Aug. 22--The Fresno City Council has decided the best way to plan for high-speed rail is to assume the train will never get here.
The council on Thursday rejected $1 million in grants that would have paid for a master plan showing how downtown can get the biggest boost from the bullet train.
The vote was 3-3, with Council Members Lee Brand, Paul Caprioglio and Clint Olivier voting no. Council President Steve Brandau was absent. His staff said he had a prior commitment.
The money, being an appropriation, needed five votes.
Caprioglio said Fresno and the state have no business taking a gamble on an expensive train when California suffers from a historic drought.
"Our taxpayers are crying out for water," Caprioglio said. "That should be our priority."
Acting President Oliver Baines said government can juggle water and transportation issues just fine.
"We have the capacity to deal with more than one thing at a time," Baines said. "The state is that way, too."
Thursday's meeting was Round 2 of a fight that began July 31.
Downtown is slated to get a high-speed rail station. The High-Speed Rail Authority (paying $900,000) and the Fresno Council of Governments (chipping in $120,000) want to pay a consultant to figure out how the station and the nearby urban assets -- think other transportation options such as buses, taxis, Amtrak -- can best work together.
Mayor Ashley Swearengin supports the plan.
Four of six council members on July 31 voted to take the money. Caprioglio was absent -- vacation. Brand joined Baines, Blong Xiong and Sal Quintero in the majority.
Olivier said the bullet train is a mess. Brandau said he first wanted to see how high-speed rail lawsuits turned out.
The council took a two-week vacation. All knew Swearengin would try again. All eyes would be on Caprioglio.
Thursday came, and things went in unexpected directions.
This time it was Brandau missing. Brand, usually the most talkative of council members, was silent as a stone before switching sides.
Olivier had trouble finding words to express his dislike for the bullet train. Caprioglio went from water to pot holes and back to water on his list of higher City Hall priorities. Baines tried without success to figure out what water had to do with a train station master plan. City Manager Bruce Rudd said the council hasn't been so pure in the past about rejecting bullet-train money.
Xiong noted that City Hall can't stop a project pushed by the feds and Sacramento.
No one settled on what Fresno should do if a bullet train and a big train station should suddenly appear in downtown with no pre-planning from City Hall.
In other action, the council:
-- Approved a $1.3 million COG grant application to fund four active transportation projects: Construction of two stretches of sidewalk, installation of a traffic signal and an update of the bicycle-pedestrian master plan.
-- Approved a road diet for Millbrook Avenue between Gettysburg and Shields avenues. The project will create bicycle lanes on each side of the street.
-- Continued until Aug. 28 discussion of a revised fire-inspection program.
-- Continued until Aug. 28 a bill that prohibits the use of controlled substances such as marijuana on city property such as sidewalks, parks and council chambers.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6272 or email@example.com or @GeorgeHostetter on Twitter.
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