SGV Connect 99 Interview with Melanie Curry by Damien Newton

Damien: All right! I’m Damien Newton and I’m here with Melanie Curry for our quasi annual…no quasi is not right…our semi annual check in on what’s going on up in Sacramento.

‘Quasi’ makes it sound like we’re only doing a ‘partial update’ or ‘kind of’ update if you know what I mean. 

But now we’re there’s a lot that has happened since the last time we talked to you, which was the start of the session:the budget, some legislation,  active transportation stuff.

So let’s jump right in. 

We passed the budget a couple of weeks ago, for the year and it was a pretty good one, right? 

Melanie: Yeah, I guess it was pretty good bill. I mean, it was huge, with a giant surplus. So there was a lot of money being doled out. 

I think a big budget can cause more problems than a tight budget. Now, that’s silly to say because for so many years, we haven’t had enough money for anything but it’s strange how there are many problems with having such a big budget. Maybe the least of which is that everybody wants a piece of it. 

But for us in our concerns, it was good because the High Speed Rail finally got the bond money it was asking for. Interestingly, it didn’t get anything at all from the budget surplus. That was just bond money that the voters had already approved. That’s fair for them to use, and last year, got caught up in these weird negotiations where they just didn’t get it. So nobody knew what was gonna happen. Nobody was talking about it. 

We knew that there were some negotiations going on and we didn’t know until the budget came out that that actually was included. It looks like the the balance to that is that it also includes the creation of an Inspector General for the program. So that there’s going to be some oversight. I don’t really know if that makes a big difference or not. But it seemed to be the compromise that they made around letting that money go.

Damien: It seems that at the very least it was a face saving measure for legislators that have been trying to hold up high speed rail for years. They can be like, ‘now that we have our Inspector General, you know, we felt okay letting this money to go through’ when the reality was this has been a priority for the governor and the previous governor before that, and probably the next governor because there’s a lot of federal money for high speed rail, and there’s not a lot of competition for it.

Melanie: Yeah. Definitely. And the legislators were trying to get the high speed rail money to be used for other rail projects. But they couldn’t I mean, it was for high speed rail. 

It was it was all very strange. I think they were trying to kill the project. I don’t know if they really would have been able to do that because it’s it’s big and it’s got some momentum and this bond money will be used to finish the first phase of the project which will go from Bakersfield  to Merced. There’s a connection there to the Bay Area via the ACE train. So you know, it’ll make it a viable high speed rail through one part of the valley and give them the space to keep planning the rest of it to connect eventually to San Francisco in LA.

Damien: The environmental documents are moving on that stuff. They work into headlines every now and then. 

Melanie: Yeah, they’re close to being finished with all that they finished the piece between the Central Valley and Gilroy. They’re working on a piece from Gilroy to San Jose, from San Jose up to San Francisco.

Damien: And that wasn’t the only sort of transportation news out of the budget. Active Transportation, something you’ve covered a lot, for good reason, and there was some good news, at least temporary good news. I guess for that the state’s funding of those projects.

Melanie: Yeah, got ATP got another $1 billion for this year…well, this year is this cycle of Active Transportation Program, which is really good news because there’s just tons and tons of need. 

It’s sort of funny, because the California Transportation Commission has pressed in the last couple of years for $2 billion for that program. So they were like there’s all this money in the budget..all this spare money in the budget; let’s give some money to the active transportation program. 

These are important programs. But ironically, I think some of that push was also admittedly by one of the commissioners to prevent the Active Transportation Program which is becoming really a popular program from taking money away from other transportation funding programs, like highways. 

So there’s an irony there, but we did not get the 2 billion we only got 1 billion. And meanwhile,, all the applications that came in for this round of cycling is for like 3.2 billion in requests. And it’s not like they’ve ever been able to fund all of the requests, but one of the things that’s been happening in the Active Transportation Program is that the staff is working really hard with people who are applying to talk to them about their projects. Talk to them about what would make them better projects, more connected, more useful, better quality projects. And all the applications have been getting much better. And they’ve also been applying for bigger projects. 

So it’s not really surprising that there’s more money being requested, but there’s also better projects requesting that money. So they’re still underfunded. They have a total of a little over a billion and a half now. For this current cycle. But they have twice that and more than twice that in requests for money.

They’ve never funded all in fact, they’ve rarely funded very many of the projects that have applied. It’s like a one time grant like it’s…it’s a one time payment, but that’s that’s for this cycle, which covers four years.  But it’s this cycle where they choose all the projects that will get yours funding over four years. 

