A READER SAYS: Cost of rail project is too high
I am not surprised by Redlands Mayor Pro Tem Jon Harrison’s “facts of (the) Redlands Passenger Rail Project (RPRP).” His bias toward assuring that the RPRP is clear. He is an unelected board member of San Bernardino Associated Governments. He worked for Esri as a senior consultant for years. Esri is intimately involved with SanBAG in making sure that the taxpayers pay for the RPRP. Even though Esri intends to finance the development of a station at Esri, the operations of RPRP will still be paid for by taxpayers. Why does he not recuse himself from this aspect of SanBAG? Why does SanBAG not recuse him from this project?
W hy does it take Harrison 504 words to covey to us that budgeted estimate differs from expenditure? (It took me five words to convey this.) How often do budgeted estimates match with true expenditures especially when it involves governmental contracts? It typically exceeds it. Harrison, as a City Councilmember for over 14 years continuously (longest of any current member) knows how it works. Contractors lowball the contracts and return later for amendments, which are typically approved in the Consent Calendar without public discussion. The initial estimate for the RPRP was $202 million according to SanBAG’s $9 million EIR document (comes out to roughly $13,000 per page) published in February 2015. Another $40 million over three months.
A compelling reason for the magic number of $242 million is the need for SanBAG to keep the estimate under the $250 million threshold for developers to be able to apply for the Small Starts federal loans (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act).
Harrison cites the $77 million loan that SanBAG has taken out yet neglected (for whatever reason) the cost to service the $77 million loan. So how much more is the cost to service the loan? Another $77 million! Harrison compares it to taking a mortgage out on your home. If you borrowed $250,000 to buy your home, imagine that you will have to pay another $250,000 just to have the privilege of getting a loan. You now have to come up with $500,000 to pay for your $250,000 loan!
Even if we were to use SanBAG’s own estimate of $242 million for development costs, this does not include ongoing $8 million per year operational costs and costs imposed on the city of Redlands for the parking structure estimated once to be $10 million, which Paul Foster aptly criticized because of undefined “funding stream” for this.
Harrison cites “…sales tax approved in 2004 by more than 80 percent of the voters in San Bernardino County….” Clearly, he intentionally misstated the facts. In 2004, there were 737,559 voters; 394,269 voted for Measure I (not specifically the RPRP). A more accurate narrative should have been “…sales tax approved by 53 percent of the voters in San Bernardino County….” I highly doubt 53 percent of the voters approved the sales tax to fund the RPRP.
— Sam Wong, Redlands