California Proposition 1A, High-Speed Rail Act (2008)

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This page is about a 2006 California proposition labeled "Proposition 1A." Consult the Proposition 1A disambiguation page if you are looking for a different Proposition 1A.
Proposition 1A, or the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century was on the November 4, 2008 ballot in California as a legislatively-referred bond act, where it was approved.[1]

Prop. 1A approved the issuance of $9.95 billion of general obligation bonds. This will partially fund a $40 billion, 800-mile high speed train under the supervision of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The train will 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. The system, when built, is expected to carry more than 120,000 riders per day at speeds of up to 200 mph.[2],[3],[4],[5]

$950 million of the bond proceeds will 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.[6],[3]

The new debt from 1A, including interest, must be paid from the general fund.

The 7-member governing board of the California High Speed Rail Authority voted in November 2010 to build the first 65 miles of the projected 800-mile track from Madera to Corcoran. The 65-mile stretch will cost $4.15 billion. Construction will start in 2012.[7]

Election results

Proposition 1A
Result Votes Percentage
Approveda Yes 6,512,189 52.6%
No 5,887,181 47.4%
Total votes 12,399,370 100.00%
Voter turnout % of registered: 79.4%
Final results from the California Secretary of State


Fare estimate doubles

During the campaign for Proposition 1A in 2008, supporters estimated that the fare to ride the high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco would be about $55 for a one-way ticket.

However, the California High Speed Rail Authority's 2009 business plan set the estimated ticket price to 83% of airfares, raising the one-way high speed rail ticket price between Los Angeles and San Francisco to $105, as this price point appears to be near the "level that will generate the highest revenue, and reduces the operating costs and the number of trainsets needed."[8]

15-foot dividers

Menlo Park and Atherton are fighting a part of the high-speed rail plan that would divide their cities along the route between San Jose and San Francisco. Some critics claimed that when voters approved the bond in 2008, "the notion of a 15-foot divider splitting many cities on the Peninsula" was not known to be part of the plan."[2] Then High-Speed Rail chair Rod Diridon, however, noted in an Jan. 18, 2002, speech before the San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau that the plan called for elevated, grade-separated tracks along the Peninsula "topped with barbed wire."

Attempt to repeal

  • Thomas Elias says that from the time of the vote in 2008 to January 2010, changes have been made to the plan that are significant enough that California's voters should get a chance to vote on the plan as it currently stands.[2]
  • Officials in five cities (Menlo Park, Burlingame, Belmont, Palo Alto and Atherton) planned to meet in April 2010 to consider whether to launch an effort to repeal Proposition 1A.[9]

Study questioned

Ridership forecasts for the planned rail system were based on statistical assumptions that differ from those published for peer and public review, according to documents not made available until after the November 2008 election. The Daily News reported in February 2010 that "the discrepancy raises questions about the validity of the forecasts, which the state has relied on for everything from its selection of the rail line's route to its applications for billions in federal stimulus dollars. The numbers were also used to sell the project to voters ahead of the November 2008 election in which they approved $9.95 billion in bonds for the 220-mph Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line.[10]

"Picture isn't pretty"

According to a December 2010 editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle:

"California voters signed off on a generational big idea: build a fast and futuristic high-speed rail system linking the state's population centers. Now comes the hard part of working out the route, lining up the money, and managing a sprawling project never tried before. The challenges - pretty much left unsaid when $10 billion in bonds were approved on the ballot in 2008 - are now on full display. The picture isn't pretty."[7]

Specific problems cited are:

  • Some cities intend to block portions of the track from being built that would go through residential areas.
  • "Congress, now in Republican hands, may yank promised money."[7]
  • "A string of reports suggests the project's management is overwhelmed by the task."[7]

Ballot title lawsuit

Prior to the 2008 election, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association filed Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association v. Bowen, asking for a writ of mandate to authorize the Attorney General of California to write the ballot language for Proposition 1A rather than use the ballot language written for 1A by the California State Legislature. The trial court declined this request of the HJTA but on January 27, 2011, the California Third District Court of Appeal sided with the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association.[11] Although the ruling was too late to impact Proposition 1A, the court's ruling says that when the California State Legislature took it upon itself to dictate what the ballot language for Proposition 1A should be, it violated the provisions of 1974's Proposition 9:

