City wins $20 million stimulus for Railyard move

The City announced on Friday that it had met a December 1 deadline to get shovel-ready on the project to move and realign the tracks at Sacramento Valley Station.

I trust that even though they were “scrambling” to get it done, Kevin McCarty and the other city council members made sure to scrutinize the environmental and logistical work before proceeding with requesting taxpayer money to fund the project on behalf of Thomas Enterprises. Or is it only important to scrutinize when a private company wants to spend its own money?

On the good side, the project is now fully funded, with money coming from the Federal Gov’t as well as an expected $25 million in State funds and then money from “a variety of other sources.”

This will really help the City clear the way for the housing and entertainment venues they desire for that spot. Or will it help us transport twice as much rail freight through that spot? Both you say? Sweet!!!

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Author: CoolDMZ

"X-ray vision to see in between / Where's my kimono and my time machine?"

27 thoughts on “City wins $20 million stimulus for Railyard move”

  1. Prime example of federal government stuffing taxpayer dollars into a purely local enterprise. What next, stimulus funding to the Maloofs for a new arena? It creates jobs, right?

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  2. Yes, of course, a chunk of railroad track that carries one of the busiest railroad routes in the western United States, running between the Port of Oakland and points east, north and south, that’s strictly a purely local enterprise, intended to help out local mom & pop Union Pacific Railroad.

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  3. Incidentally, if you’re going to compare the Nestle bottling plant with the track relocation, keep in mind that the track relocation has been part of the intermodal/Railyards plan for years, with multiple public meetings including the opportunity for comment and feedback, several reviews before council, an environmental impact report and an environmental impact statement (one’s state, one’s federal.)

    Nestle, on the other hand, didn’t even fill out the paperwork one normally fills out in order to explain why they don’t need to do an environmental impact report (a “Mitigated Negative Declaration”) because the city’s permitting program can be abused to allow projects that would ordinarily need more public review to ignore said review–even though doing so violates state law.

    And yes, this work is needed for the Railyards project, because part of the project is to build two bridges over the tracks…and there isn’t much point in building those bridges if the track is going to be relocated. It won’t result in twice as many trains running through, but it means that freight trains passing through can go faster more safely (passengers won’t have to step over freight tracks to get to the trains, two streets will go over the tracks entirely) and the depot will be able to handle more and larger passenger trains–including spaces for HSR, if it ever arrives.

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  4. wburg

    Yes, the UP railroad track is critical link for interstate commerce. But his is true regardless of whether the track is re-aligned or not.

    The reason the track is being re-aligned is about as local as it gets. This is pure blubbery, hormone-injected pork for a downtown railyard project that apparently can’t stand on it’s own legs otherwise.

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  5. Actually, no, UP initiated the track realignment in order to speed up their operations. Currently trains have to slow down to make the curve at 6th and H Street, the realignment will straighten out the curve. The envisioned change is increased speeds and greater safety for freight trains. This was UP’s idea from the beginning. The city’s participation is needed because the realignment means re-planning the passenger tracks for the depot. While one could make the argument that Sacramento’s depot is a local issue, it too is part of a large transportation system and one of the busiest Amtrak stations in the country, thus it is also a critical transportation link.

    The realignment doesn’t actually build anything for the Railyards project–but it does allow the Railyards project to build bridges over the new realignment (with entirely different money.) Until the realignment is done, those bridges cannot be built.

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  6. I don’t care about all the bureaucratic crap they have to do to make the requests “legal.” I think have made that clear. I care about the politics involved. Even though it has been in the works for years, the City is still by its own admission scrambling to get the request in to spend your money and mine on the project. The reason this Nestle thing was a big deal was because all the complicated bureaucratic crap created a loophole. Loopholes don’t occur in nature, they are created by sloppy governing.

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  7. CoolDMZ: I realize that ignorance of how laws actually work, unwillingness to learn how laws actually work, and a strong desire to tell people how to do things despite this total ignorance of how things work is a hallmark of contemporary conservative political thought, but I see no reason to tolerate such foolishness.

