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Brian P. Kelly, the head of California’s State Transportation Agency, was appointed this week to run the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority, the organization charged with overseeing construction of what would be America’s first high-speed train system. This week a consultant to the authority reported that the cost of the first segment under construction, a 119-mile span in the Central Valley, has risen to $84 million per mile from $66 million per mile. Mr. Kelly spoke to us on Wednesday. (Our chat has been edited and condensed below.)
Q. You’re going from what appeared to be a secure and prominent role at the State Transportation Agency to the head of an organization that faces a lot skepticism from the general public and fierce opposition from Republicans. Why did you take the job?
A. In 23 years of doing transportation policy in California I have never seen a single project that would have such a transformative impact as this one. You are right. This project has mammoth opposition. I’d rather get in the fight then stand on the sidelines.
Q. The High-Speed Rail Authority was established 23 years ago. During that time China has built 16,000 miles of high-speed rail. We are still working on the first 119 miles. What are we doing wrong?
A. It’s not that we’re doing it wrong. To be fair, the voters of the State of California did not pass a bond bill dedicating any money until 2008. We are in a position today where there is enough dedicated for the project. We have construction underway.
Q. Can you look California in the eye and tell us that this train is going to leave the station some day?
A. I can look Californians in the eye and certainly say that that is what I am fully committed to delivering. They will get a full and credible report and plan from us on how we are going to move forward. I think the path forward is going to be less tumultuous.
Q. When will we be able to ride this train?
A. Some of this is what we are now reviewing. There’s a full commitment to have the first stretch to be all the way to Bakersfield and coming into the Bay Area.
Q. Will that stretch open in 2025 as planned?
A. That’s what we are going to be evaluating with the new cost issues.
(Please note: We regularly highlight articles on news sites that have limited access for nonsubscribers.)
• Apple has 94 percent of its total cash of $269 billion outside the United States. The company announced Wednesday that it’s going to bring a large chunk of this overseas cash stash home, and will make a one-time tax payment of $38 billion. (Perspective: That’s roughly the equivalent of Arizona’s annual budget.) [The New York Times]
• Montecito mudslides: A resident’s harrowing story of luck, loss and narrow escapes. [KPCC]
• Groups representing doctors, dentists and pharmacists have coalesced in opposition to proposals for single-payer health care in California. [Los Angeles Times]
• President Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, privately told a group of Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday that Mr. Trump had not been “fully informed” when promising voters a wall along the Mexican border last year. [The New York Times]
• Despite the inclusion of funding for a children’s health insurance program that’s been important to them, several Democrats in California’s congressional delegation say they will not be persuaded to vote for a short-term spending bill before the midnight Friday deadline, even at the risk of sharing the blame for a government shutdown. [San Francisco Chronicle]
• Senator Kamala Harris told Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen that Americans could draw a “reasonable inference” that Ms. Nielsen is racist. [The New York Times]
• Calaveras County, previously pot friendly, has reversed course and banned commercial marijuana farms. [Associated Press via CBS]
• Data from the 2016 census suggests that Silicon Valley would be lost without foreign-born technology workers. About 71 percent of tech employees in the Valley are foreign born. [Seattle Times]
• Flu epidemic: San Diego had 51 flu-related deaths last week, pushing the season total to a record 142. But there are signs of improvement. Last week there were 2,070 confirmed flu cases in San Diego County, a sharp decline from the 3,046 cases reported two weeks ago and the 3,354 tallied three weeks ago. This raises the hope that the flu has peaked. [San Diego Union-Tribune]
• It’s time for Apple to build a less addictive iPhone. [The New York Times]
• Incredible pictures of the vertiginous surf at Half Moon Bay early this week. Look for the hand in picture 7. [Surfline]
• Travel: Five places to go in Los Angeles. [The New York Times]
And Finally …
The Bay Area this week had a fleeting flashback to the Google bus protests of a few years ago. Four buses that shuttle Apple employees and one chartered by Google were apparently targeted Tuesday on I-280, which runs between San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
Images on social media showed the shattered glass of bus windows. No one was hurt.
“It might have been a BB gun — we don’t know,” said Officer Art Montiel, a spokesman for the California Highway Patrol. “It could have been somebody throwing a rock.”
“It doesn’t appear like there was anything high powered like an actual gun or a rifle,” Officer Montiel said. “Either way it’s a concern for us.”
It could of course just have been the work of kids without any political agenda. But it’s also possible that it was another reminder of the still potent resentment over what old-guard San Franciscans describe as the tech industry swallowing their city.
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California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.