Gov. Pete Wilson's veto Thursday of a bill that would extend the life of the Anaheim-Las Vegas high-speed train project hit Orange County officials like a runaway locomotive.
The veto could kill the $5-billion project at least until the Legislature reconvenes early next year, or until the issue is addressed during a special session that may be called to deal with the deadlock on reapportionment, officials said.
"This is incomprehensible," said Assemblyman Tom Umberg (D-Garden Grove), who introduced the legislation that would have extended the authority of the financially strapped California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission for a year past its Dec. 31 expiration date. Umberg's bill would also have made a planned 21-mile, elevated monorail line in central Orange County eligible for state rail-bond money.
"I'm obviously very disappointed," Umberg said. "This was an innovative way to get private-sector dollars. . . . It would have been of great benefit to Orange County."
The bistate commission last year awarded a conditional franchise to build the high-speed train to San Francisco-based Bechtel Corp., which recently said the $5-billion project will be delayed for five years because of the sluggish economy and the pullout of Japanese investors.
In his veto message, the governor said he favors the financing provisions for a monorail bond but not the 270-m.p.h. train to Las Vegas.
Proponents argue that such a train would create new jobs, boost tourism in both cities and provide an alternative for commuters who now inch along the Riverside and Orange freeways.
Wilson said he prefers a Senate bill adopted last year that requires Caltrans to develop a statewide plan for "an integrated, high-speed rail network."
He also cited the California-Nevada panel's failure so far to raise the private capital needed to build the high-speed, magnetically levitated system and the project's inability to serve more than a "small portion of the state's total population."
Umberg said he will reintroduce legislation next year to make the central Orange County monorail project eligible for state rail-bond money, but he said he has no immediate idea about what to do about the high-speed train--a sentiment shared by county Supervisor Don R. Roth, chairman of the California-Nevada commission.
"I'm stunned with that kind of action," Roth said after learning of the veto. "Certainly the bill didn't ask for any kind of funding from the state of California or the taxpayers. It's beyond me."
Assembly Transportation Committee Chairman Richard Katz (D-Panorama City), whose legislation four years ago created the California-Nevada commission, said: "I'm literally speechless. We've had no indication from the governor's office that there was any problem. He apparently has no understanding of our efforts regarding advanced-technology, magnetic-levitation trains--or he's doing Bechtel's bidding for them. This provides them a great way out."