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Alison van Diggelen

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Can California Afford High Speed Rail? Jerry Brown Still Bullish, Likens it to Cathedral Building

Posted: 04/28/2012 8:06 pm

Governor Jerry Brown responded to questions from Fresh Dialogues Tuesday about high speed rail and electric vehicles at the Silicon Valley Leadership Group's CEO Summit in Silicon Valley. Is he still an advocate for high speed rail in light of pressure, negative HSR reports and the sorry state of California's budget? The emphatic answer is: YES.

And he's got a historic precedent to support his case -- from Medieval France no less.

"It's a very powerful idea that could become something of great importance to California," he said. "New ideas are never received as well as old ideas, but I think California is the one place where high speed rail can get its start for the United States."

But with California's budget in the red and more spending cuts on the table, can California afford to spend a penny on high speed rail?

The 74-year-old governor took a page from history and replied with a question: "How did the peasants of medieval France afford to build the cathedral of Chartres?"

He then enlightened Fresh Dialogues with this answer, "They did it slowly... they did it with community investment and a great belief in the future."

This echoes Brown's 2012 State of the State Speech in which he said, "Those who believe that California is in decline will naturally shrink back from such a strenuous undertaking... I understand that feeling, but I don't share it because I know this state and the spirit of the people who choose to live here."

Governor Brown is thinking very long term. In fact, the high gothic Chartres Cathedral, famous for its flying buttresses, took almost 60 years to build.

But it's an unfortunate analogy. In the 13th Century, the cathedral's "free trade zone" was also the cause of bloody riots between bishops and civic authorities over tax revenues. An ominous sign indeed for the Governor of California. Plus ca change...

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