Their decision last week to endorse the controversial San Diego-to-Los Angeles “bullet train” should have been a difficult one for state Assemblymen Pete Chacon and Steve Peace. All their local legislative colleagues — Republicans and Democrats — have come out against the multibillion-dollar project. Opposition to the train from Republicans Sunny Mojonnier and Bob Frazee and Democrat Lucy Killea was expected, since they represent districts where influential antitrain organizers have sworn to turn out of office any renegade politicians. (Fear of reprisal also convinced Third District supervisorial candidates Lynn Schenk and Susan Golding to oppose the train.) Even Democratic state senator Wadie Deddeh, whose South Bay constituency would not be directly affected by possible environmental problems created by the project, authored an antitrain bill. In doing so, Deddeh slapped the face of organized labor, the American High Speed Rail Corporation (developers of the proposed bullet train), and powerful Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, who strongly favors construction of the train route.
After hearing arguments from lobbyists for American High Speed Rail, however, Chacon and Peace came down on the side of the train. They didn’t contact San Diego City Councilman Mike Gotch, a fellow Democrat who has studied the issue in detail; nor did they call county Supervisor Pat Boarman, who represents the North County coastal area and whose staff has spent the past year gathering information on the rail project. Bob Bonde, a North County resident who has whipped up community opposition there says neither his group nor representatives of the five cities that have formed an informal antibullet train coalition were contacted by either Peace or Chacon.
Peace, who was unavailable for comment, has argued that the train would provide an alternative to crowded freeways and poor San Diego/Los Angeles air service. Chacon says he made the endorsement because of the job possibilities the project offers. He says Assembly Speaker Brown never lobbied him, and he defends his decision not to talk with opponents. “I read the papers,” says Chacon. “If they [bullet train opponents] want to tell me more, it’s their business to get to me. I don’t have a responsibility to go around the state seeking out the pro and con.”
Opponent Bonde doesn’t think much of that reasoning. He also believes Chacon and Peace may benefit from future campaign donations courtesy of American High Speed Rail and Speaker Brown’s fat legislative campaign fund. Says Bonde, “Local legislators who spout that [pro-bullet train] attitude will be looked on with favor.”