector to support.[12]

The legislature has taken this action twice before, once pushed by Gov. Schwarzenegger.

Governor Schwarzenegger officially endorsed Proposition 1 on July 11, 2008.

Other legislative support includes: Assemblywoman Fiona Ma(D-San Francisco), Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani (D-Stockton), and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose)

Arguments in favor

The state of California publishes an official voter information guide for each ballot proposition. The voter guide includes arguments for each proposition that are written by its supporters and arguments against each proposition. The guide also includes rebuttals to the pro and con arguments put forward by those who support or oppose the initiative.

The arguments in favor of Proposition 1 in the official voter guide are:

  • It will reduce California's reliance on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gases.
  • The high speed train network proposed in the initiative will reduce highway traffic congestion without raising taxes.
  • It will save commuters time and money.
  • It will expand transportation options.
  • It will remove 12 billion pounds of CO(2) emissions.
  • The ridership and revenue forecasts in the project's plan were subjected to "tough peer review".
  • Federal funds and private grants that amount to as much as 9 billion dollars will match the debt incurred if this proposal passes.[13]

Rebuttals to arguments in favor

The rebuttal arguments in the official voters' guide are:

  • There is no guarantee the project will ever be completed.
  • It is a political boondoggle.
  • If politicians can't fix the budget crisis, healthcare or the schools, why think they can build this project competently?
  • Proposition 1 is a creature of special interests who are notorious for their cost overruns and stand to "make billions off this scam".
  • Existing transit systems should be expanded instead of starting from scratch.[14]


  • California High Speed Rail Land Impacts opposes the rail based on the fact that it will take away parks and wild life refuges.
  • "California's proposed high-speed rail could significantly impact 140-180 parks, wildlife refuges and protected open spaces. As a state that deeply values the land set aside for future generations, we must do better."[15]
  • Advocates for Coe Park[16]
  • Wendell Cox, Former member of Los Angeles County Transportation commission wrote an editorial in the OC Registar condemning the rail system.
  • "Thus, for California, the question is not whether high-speed rail would be nice – it would be. The fundamental question is whether it is worth the tens of billions it could cost. At this point, there is every reason to believe this project would be, quite simply, a waste of money."[17]


A poll released on July 22, 2008 by Field Poll showed Proposition 1 with 56% support and 30% opposition.[18]

Month of Poll In Favor Opposed Undecided
July 2008 56 percent 30 percent 14 percent

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