Friday, August 19, 2011


While driving to the central coast a few weeks back, I often wished that some of the state fundsemployed over the last decade on mass transit schemes would have been used to repair or widen the roads connecting Menifee and San Luis Obispo.

Perhaps in answer to my starless wish, it now seems increasingly likely that more rational cost estimates may derail the high-speed San Francisco to San Diego boondoggle whose initial funding was authorized by 52.7 percent of California voters in 2008.

The most recent construction “guesstimate” just for the Merced to Bakersfield rail-to-nowhere section came in at 10 to 13.9 billion dollars—40 to 95 percent above the prior 7.1 billion figure. Considering the trajectory of this preliminary revision, the final project could cost anywhere from 80 to 200 billion dollars.

Earlier this year State Treasurer Bill Lockyear, the fellow charged with selling California’s high-speed rail bonds, observed that private investors have exhibited no real interest in purchasing these bonds absent a sound business plan. Indeed, Lockyear even acknowledged that he himself agreed with investors who felt the folks in charge of the project don’t know what they’re doing. Said Lockyear, “We don’t have a plan that makes sense.”

As more realistic cost estimates come in, the rapid-rail “business plan” seems to bear a mega-expensive price tag that will never be largely picked up, as hoped, by private investors, the federal government, and those who ride the choo-choo.

A prescient report last month by three Bay Area financial experts observed that megaprojects of this sort have a consistent record of cost overruns. Sixty percent is just the rail average. However, if the bullet train performs as badly as the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge project, the final price tag would be more than five times present cost estimates or around $247 billion.

On the bright side, Boston’s Big-Dig came in with a comparatively modest 300% cost overrun—a ratio that would put California’s high-speed bottom line at over 130 billion.

Another low-balled item has been the price of bullet train tickets, which have already been revised sharply upward. Among items likely overestimated in early scenarios are ridership and ridership revenue.

Amazingly, even Democrats in the California legislature have begun to question the wisdom of proceeding with this high-speed rip-off. Senator Alan Lowenthal, a past supporter of the project, recently acknowledged that “we really need to re-examine what we’re spending and what we’re going to get for it.”

Put more accurately, legislators need to scrutinize the project carefully for the first time—and then, as
Rep. Diane Harkey has been urging, scrap it.

Monday, August 01, 2011


Responding to a recent 150-million dollar reduction in funding for the University of California system, UC’s vice president for budget and capital resources, Patrick Lenz, insisted that the state’s campuses and offices have already “cut to the bone.”

Not exactly. Despite “draconian” cuts that professional education bureaucrats are paid to lament, campuses throughout the UC system obviously have enough dough to fund and even expand a gargantuan diversity establishment.

As Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute notes, diversity-related positions not only have “been protected from budget cuts, their numbers are actually growing.” A prime example is a new vice chancellor position for equity, diversity, and inclusion at UCSD.

Such a position might conceivably be rationalized if no comparable function existed, but according to MacDonald, UCSD’s “massive diversity apparatus” already includes a Chancellor’s Diversity Office, an associate chancellor for faculty equity, an assistant vice chancellor for diversity, faculty equity advisors, graduate diversity coordinators, a staff diversity liaison, an undergraduate diversity liaison, a graduate student diversity liaison, a chief diversity officer, a director of development for diversity initiatives, an Office of Academic Diversity and Equal Opportunity, a Committee on Gender Identify and Sexual Orientation Issues, a Committee on the Status of Women, a Campus Council on Climate Culture and Inclusion, a Diversity Council, directors of the Cross-Cultural Center, a Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Resource Center, and a Women’s Center.

Somewhere in that plethora of politically correct conformity (generically known as “diversity”) one would think that several warm bodies could be found to cover the new vice chancellor’s task of “building on existing diversity plans to develop and implement a campus-wide strategy on equity, diversity, and inclusion.”

Unfortunately UCSD is not alone in its multiplication of “diversity” administrators. UC Berkeley, for example, has its own vice chancellor for equity and inclusion with a staff of seventeen in his immediate office. In 2009 this fellow’s base pay was almost $200,000—over three times the official starting salary for assistant professors in the UC system.

But since the diversity beast must be perpetually appeased, the burden of budget cuts continues to fall on regular students in the form of tuition increases and not on the legion of tax-supported “multi-culti” functionaries.

A further consequence of this mad devotion to political correctness is that prestigious professors are being lured away by institutions that employ their funds more wisely. Such was the case with a trio of cancer researchers who recently left UCSD and headed for Houston, Texas—where a 40% benefit package increase awaits them at Rice University in the nation’s premier red state.

Meanwhile, the UC system adds more administrative diversity fluff.