    The city scrambled to get the request in because, while the project has been in the works for years, the stimulus funds have only become earlier this year, as part of the “American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.” Thus, the rush to apply for the funds. They couldn’t have applied for this funding last year, because the funding source didn’t exist yet. The main reason they were eligible was because the preliminary work was already done–“shovel-ready.”

    Of course loopholes occur in nature–every successful species is an example of an organism exploiting a natural “loophole” to its own advantage. And no, government loopholes aren’t necessarily the product of sloppy governing, some are deliberately created in order to facilitate things that would ordinarily not be tolerated. They are often the result of action by government officials and city management more concerned with back-room deals than the public good–basically, it’s what happens when people who don’t know how government runs and don’t care to learn end up running a government.

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  8. Discussing the ins and outs of a legal system is completely separate from discussing ideas. Sure, there wasn’t much going on in the idea department here either, I’ll admit that. I won’t apologize for being bored out of my skull when I even think about the phrase “funding source,” but I do apologize for wasting your time.

    In a weird way I’m flattered that people have expectations about what they want this blog to be like. I do strive to do this better every day, but the only time I’m going to care about when a funding source is going to be made available is the day before payday.

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  9. Maybe next you could write about cancer? “What’s the big deal? Just cut the tumor out of there with an X-Acto knife, no big deal! Why do they zap it with radiation, isn’t radiation what gives you cancer in the first place?”

    Your article is ABOUT a funding source…if you don’t care about funding sources, why did you write about it in the first place? If it’s about “ideas,” what’s your idea? More importantly, if you don’t know the facts,

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  10. wburg

    I guess I don’t get your beef with the blog post, and the accompanying apparent personal attacks on the writer. The blog post does contain a very relevant political question… Why does the city seem to have a very selective interest in environmental impact studies?

    Maybe the cloud of pomposity hovering over your head has impaired your visibility of the blog”s subtitle “Sacramento News Gossip & Snark”. It’s right there under the main SacRag title, take a look.

    I’ll even admit you are the smartest guy in Sacramento if you will just stop posting jewels like “I see no reason to tolerate such foolishness”. Geesh.

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  11. wburg: I’m glad to know I’m not the only one who finds cancer hilarious. I’m just kicking myself for not using this bit: “You know who knew a lot about funding sources? Hitler.”

    Look, I know about the general timelines about the Railyard project, as evidenced by my dozen or so posts on the subject. I am also aware of the ARRA as evidenced by my having had a pulse over the last 12 months and by the use of the word “Stimulus” in the title of this post.

    Here is the idea behind the original post: By its own admission, the City had to scramble to secure this funding. Sure, I’d rather have them scrambling to get paperwork filed than scrambling to build something, but meeting timelines to acquire money that Congress just waves its hand and creates out of nowhere does not change the rightness or wrongness of the plan; I’m still not convinced that spending a bunch of money to develop the railyard makes sense “in these economic times.” If the project has been so long in the making, why are they having to scramble to get this work done? Wouldn’t a reasonable explanation be that the work is not ready? This is a project the City already has a history of screwing up by moving too fast. Remember when the City overpaid by about $40 million for Railyard land because it moved too quickly to get a good appraisal?
    http://www.sacbee.com/ourregion/story/1600330.html

    In the case of the Nestle bottling plant controversy, a politician grandstanded against a corporation that complied with city code about the clearances it needed to spend its own money to build. But in the case of the UP project, the city is scrambling to complete environmental clearances in order to spend taxpayer money. If McCarty is being a responsible steward I want him to do it with my money and my grandchildren’s in addition to the Nestle corp’s.

    When you argue that the city is scrambling for December 1 because the government says they have to, can you actually feel yourself dying inside? Or are the parts that could feel that already dead? I’m just curious.

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  12. At the risk of appearing to pile on, CoolDMZ misses a locomotive size point when he says, “…spending my money and your money…”. Techniically, in the sence of pennies maybe, he’s correct. In reality, since most of the funding comes from the Feds (spread between 300 million you and me’s) and the State (spread between almost 40 million you and me’s) you and me are really reaping the benefit of folks from Iowa, and mostly the Bay Area and LA paying Sacramento contractors, engineers and consultants to work here. I know we’re not used to that kind of largess here in forgotten state backwayer Sacto, but with the Railyards raking in State funds…maybe we could.

