High Speed Rail Transforming California's Housing, TOD Conversation

The California Legislature took steps to address the state's housing crisis this year, but housing activists might look to the Governor's High Speed Rail project to provide a link to affordable housing in the Central Valley.
September 29, 2017, 12pm PDT | rzelen
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email Comments

The political messaging of the California High Speed Rail over the past decade has been focusing on the notion of connecting Northern California to Southern California, eliminating those long drives on the Interstate 5 or 101 Freeway. Now, in an interview with The Planning ReportCalifornia High-Speed Rail Authority Board Chair Dan Richard reframing the value of CA HSR as one solution to the significant state housing crisis. 

As the CA HSR Authority seeks a new CEO to guide the program’s next phase, Richard spoke about the fact that the entire program is at a crossroads. Politically unpopular and still needing a huge amount of investment to be financed to completion, the high-speed rail project is also currently successfully laying track and creating jobs in the Central Valley. 

In the interview, Richard spoke about the role of high-speed rail to allow Silicon Valley to continue to flourish by relieving some of the housing pressure. As the first leg of the project will connect the Central Valley to San Jose, Richard spoke of the state's goal is to place transit-oriented development and housing investments into cities like Fresno and Madera that will have stops along the route. The families living in those communities will be able to get to the jobs hub of San Jose in under 90 minutes. 

Developing in the Central Valley is less than half of the cost to develop in San Francisco, according to Gov. Jerry Brown's budget summary for 2017-18. In building where local governments are actively pushing for development and revitalization, the rail project seeks to boost the local, regional, and even national economy.

"[The first leg] will open up freight rail capacity for ports that see 40 percent of America’s imports. And because of the Build American provision, we’re on the cusp of encouraging a whole new manufacturing sector around high-speed trade. The federal government should continue to be a full partner in this effort, particularly when California is stepping forward with more than $20 billion of state investment...In Fresno, one of the poorest counties in the United States—with a poverty rate in excess of 25 percent— the unemployment rate has fallen below 10 percent for only the fourth time in the last 25 years. Academic studies are pointing to high-speed rail investment as the main reason for that. We’re also working with the city of Fresno on development plans around their station. The word that comes to mind is “transformative”: I think this investment is going to transform Fresno and other Central Valley cities that have been hollowed out over the years."

Richard also spoke to the value of putting money into updating the local rail and transportation systems that will be nodes of the high-speed rail project. Thinking of high-speed rail "as the spine," the state has invested billions into regional and local projects. In San Jose, Google just announced a new 20,000-person campus at the Diridon High-Speed Rail Station in Downtown San Jose. As Richard describes, upon completion Diridon will be "one of the densest rail hubs in America, and will also be used by BART, Caltrain, and Amtrak."

Dealing with the financing is still a looming challenge. When asked about the future, Richard pointed to the recent action by the California Legislature to extend the cap-and-trade program for 10 years as major boost to the HSR Authority's ability to finance. He opined on the situation, saying:

"The bedrock of financing is certainty. Whether you’re a business, a government, or whatever, if you’re going to ask other people to loan you money, you’ve got to provide them with a sense of stability in terms of repayment. Once we have that, we’ll be able to tap into a number of financing programs, both public and private."

Read more in The Planning Report. 

Full Story:
Published on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 in The Planning Report
Share Tweet LinkedIn Email