Whatever It Costs, It’s Worth It

Ugh. I’ve skewered David Lazarus before, when he decided to miss the forest for the trees. In that instance, he argued against freedom due to the potential annoyance it may bring.

Today, though, he’s gone after something that’s far more important to me than Cubans and cellphones — my pocketbook. He makes the crucial fallacy of “no price is too high for what I want, especially when you’re paying”:

How livable do you want both Los Angeles and California to be in the years ahead? On Tuesday, you can have your say.

Two ballot items — Measure R and Proposition 1A — will, if approved, redefine transportation in L.A. and throughout the state, giving us viable alternatives to our cars and helping wean us from our oil jones.

But it won’t be cheap. It’ll almost certainly cost many billions of dollars more than the roughly $50 billion foreseen by the two initiatives.

“Budgets are set to make projects more palatable to the electorate,” said James Moore, a professor of urban planning and civil engineering at USC. “I always multiply by a factor of two or three.”

But you know what? Even if these projects topped $200 billion, they’d still be a wise investment in our future. More on that in a moment.

Still, I have to give him credit. When I say that the bill will be far higher than is estimated, he’s accepting that premise. Unfortunately, he’s going off and suggesting that these projects are smart, indispensable, and yet also the best use of our money over the next few decades.

The green folks want light rail and bullet trains, whether people ride it or not, and care little about the expense. To them, it’s a social goal that must be supported, and we should simply have faith that it will pay its way later.

Oh, and let’s not forget the personal emotion aspect:

Marnie O’Brien Primmer is executive director of Mobility 21, a Southern California transportation advocacy group. She lives in Costa Mesa and works downtown.

“The other day, it took me 2 1/2 hours to get to work,” Primmer told me. “Things are pretty bad.”

Welcome to the car culture of SoCal. Everyone knows that living in Costa Mesa and working downtown results in a hellish commute — every day. In other cities, people try to live near their jobs. In SoCal, it is a general idea that where you live often bears little resemblance to where you work. Sometimes (due to home prices) that means that you’re stuck living in Riverside or Fontana while you’re working downtown. Often, though, it’s simply preference. Few people choose to live in Costa Mesa for cost reasons, so I would guess that Ms. Primmer could just as easily live somewhere near downtown. Living where she does is a choice.

In better economic times, a State or city who had their fiscal affairs in order might be able to afford such extravagances. California is not that state, and Los Angeles is not that city. I find it odd that you see this poll on the article:

Are you willing to pay the tab for tomorrow’s transit solutions?

— Yes. Californians need to see the bigger picture.
— Maybe. But I want the costs nailed down first.
— No. I’ll let my kids and grandkids worry about it.

Hey, bud, with a $9B bond issue required to START paying for a high-speed rail line, I think it will be my kids and grandkids paying for it anyway. I’m sure they’ll be very thankful for that burden.

  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy

    Lazarus is an idiot. Always has been. He’s the only anti-business business reporter I’ve ever seen, and of course he’s a product of the SF Chronice.

    In addition to ignoring the opportunity cost, the proponents of this train ignore the fact that this thing wouldn’t benefit anyone outside of SF, LA, and Sacramento. Why should someone in Eureka or Weed or Truckee or Fresno pay taxes for a high-tech toy that the Angelinos get to play with?

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany


    Hopefully those folks can simply walk away

  • http://pith-n-vinegar.blogspot.com/ Quincy

    Hey Brad, thanks for the link. I hope they manage to pull it off, if for no other reason than to slap the clowns in Sacramento around.

  • Paul

    Light rain in San Diego is a considerable success. Students from SDSU can grab internships in downtown and take the train. Downtown benefits from lower paid interhsips, students benefit from access to better-than-retail jobs.

    UCSD students, those who will be SDSU’s managers and company PhD money makers, on the other hand, have little access to light rail. The bus system is atrocious, and driving is the only option. No relatively educated person is going to waste 1-3 hours of their day, every day, waiting for public transit. They’ll drive, pay the parking fee of $25/day, and deal with it. It’s worth every penny to their pocketbook.

    Light rail is for the masses. It creates middle-management opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. You don’t go from pencil pushing to corporate buy-outs without the middle-management position. It’s more than an investment in convenience, it’s an investment in the city.

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany


    It creates middle-management opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available.

    So you’re saying that without light rail, San Diego wouldn’t have any staff trained up through their internships to be able to handle middle management positions?

    I’d say that the only jobs “created” by light rail are the construction jobs to build it, and the government jobs to keep it running. Knowing government, that probably is a lot of jobs…

  • Paul


    Not quite. By making light rail available to SDSU, those students could schedule classes in between their internship hours. The light rail stops right at their campus and goes through the heart of downtown SD.

    Without the light rail, a student’s options were to either drive, park and pay, carpool and split expenses, or take the bus. As mentioned earlier, parking is too expensive for an internship position, and the bus is too inefficient.

    An increase in SDSU applicants to downtown internship positions increases the talent pool, which increases the chances selecting better managers.

    Without light rail, there were fewer applicants to otherwise great opportunities, which meant smaller talent pool from which to select and promote.

    PS: California’s too big for one governing body. Jefferson should do it!

  • http://thelibertypapers.org/ Brad Warbiany


    You need to quantify…

    What was the increase in SDSU students applying for internships?

    What was the gross economic benefit to the city of employing those students instead of hiring non-students during those students’ years of education? As part of this, you must answer what percentage of those students remained in San Diego after graduation to work and whether it is more economically beneficial to hire them instead of, say, a Fresno State (or any other) graduate.

    What was the gross economic benefit to those students who gained additional experience during those internships?

    What was the marginal cost of providing that light rail system (i.e. how much more did it cost than setting up an SDSU->downtown bus line)?

    How much did that light rail line cost San Diego businesses and/or those students through the cost of higher initial taxes or bonds issues that needed to be paid off in the future.


    Yes, I was quite flippant to you in my first response. But you’re making an economic argument that the light rail is a big economic boon for the city based on the fact that it connects the “masses” at SDSU to their internships.

    You’re arguing as if San Diego is a city in the middle of Indiana that’s desperately trying to attract talented workers. Having gone to college in the middle of Indiana, I can tell you that plenty of Purdue (or Indiana State, or Ball State, etc) students will jump at the chance to move to San Diego for their career, and that San Diego will never be at a shortage of talent SIMPLY DUE TO THE CLIMATE.

    San Diego, like most of California, instead has to worry that their own homegrown talent is undereducated or their businesses are overtaxed/overregulated to the point of wanting to leave the state. Adding massive public works projects need to be paid for, and it’s only going to exacerbate the situation.