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  13. The point is this project brings other people’s money here to Sacramento. It gets paid to Sacramentans. They spend it here for clothes and dinners and stuff. Those stuff sellers turn around and spend it again. With the multiplier effect this means a couple hundred million of local benefit…paid for by Dodger fans and Bay Areaites. Thank you!!! In the huge scale of things, Sacramento is lucky to be a footnote at the public trough (I know, the public trough’s your point CoolDMZ) but since it exists, has always existed and will always exist…why can’t Sacto get it’s share? Ok, in this case maybe a little more than its share from LA Live’s perspective, or Mare Island’s perspective or, or, or…but it’s about time we became competitive.

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  14. CoolDMZ:
    “If the project has been so long in the making, why are they having to scramble to get this work done? Wouldn’t a reasonable explanation be that the work is not ready?”

    No, it’s not. The scramble was to meet the deadline for the stimulus funding, not the environmental work for the track move. Nothing was skipped in the process, and the full environmental review was completed.

    “In the case of the Nestle bottling plant controversy, a politician grandstanded against a corporation that complied with city code about the clearances it needed to spend its own money to build.”

    Not entirely true. Nestle followed what it was told were city codes, the problem is that the city codes violated state laws–specifically, by lowering the regulatory level of the project to the ministerial level, it was not considered a “project” for the purposes of CEQA–which means that a project that SHOULD have done an environmental impact report DID NOT. If Nestle had done an EIR (which they did not) this wouldn’t even be an issue–they used a loophole (one assumes, with city complicity) to avoid having to do one.

    I realize you probably fell asleep three words into that paragraph, so for the “tl;dr” crowd: Finding a way around the law is not the same as following the law. Nestle used a city rule that circumvents state law, and it is that rule that was called into question. The track relocation followed environmental regulations, the hustle was to have everything ready to get some federal cash that just recently became available.

    And while Nestle is spending its own money on the building, the operation itself is based entirely on bottling the city’s municipal water supply (that our taxes pay for) and selling it back to us at a several thousand percent markup. So instead of taking advantage of taxpayer money up front, they’re doing it on the back end–and on the sly. I suppose I wouldn’t mind so much if they tapped into the city sewer and purified the sewer sludge on their own, but the Nestle marketing department might have a harder time trying to spin that.

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  15. To cogmeyer:

    “Why does the city seem to have a very selective interest in environmental impact studies?”

    It’s not selective, it is the responsibility of cities to ensure that environmental impact reports (and studies) are done where necessary to comply with state (and federal) law. The track relocation project did their reports; Nestle did not.

    Maybe my idea of “snark” is not the same as yours, but my remarks are intended as a snarky response to CoolDMZ–the difference is that my posts are packed to the gills with both snark and hearty, nutritious facts. I assume CoolDMZ has figured that out by now, because despite his occasional habit of confusing his opinions with facts, I think he’s a righteous dude (note: that is my opinion, pending independent verification of the righteousness of CoolDMZ.)

    And hell, I’m not the smartest guy in Sacramento–that’s Turty Squirp’s job.

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  16. wburg – Yes, we’re talking about the paperwork. If the project has been in the works for this long, why the last minute scramble? I don’t know how else to say that. When you’re scrambling to complete something, it’s because you’re not already done and you have less time than you thought you needed.

    And about Nestle: As I said weeks ago, if that’s the case, that the city codes violated state laws, then that is the city’s fault. In light of that, getting his face in front of cameras at an anti-bottled water industry documentary (SPOILER ALERT: The hot shirtless water bottle magnate is a werewolf) makes McCarty look like an opportunist and an ideologue.

    And thanks for the kind words. I’m quite often presenting mostly opinion bolstered by a few selective facts, but I don’t think I’ve made any factual errors here.

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  17. Why the scramble?

    Because there wasn’t a particular hurry until the opportunity for stimulus funds became available.