" the extent it specified the ballot label, title and summary to be used, the bill negated the Political Reform Act's requirement that the official summary of the bill be prepared by the Attorney General in addition to the ballot label and title that are prepared by the Attorney General. As we will explain, this ad hoc amendment of the Political Reform Act did not further the purposes of the Act and was not approved by the voters. Thus, it was invalid. Simply stated, the Legislature cannot dictate the ballot label, title and official summary for a statewide measure unless the Legislature obtains approval of the electorate to do so prior to placement of the measure on the ballot."

The decision was written by Arthur Scotland, with Harry Hull and George Nicholson concurring.[12]

The decision is expected to have far-reaching consequences for the state legislature's ability to write the ballot titles for its legislatively-referred measures, which it has been doing since at least 1990.



Supporters of Proposition 1A included:

Arguments in favor

Notable arguments made in favor of Proposition 1A included:

  • It will reduce California's reliance on foreign oil and reduce greenhouse gases.
  • It is a "balanced transportation improvement package offering statewide benefits."[16]
  • It will lead to economic growth in the state that will create 450 thousand permanent jobs.[17]
  • Economic activity added due to the high-speed train will more than pay for the cost of servicing the bonds.[18]
  • 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.[19]
  • 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.[20]

Donors supporting Prop. 1A

Two campaign committees to support the proposition were established. They were Californians for High-Speed Trains; Yes on Prop. 1A and California Public Interest Research Group Supporters for Prop 1A.[21],[22]

$2,634,640 was contributed to the campaign in favor of a "yes" vote on Proposition 1A.[23]

Donors of $100,000 or more were:

Donor Amount
California Alliance for Jobs Rebuild California Committee $516,500
Operating Engineers Local 3 $250,000
International Union of Operating Engineers $250,000
Professional Engineers in California Government $183,493
California State Council of Laborers $100,000



Groups opposing Proposition 1A included:

  • California Rail Foundation
  • Council for Citizen's Against Government Waste
  • California Taxpayer Protection Committee
  • Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association
  • California High Speed Rail Land Impacts
  • Reason Foundation
  • Advocates for Coe Park
  • Wendell Cox, a former member of the Los Angeles County Transportation commission
  • The cities of Menlo Park and Atherton[24]
  • The Libertarian Party of California
  • California Chamber of Commerce
  • California Farm Bureau Federation
  • Local Chambers of Commerce in El Dorado County, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Greater Riverside, San Fernando Valley and Rancho Cucamonga

Arguments against Prop. 1A

Notable arguments made against Proposition 1A included:

  • There is no guarantee the project will ever be completed.
  • There is no current business plan. One was required for submittal, by law, on September 1st, 2008.[25]
  • Building the rail system on the proposed route will have an adverse impact on 140-180 parks, wildlife refuges and protected open spaces.[26]
  • It is a political boondoggle and a waste of taxpayers money.[27]
  • California High Speed Rail Authority cost claims are underestimated with the actual cost likely to reach $81 billion.[28]
  • Existing transit systems should be expanded instead of starting from scratch.[29]
  • The estimates that Prop 1A supporters have made as to how many riders the system would have are grossly overstated, so the system, if built, will have less revenue, and huge unpredicted cost overruns.[30]
  • It's not fair to ask all Californians to subsidize rail travel for those who will use the system.[31]
  • Debt from 1A, including interest, must be paid from the general fund. This means that there will be less for other important state programs.


No campaign committee was established to fight Proposition 1A, and no funds were spent opposing it.[23]


See also Polls, 2008 ballot measures.

Field Poll released statewide poll numbers on Prop 1A in July and for late October. The October poll showed majority support with a narrowing margin.

