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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 5:44 pm | Rain Fog/Mist 60º


Trent Benedetti: Comrade Brown’s Public Works Legacy

We all know Gov. Jerry Brown is pushing two enormous Soviet style public works projects. One is a passenger railroad between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The other: a great big water pipe.

No, no, no. Not that kind of water pipe. The Governor’s nickname, Moonbeam, did not result from what he smokes. At least, I don’t think so. Anyway, it’s doubtful enough weed could be found to pack the pipes that Moonbeam — ahem Gov. Brown — wants to build.

Why, you may ask, denigrate our governor’s ambition by comparing his two pet projects to boondoggles championed by the likes of Lenin, Stalin or Khrushchev in the now-defunct Soviet Union? Because if a bird walks like a duck and a bird quacks like a duck, then that bird is a duck.

Soviet leaders liked to build monuments to themselves. Of course, Gov. Brown would completely deny any selfish motivation. Let’s not quibble on that point.

At the same time, let’s not pretend the governor does not care how he is remembered. He cares.

Also, he knows his father, Gov. Brown the first, is remembered for his role in the massive re-engineering of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, a large-scale project that not only upset the delta’s ecosystem but also facilitated the transport of water from the delta area to farms and communities as far distant as San Diego.

The water pipes our current Gov. Brown want to build will cost almost $16 billion. Of course, the $16 billion price tag could increase. After all, this is a government project.

When finished, each tunnel will be tall enough to hold a four story building, and together they will take millions upon millions upon millions of gallons of water from the Delta area and make a 35-mile underground getaway.

Now let’s get back to the the Great Train Robbery. Like the real one in 1963 rather than California’s high speed rail project, it is too ostentatious not to be remembered.

Soviet leaders had a penchant for grand visions. They also had a record of lousy results.

Stalin once built from scratch a city for 450,000 people. The city, Magnitogorsk, was completed in about five years at a cost of 30,000 lives and who knows how much money.

The city suffered an economic collapse about 10 years later. Of course, Gov. Brown would deny the existence of any similarities between Magnitogorsk and his train.

But what is going to keep his railroad from economic collapse? There are two possibilities.

One possibility is for lots of people to pay a lots of money to ride the train. A lot of people will need to pay a lot of money to ride the train a lot to pay the cost of operation with enough left over to repay California taxpayers for the $64 billion (up from the original estimate of $33 billion) that will be spent building it.

The other possibility is for the government subsidize it. That would require taxpayer dollars beyond what will be spent building the railroad, a mere $64 billion. Does anyone think that estimate will not increase? After all, this is a government project.

Soviet leaders preferred government projects, but there are no more Soviet leaders because there is no more Soviet Union. They went broke. Could what happened there happen here? Of course, Gov. Brown would say otherwise.

Regardless, the cost of doing what Governor Brown wants done must be paid. Ultimately, the costs will be borne here as they were in the Soviet Union: by the people.

There is simply no other way. In that regard, projects in California and projects in the Soviet Union are exactly the same.

— Trent Benedetti is a member of the board of directors of the Committee to Improve North County and a longtime local business owner. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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