    Imagine you’re working on a big project that has a lot of parts but you’re taking the time to do everything right. Most of the way through the project, you discover that there’s a way you can get a bunch of money to pay for the project, and at the same time you’re in a rough financial situation and really need the money. So you have an opportunity, but you suddenly have to get it done by a set date instead of just whenever. So you pour on the coal to get done in order to take advantage of the cash–thus, a scramble to get things done, even though the project had been underway for quite a while. The situation changed, and rather than blow it off and lose the opportunity, you go for it. That’s what Sacramento just did.

    Why should Nestle have known better?

    Just before coming to Sacramento, Nestle tried to open a plant in McCloud, CA. McCloud is also in California and thus subject to the same environmental laws as Sacramento. In McCloud (located in that hotbed of latte-sipping urban liberalism, Siskiyou County) Nestle tried to open a plant but submitted an environmental impact report that didn’t pass muster. Long story short: Nestle changes their mind about opening in McCloud.

    So, Nestle pulls up stakes and tries again in Sacramento, in the same state, with the same environmental laws…and doesn’t even bother doing an EIR at all, even though they did one when they wanted to open in McCloud (and no, they couldn’t just use the same one, because it’s a different project in a different place.) Why Sacramento? Maybe because they talked to someone who said that they could take advantage of the built-in loophole in the FPP program that would let the project sneak through even though under normal circumstances it would require an EIR, thus avoiding the public scrutiny that comes with environmental review?

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  18. If the big project I’m working on is a giant cannot I’m planning to use to shoot baby seals into the sun, but I scrambled and got my paperwork signed off by the deadline, does that make it a good idea?

    And I’m not super up to speed on the McCloud situation but as I understand it they were planning to build an entirely new facility, whereas here in Sac they were setting up shop in a much smaller existing location that had to be retrofitted. Am I wrong? Isn’t that why the project here in Sac was able to be started under a different set of requirements? And let me state again that I’m not sold on the whole water bottling idea.

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  19. CoolDMZ: That’s the whole point of the environmental review process. If your plan is to shoot baby seals into the sun, you have to disclose how many baby seals you will need, the dimensions of your baby seal cannon, and its effects on the seals, the sun, and anything in between. The appropriate regulatory agencies and the general public have an opportunity to review and comment on your plan, and you would be required to request comments from the appropriate regulatory agencies, like the Giant Cannon Department and the State Department of Furry Animal Launching. Copies of the report would have to be available to residents of the sun, and a small set of public meetings held to explain why shooting baby seals into the sun is a great idea.

    The purpose of the EIR is disclosure–to explain what you are going to do and how you are going to do it, in order to identify how your plan might harm the world around it in ways that would break various laws. If shooting baby seals out of cannons, or hitting the sun with fuzzy mammals, is illegal, disclosure would reveal it. Getting the paperwork signed off means that the folks over at Furry Animal Launching agreed that your cannon operates in a safe and humane manner, and the residents of the sun were comfortable with the occasional baby seal in their backyard. If, however, some part of such a well-reasoned plan turns out to be infeasible or illegal, you would have to change the plan. Perhaps someone at Furry Animal Launching noted that the baby seals you want to launch are an endangered species, and suggested replacing them with kittens or puppies instead, or their impact on the Sun would damage a property in downtown Sun City, so you re-orient the cannon to smash puppies and kittens into the moon instead, because on the Moon pelting someone with fuzzy animals is far more socially acceptable. Once the mitigations are approved, you can proceed.

    Nestle was able to dodge doing an EIR because of the FPP program and their use of an existing building, but the building isn’t the point of the problem–the issue is what they do with the building, not whether or not it was built. There are sometimes EIRs needed for new construction, but often EIRs are needed for such dramatic changes in the way a building is used–like the change from a warehouse (that doesn’t produce much in the way of pollutants or consume many resources) to a bottling plant (which uses a bunch of public water, produces plastic bottles, etcetera.) The whole point of an EIR is to disclose how the building will be used, and the effects it will have. Nestle didn’t do one, so we don’t even really know what effects it will have–which is why state laws mandate such reports are done.

    If it wasn’t for the FPP program, they would have had to do the EIR even if they used an existing building, because a project that big would have had to go before a board or commission. But because FPP lets certain developers who are pals with city staff (those with a “proven track record”) get sign-off from staff instead of a commission (for projects that would otherwise require one) they didn’t cross the threshold that normally results in an EIR being done.