Month of Poll Pollster In favor Opposed Undecided
July 2008 Field 56 percent 30 percent 14 percent [32],
October 2008 Field 47 percent 42 percent 11 percent[33]

Editorial opinion

"Yes on 1A"

  • The Los Angeles Times asked its readers to consider a "yes" vote, saying, "That's not too much to wager on a visionary leap that would cement California's place as the nation's most forward-thinking state."[34]
  • The San Francisco Chronicle endorsed Prop 1A, saying that it "presents an ambitious vision that is well tailored to the state's transportation and environmental needs. We recommend its passage."[35]
  • The San Francisco Bay Guardian gave its strongest recommendation for Prop 1A, describing the benefits as "overwhelming" and "the costs of not approving this measure [as] huge."[36]
  • The San Jose Mercury News urged readers to vote yes on Proposition 1A because "[t]hese are the right things to do for the future, and putting them off will only increase the costs." "The proposal, years in the making, has been thoroughly vetted in public debate, particularly over the route. The High Speed Rail Authority made the right choices, coming up with a practical and visionary plan that will place San Jose and Silicon Valley at the heart of the Bay Area's economy. We recommend it." [37]
  • The Fresno Bee wrote that voting yes on Proposition 1-A was a declaration that Californians can rise to the challenge of the current economic situation with vision and determination as they did when approving the Golden Gate and Bay bridges, and the Shasta Dam. "Voting "yes" on Proposition 1A is a declaration that we still possess those qualities, and have not surrendered them to a timid faith in a status quo that is no longer sustainable."[38]
  • The Del Mar Times recommended a yes vote on Proposition 1-A to answer concerns about freeway congestion and air pollution. "Sometimes we need to look beyond the economic present with eyes squarely focused on the future and as a result, bring back a little shine to California's tarnished forward-thinking and environmentally friendly reputation." [39]
  • The San Diego City Beat supported Prop 1A, "We think it’s worth it. We want what many Europeans and Asians already enjoy. Vote yes on Prop. 1A." [40]

"No on 1A"

  • The Orange County Register was opposed to Prop 1A, saying, "A high-speed rail system connecting Northern and Southern California is a nice dream, but the proposed project ventures into fantasyland territory."[41] In another editorial called "Prop. 1A a fast track to bankruptcy" they wrote, "to call this project a boondaoggle would be an understatement. At a time when California state government is operating at a substantial would be irresponsible to take on a debt of this magnitude, especially given that the total cost of the train would be many tens of billions of dollars more."[42]
  • The San Diego Union-Tribune was opposed to Proposition 1A. In their editorial "Prop. 1A: No, no, no" they questioned the bond measure against the backdrop of massive fiscal chaos and uncertainty, saying, "it is hard to fathom how state voters could consider a Yes vote on Proposition 1A, which would issue $9.95 Billion in bonds as part of a $40 Billion-plus project to build high-speed trains linking Northern and Southern California."[43]
  • The Oakland Tribune also opposed Proposition 1A, saying that "instead of addressing our real transportation needs, Prop. 1A is asking taxpayers to spend the first tens of billions of dollars on what amounts to a Boondoggle Express rail system that won't be built for many years, if not decades."[44]
  • The Sacramento Bee recommended a "no" vote on Proposition 1A. Under a subheader declaring "Why we Oppose it," they wrote the following: "Until California fixes its chronic budget deficits, it can't afford to increase its debt for projects that, while desirable, are not of vital necessity. In addition, the rail system that supporters are touting may not be as high-speed as advertised. Potential conflicts with freight service lines could make trains slower than those found in Europe or Japan." They go on, saying that "if it passed, this proposition would take $647 million annually from the general fund that, without a tax increase, would have to come from other services. That's money the state can't promise."[45]

Path to the ballot

The California State Legislature voted to put Proposition 1A on the ballot via Assembly Bill 3034 of the 2007–2008 Regular Session (Chapter 267, Statutes of 2008).

Votes in legislature to refer to ballot
Chamber Ayes Noes
Assembly 58 15
Senate 27 10

The High Speed Train Bond Act was originally slated to appear on the November 2, 2004 ballot. However, Senate Bill 1169 (Chapter 71, Statutes of 2004) bumped it from the 2004 ballot with the proviso that it be placed, instead, on the November 7, 2006 ballot.

