Local legislators respond to the State of the State

FILE PHOTO Gavin Newsom, candidate for Governor of California speaks at the podium as he is applauded by, from left, wife, Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Katie Hill, candidate for Congress, Kamala Harris - U.S. Senator and Christy Smith, candidate for Assembly during a campaign rally held at the Newhall Family Theater in Newhall on Saturday, November 3rd, 2018. Dan Watson/The Signal

Gov. Gavin Newsom used his first State of the State speech Tuesday to announce some sweeping changes that he intends to implement in the coming year, including some issues that directly affect the Santa Clarita Valley, such as the state’s high-speed rail project and the proposed Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta water tunnels.

Newsom spent more than 40 minutes of his speech Tuesday discussing a variety of topics that ranged from housing to health care to the proposed Delta water tunnels, but local legislators agreed that the most newsworthy aspect of Newsom’s address was his announcement that he intends to dramatically reduce the scope of California’s high-speed rail project, which broke ground in 2015 as the largest public infrastructure project in the country.

Newsom said during his address that he has nothing but respect for Gov. Jerry Brown’s and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s vision, but the rail project as it’s currently planned would cost too much and take too long.

Newsom added during the speech that there isn’t a path that could be feasibly built to connect the northern and southern parts of the state, which is why he hopes to prioritize a connection between the Central Valley cities of Bakersfield and Merced.

“It’s laughable to think of Bakersfield to Merced as a viable segment,” said George Andrews — the chief of staff for Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, whose district includes eastern portions of the Santa Clarita Valley. Andrews added that the high-speed rail aspect of the governor’s speech was the biggest item that would directly impact the SCV.

“This is not what (California Proposition 1A) was intended for,” Andrews said. “I guarantee you if the voters in 2008 knew that the 2019 State of the State address would talk about a segment from Bakersfield to Merced, then the proposition would have failed overwhelmingly. If the people had a time machine, they’d realize they were lied to.”

Because of the impact the rail project would have on Santa Clarita and its surrounding communities, Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita, said she had “significant concerns with the project,” including how it would affect the area’s wildlife corridors.

“I also had significant concerns with cost overruns and accountability problems, but I’m glad to hear that the area’s residents won’t be negatively affected by the project,” Smith said on a phone call Tuesday. “I do appreciate the fact that we don’t want to waste funds that have already been expended and at the same time won’t be spending additional money.”

The governor appeared optimistic that the proposed Central Valley high-speed rail system could connect to a greater portion of California in the future but didn’t share specifics on such a plan.

“How it moves forward will be interesting to watch,” Smith said. “I’m sure there will be ongoing conversations with the governor going forward.”

State Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, who represents the 21st Senate District, issued a statement on Tuesday explaining why he feels the governor is making the right call — not just on high-speed rail but in several other subject areas.

“Gov. Newsom is right; a lot of work, requiring many hard decisions, needs to be done to build a better California,” Wilk said. “Whether it is the high-speed rail spending, schools, water delivery, homelessness, (California Environmental Quality Act) reform or more housing, the governor’s focus on bringing more accountability and transparency to government is a step in the right direction.”

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