    What should have happened: Because this was a project that anyone looking at it realized should have required an EIR, they should have been told to proceed with FPP for city permitting but begin the steps for an EIR (or apply for a “Mitigated Negative Declaration, a sort of mini-EIR) anyhow. That would have kept the process simple at City Hall but still required the following of state law.

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  20. OK, everything you said about my seal cannon project sounds legit, and I’ll make sure my engineers take it all into account. But my point was that laws and regulations do not imbue anybody’s actions — private or public — with rightness or wrongness. You’d have to agree there are pros and cons to the massive system of review and approval that we have in place, and I’ll agree that overall it is much heavier on the pro side. But only the clear and present need to find a place for these baby seals that is going to adequately destroy them imbues my project with rightness.

    The city should take care with a project as immense as the Railyard, which is a lesson they should have already learned a few times with this project. Saying they scrambled because of an artificial urgency created by the government holding up a bag of play money does not win me over.

    The Nestle project is evidence of my point about rightness vs. legality. It sounds like the relevant state laws were closer to ensuring the rightness of certain undertakings and therefore the city code is to blame for failing the public interest.

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  21. The purpose of the EIR is not disclosure– it is to prohibit entry into the market of new [competing] business by making startup costs impossibly prohibitive for all but the most established. A side effect is “disclosure” to the Seal Environment & Activist Lobby (“SEAL”), allowing yet another group to attempt to impead competition on an environmental basis. Ditto CO2 regulations. If it was REALLY about the environment, we’d let anyone build whatever they want, and only regulate if they spew bad stuff out or start shooting seals into the sun.

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  22. “The city should take care with a project as immense as the Railyard, which is a lesson they should have already learned a few times with this project. Saying they scrambled because of an artificial urgency created by the government holding up a bag of play money does not win me over.”

    This is not the whole Railyards project, just specifically the portion that has to do with track relocation. The Railyards EIR process was totally separate, and was completed a while back. This project affects other Railyards projects, and how it affects those projects (as well as things that are already built nearby) was part of the review process…but, remember, it was the application for stimulus funds that they were scrambling for, not the review process itself. But despite the scramble, they did fulfill the intent of environmental regulation via investigation, disclosure and public review. The fact that they were able to get it done more quickly to meet a deadline doesn’t change the fact that they did what they were expected to do, just in a smaller timeframe. If they had cut corners, tried to skip out on required notification or documentation, in order to make the deadline, they would have acted in bad faith–and probably knocked themselves out of the running for the money, because in order to qualify they have to show that they have complied with applicable laws (and are thus “shovel-ready.”)

    Laws are seldom perfect. The purpose of environmental laws is not to prevent anything from ever harming anything, but trying to ensure that the harm done by our actions is minimized and at least somewhat predictable. If your expectation is that laws should be utterly perfect, never settling for anything but the ultimate of ultimate good, you’re going to end up disappointed a lot. Yes, there is room for improvement, but generally the system works adequately well, and it sounds like you and I agree on that point.

    It sounds like we also agree about Nestle–what Nestle did was “legal” under city code, but not under state law–and it certainly wasn’t the right thing to do, something they obviously knew from their previous experience in McCloud. Part of why we have things like environmental laws is because when faced with a choice between doing right and making more money, many people decide that doing right is the wrong choice.

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  23. Just because something requires an EIR doesn’t mean that it will be harmful to the environment. Just as lots of things that are harmful to the environment don’t require an EIR. I have an example for you right here in my briefca… [run, enter car, slam door, VROOM]

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  24. Using Fed. stimulus money, my seal chunker is well under way. I’ve been testing it with mice and rats, but they are burning up during the journey out of the atmosphere. I think I need to either coat them (ceramic tile, whale blubber, etc?), or develop a booster stage for slower travel through the air.
    Were seals used as an example here because they have extra oil in their skin, making them less suceptible to atmosphereic friction burn up? Should I be testing using baby seals instead of mice? Anyone know of another oilly small animal I could use?

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