So yes, it’s just a one time boost. And they haven’t really decided exactly how they’re going to do that. They’re in the process of having meetings with people who, you know, stakeholders, people who care about the program to decide how they should use that money. Should they go back to the last list? Should they just start funding all the high scores in this list? Should they put some of it aside for something else? 

I have the feeling that what they’re going to do is just fund the ones that have applied this time because the some of the ones that didn’t get it last time reapplied. They’re trying to figure out how many were close to scoring enough to get funding. It’s a little complicated. They didn’t really expect it. 

That was a surprise they are actually I should say they didn’t know what to expect. Nobody was telling them anything. That’ll also came down at the last minute, that extra billion dollars. And even though it’s not perfect, you know, like sometimes the big projects are a little over built like why are we spending that much money. 

Also there are projects that they build that are great, but they’re also the point of them is to get bikes and people walking out of the way of cars, which there’s an argument to be made that that’s not really like what we want to do but it’s good, it’s still good. It’s still safe infrastructure that we need to encourage people to take more sustainable kinds of travel.

Damien: The legislature are on it’s summer break, it comes back in a couple…by the time this is posted it’ll come back in about two weeks. 

There’s a lot of bills that had been put on hold until you know, until they return they’ve got to go through one or two more hearings and that sort of thing. But there’s one bill I know that you were really excited about that did not go forward. We have a full list of many of those bills in an article included with the text of this podcast; but why don’t you tell us about the one that didn’t pass and sort of a little bit of why it should have and what the weirdness around it was.

Melanie: Christina Garcia’s AB 1778. What did you call it? The Kill Freeway bill?  

Damien: I mean, it wasn’t no more freeways, but no more freeways  in areas that are already high pollution, which was I mean, that’s you’re not going to get a lot of new highs, highways or new freeway expansion in existing highways, because that’s where the pollution already is.

Melanie: Well, exactly. And the reason that she was writing that was because, the displacement is a huge issue in communities where they’re building freeways through and people are already living in the midst of pollution. So if you expand freeways, there’s just going to be more traffic going through them. It it had a lot of support, but also automatic pushback. There were a lot of people who were objecting to it. And unfortunately, it died in the Senate Transportation Committee. 

It was strange because the chair of that committee was out sick and she seemed to kind of be maybe opposed to it. But they were negotiating and suddenly Member Garcia showed up and she was clearly really unhappy, because they hadn’t quite got to the point of agreement yet. 

There were a couple of sticking points is what she said. But the chair wasn’t there. So we didn’t hear what she had to say. And it was like the last point, it had to pass that hearing or it wasn’t gonna pass. And there were enough people in the on the committee that we just weren’t going to vote for it unless they heard that the chair was gonna support it. 

Damien: It wasn’t close. It was like eight or three or something like that.

Melanie: Because people were sitting out on the bill. Yeah, but you know, she’ll come back. She’ll try again. There was some really strange testimony. I think people were a little bit confused about what it was doing. There was also some very expected testimony from the highway building interests who were like, “Ha, no, we need more free ways.“

But the other bills it I just kind of go really quick. The other bills that are still in play include the bill that would allow bicyclists to treat stop sign as yield sign. It hasn’t passed through yet. Last year it got vetoed and the author came back with some changes to it and so that should have, should answer the questions about it that made Newsom veto it. So, fingers crossed!

The other one that is is coming back is AB 2147, which is a second try at decriminalizing jaywalking. When they tried that last year, it also got vetoed.

Ting (the author) said at the Cal Bike Summit that when that got vetoed, the governor called him and said, ‘Let’s figure this out.’ 

So as he was leaving, I shouted out to him’ does that mean it’s gonna pass?’ And he said, ‘I hope so.’ So I think that one has a good chance of getting through this time. Yay. 

And there’s a lot of other bills like you said we linked to some of them are kind of wonky and nerdy, but there’s lots of stuff about that’s going on.

Damien: I mean, there’s always a lot going on in the legislature and Newsom seems to be coming around on some of the things we were disappointed in last time, like the ‘don’t have to stop at a stop sign bill.;

Melanie: I know you want to say stop sign bill, but that doesn’t quite get it…

Damien: I don’t want to call it the Idaho stop because we’re not Idaho.

Melanie: And we don’t want to call it the California stop because that’s implying something completely different.

All right. 

Damien: So let’s just assume everyone knew what I meant, but like, it seems like his office has come around on that. So hopefully, you know, they’ve come they’re pushing more active transportation.

 Anyway. I think that’s it for this time. And we will have you back probably in a couple of months when the legislature wraps up and we’re saying ‘what’s he going to sign…what’s he not going to sign?’ like we do every year. But thank you for your time today. And we’ll we’ll talk again soon. 

Melanie: All right, cool. Bye. Bye.3