Around Earth Day, Newsweek ran a memorable cover of Arnold Schwarzenegger posing with a globe, to symbolize his supposedly environmentally aware political stance. It was an apt recognition of how Arnold had successfully “greenwashed” himself in 2006, glomming on at the last minute to a Democratic proposal to mandate cuts in greenhouse gases. In doing so Arnold sealed his reelection victory and had many Californians – even a lot of Democrats – convinced he really cared about the environment.
But underneath the green veneer, Arnold is still the same conservative Republican who seeks to destroy the environment. His recent budget includes some 1.3 billion dollars in cuts to California public transportation, from the high speed rail project to local bus and light rail services. Speaker Fabian Núñez aptly denounced these cuts:
There’s a bait and switch on transit funding here, too. You can’t pose for the cover of Newsweek as the savior of global warming one day and then turn around and slash funding for public transit the next. You can’t have a press conference urging commuters to take public transit after a highway collapses one day and then turn around and slash funding for public transit the next.
The link between widely available public transit and environmental health, and addressing climate change, should be obvious. As greenhouse gas emissions soar, Americans need to cut back on those emissions, and driving less is a core method of doing that.
It also has an added and obvious value in an age of soaring gas prices. Californians are bearing the brunt of the oil companies’ gouging, paying over $3.50 a gallon. As a result usage of public transportation in the state has SOARED over the last few months. California’s intercity trains, such as the Capitol Corridor and the Pacific Surfliner, are seeing record numbers of riders. The LACMTA’s Orange Line, a bus rapid transit system in the San Fernando Valley, hit its 2020 ridership projections…in 2007.
The combination of environmental awareness and soaring gas prices has led millions of Californians to turn to public transportation. Millions more want to make the change but aren’t yet served by the required frequency or capacity. An example:
Anyway, if we had decent, reliable, accessible public transportation to take, we’d sell every car but the toy car and take public transportation to work. We checked into it at one point. If [my partner] took the train, he’d have to shift his work hours to ridiculously early or ridiculously late. They designed the train schedule to suit those living in Santa Barbara (median cost of single family home $1.2M) and working in Ventura. Yeah, that makes sense. Because I know lots of people who want to live in one of the most expensive towns in the country so they can commute to where housing is about half that. And me? To get to my job, 9 miles away, I’d have to transfer three times, and it would take me almost two hours each way, vs. my current 15-20 minute commute. Hell no.
Our only realistic choice is to own cars and commute to work.
In addition, many local public transportation agencies are facing financial stresses of their own – added users are requiring more buses, more train cars, and more operators.
The main agencies facing this stress aren’t small suburban carriers, but instead at the major urban systems of the state – San Francisco MUNI and the LA County MTA. For them, Arnold’s cuts are truly devastating.
The LACMTA was already looking at having to raise fares to maintain and expand its services. Now Arnold plans to give them a $230 million cut:
“It’s just going to add to the misery,” said Roger Snoble [head of the LACMTA], whose agency would lose $230 million under Schwarzenegger’s plan. “It’s going to affect everybody who moves in Los Angeles County.”
In other words – less public transportation means more people driving, meaning more traffic on SoCal’s already congested roads.
San Francisco’s MUNI system includes dozens of bus lines and several light-rail lines. All of them are heavily traveled. So heavily traveled, in fact, that they don’t have enough buses and streetcars and drivers to meet demand. So what is Arnold going to do to help? Cut a further $146 million from their budget too.
Finally there is the matter of high speed rail. In other articles I have explained the importance of this project – a fully planned and detailed system to build high speed rail lines to link the state’s major metro areas – the Bay Area, Sacramento, the San Joaquin Valley, LA, OC, the Inland Empire, and San Diego.
Arnold claims to support the plan, and has written op-eds professing to want to see it built. But behind the scenes he continues to do all he can to kill it. The California High Speed Rail Authority needs $130 million in funding to complete its work and move ahead with a scheduled vote in November 2008 on $10 billion in bonds to start building the system. Arnold plans to give them only $3 million in funding, and that funding is to come out of the Orange County Transportation Authority’s budget.
I have written several times about the high speed rail project. The plan is fully developed. It’s all ready to go. All we need is $10 billion in state bond money to seed the project and convince private investors to contribute to it as well. But Arnold wants to kill that too, despite the fact that it is a green and sustainable technology that will get Californians out of their cars, out of the planes, and provide for the state’s growing transportation needs.
What explains Arnold’s desire to destroy public transportation? It’s two interrelated factors. The first is that Arnold simply is not an environmentalist. He is fixated on the automobile as a form of transportation. He thinks more freeways are the solution, not more public transportation. The screaming demand of millions of Californians for public transit don’t register with him.
The second is that Arnold is in the pockets of Big Oil. They have donated well over a million dollars to his various funds since November, even though he isn’t eligible for re-election in 2010. As their gouging of Californians continues, the oil companies know that a backlash is coming. They want to prevent that at all costs, want to ensure that they hold the line in California lest they set a trend for the rest of the nation.
If Arnold destroys California’s public transit systems, Californians will not have any alternative but to pay the exorbitant costs at the pump. The middle class will sink further into financial ruin.
Arnold’s public transportation cuts are a catastrophic disaster for the state of California. Not only will they make global warming worse, not only will they make our environment more polluted, more prone to fire, and mired deeper in drought, but his cuts will ruin family budgets, eventually causing lost jobs and further destroying the state’s middle class.
California Democrats must reverse these cuts. They are unconscionable and unaffordable.
Robert Cruickshank is currently completing a Ph.D. in US history through the University of Washington. He is a Californian through and through, however, born and raised in Orange County and educated at UC Berkeley. He resides in Monterey, California, where he is active in supporting sustainable development projects, public transportation systems, and other progressive policy goals. This article originally appeared in Calitics and is republished with the permission of the author.
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