When the vote to remove the High Speed Train Bond Act from the 2004 ballot was made as part of that year's budget act, the California Legislative Analyst's Office published a note predicting that moving the vote into the future would "significantly" increase the total cost of building the high speed rail system: "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."[46]

Subsequently, Assembly Bill 713, Chapter 44, Statutes of 2006, provides for the submission of the Act on the November 4, 2008 general election ballot, rather than the November 7, 2006 ballot.[47]

External links

Suggest a link

Background, basic information




  1. Mercury News: "High-speed rail bond at a glance"
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Mercury News, "Another high-speed rail vote may be needed", January 19, 2010
  3. 3.0 3.1 Association of California High-Speed Trains
  4. "Pacheco Route picked for high-speed train," July 10, 2008
  5. "California High-Speed Train Route Completed," July 10, 2008
  6. Ballot Language
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 San Francisco Chronicle, "Obstacles on the tracks with high-speed rail", December 8, 2010
  8. Business Plan: December 2009 Business Plan Report to the Legislature
  9. San Mateo County Times, "Effort under way to repeal high-speed rail bond measure", April 14, 2010
  10. The Daily News, "Bullet train ridership numbers don't add up, watchdog says", February 6, 2010
  11. San Francisco Chronicle, "Court slaps lawmakers for one-sided measure titles", January 28, 2011
  12. Daily Breeze, "Ruling targets bias on ballots", February 5, 2011
  13. TALC website
  14. Fresno Bee: "Governor wants high-speed rail option," May 7, 2007
  15. San Francisco Chronicle: "Schwarzenegger wants guarantees of support for high-speed rail," Jan. 16, 2008
  16. California High Speed Trains Authority
  17. "California's Economic Stimulus"
  18. "The Local Economic Benefits of High-Speed Rail"
  19. Planning and Conservation League
  20. Official voter guide arguments in favor of Prop 1
  21. Californians for High-Speed Trains; Yes on Prop. 1A
  22. Californians for High-Speed Trains; Yes on Prop. 1A
  23. 23.0 23.1 Follow the Money, "Donors to Yes on 1A"
  24. San Mateo Daily News: "Not Aboard!," September 25, 2008
  25. Sacramento Bee: "Dan Walters: Bullet Train's Vital Details Still Missing." October 24, 2008
  26. California High Speed Rail Land Impacts
  27. OC Register: "Taking taxpayers for a ride California focus," July 14, 2006
  28. [1]
  29. Official voter guide rebuttal arguments
  30. Los Angeles Times, "How much will Prop 1A cost taxpayers?", October 21, 2008
  31. Los Angeles Times, "Why should all Californians pay for high-speed rail?", October 20, 2008
  32. July 22 Field Poll results on Proposition 1
  33. Field Poll, "Release #2293 Release Date and Time: 6:00 a.m., Saturday, November 1, 2008"
  34. Los Angeles Times: "Yes on California bonds; Bullet trains, children's healthcare and veterans' housing all deserve support," October 2, 2008
  36. "Endorsements 2008: State ballot measures", San Francisco Bay Guardian, October 8, 2008
  37. "Editorial: Yes on 1A: It puts Silicon Valley and California on the fast track", San Jose Mercury News, October 18, 2008
  38. "Yes on Prop. 1A, Now more than ever state needs jobs, cleaner air, easier travel", Fresno Bee, October 17, 2008
  39. "High-speed rail proposition worth support""Del Mar Times", October 16, 2008
  40. "Our Endorsements", "San Diego City Beat", October 14, 2008
  41. Desert Dispatch: "No bonds for high-speed rail," September 25, 2008
  42. OC Register: "Editorial: Prop. 1A a fast track to bankruptcy." September 23, 2008
  43. San Deigo Union-Tribune: "Prop. 1A: No, no, no." September 21, 2008
  44. Oakland Tribune: "Reject Boondoggle Express by Voting No on prop. 1A." September 12, 2008
  45. Sacramento Bee: "Endorsements '08: Say 'No' to all propositions except 11." October 9, 2008
  46. Analysis of the 2004-05 Budget Bill
  47. California SOS page
  48. San Francisco Chronicle, "High-speed rail bond financing is off track - Vote no on Prop. 1A", October 8, 2008

Additional reading