California’s recently elected governor, Gavin Newsom (D), broke from two of his predecessor’s most ambitious public works projects Tuesday in a state of the state address that signaled independence from the man he served as deputy for eight years.
Newsom said he move ahead now with only part of a hugely expensive bullet-train project that former governor Jerry Brown (D) envisioned carrying passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles and, farther east, from the city of Merced to Bakersfield.
In announcing that he would not proceed immediately with the San Francisco-Los Angeles leg, Newsom killed the costliest segment of a project that had swelled in price to an estimated $77 billion. His choice also pointed to the priority he will place on the economy of the state’s eastern valleys, which he has said have been neglected by coastal politicians for decades.
“The project, as currently planned, would cost too much and take too long,” Newsom told a full Assembly chamber in the state capital of Sacramento. “There’s been too little oversight and not enough transparency.”
Brown had championed the full project for years, in part to meet the state’s environmental target of being carbon neutral by 2045. The rail system also had the backing of the state’s powerful State Building & Construction Trades Council because of its potential to employ thousands of construction workers during its life.
But Newsom, striking a concern for his wealthy state’s poorest people, is looking to free up more money for affordable housing construction, a proposal to make community college tuition free, and for an expansion of health-care coverage to all documented and undocumented residents who do not have it.
“The State of our State is strong,” he said. “But along with that prosperity and progress, there are problems that have been deferred for too long and that threaten to put the California dream out of reach for too many.”
The new governor had promised during his campaign last year to break at times from Brown, who left office as the state’s oldest and longest-serving governor. He did so several times during the speech.
Newsom, a former mayor of San Francisco, is a more ardent representative of the state’s political resistance to the Trump administration. Brown also opposed many Trump administration policies. But he did so in a more muted way, acknowledging that California relied heavily on federal resources for many programs.
The sharper tone was evident Tuesday when Newsom, a day after announcing he would pull several hundred National Guard members from the U.S. border with Mexico, criticized President Trump for outlining in his State of the Union address “a vision of an America fundamentally at odds with California values.”
“He described a country where inequality didn’t seem to be a problem, where climate change didn’t exist, and where the greatest threat we face comes from families seeking asylum at the border,” Newsom said.
Newsom’s second break with Brown on major public-works projects came with his announcement that he would build one — not two — huge pipes that would re-engineer state water-delivery plumbing in and around the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
The project, which has raised environmental concerns given its potential threat to fish habitat, is designed to improve delivery from the state’s wet north to its dry south. California’s aqueducts and water-carrying pipelines, a historic feat of engineering in the semiarid state, are aging and increasingly inefficient.
Brown favored the twin-tunnels option of California WaterFix, as the project is known. Cost estimates range from $16 billion to $20 billion. Newsom’s slimmed-down proposal will save money, but it is unclear how much at a time when the governor also acknowledged threats to clean drinking water in many parts of the state.
“Solving this crisis will demand sustained funding,” Newsom said. “It will demand political will from each and every one of us.”