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One reason why people are distrustful of government
It would take a long time to explain the details so I will avoid all but the most important.

California is planning to build a high speed rail (HSR) line between San Francisco and Los Angeles. This rail line is planned to run down the peninsula south of San Francisco. It happens that I grew up on this peninsula and currently live there. I know the area very well. The route selected was to use the existing rail right of way with a combination of elevated structures and some below ground structures. In general the existing right of way is quite narrow and passes through developed areas with many locations having housing on both sides, in some cases quite expensive neighborhoods. The selection of this right of way and the use of elevated structures has caused a lot of political opposition in San Mateo county, so much so that all the communities along the way have voiced their opposition to the plan and demands that the whole of the HSR be constructed below grade.

A short distance, for the most part, to the east of the existing rail right of way is a state freeway (highway 101). I personally could think of no reason why using this existing state owned right of way could not be used for the HSR particularly if it was elevated. It appeared to me that choosing this right of way would have very much reduced political opposition to the HSR in San Mateo county, if not eliminate it entirely. It should be noted that the HSR is intended for long distance travel and not commuter travel. Only two stops in the county are planned at this point. It does not need to be convenient to a significant number of people the same way that a commuter rail line should be. It also should be noted that BART has done something similar on the line to Pleasanton and Livermore.

Given my understanding of how much less public opposition there would be to using the 101 right of way I assumed there must be a significant flaw to using it.

I have now spent about 4-5 hours (over several days) on the net looking for an explanation why the 101 right of way was not proposed. I have looked at the official web site. I have looked at opposition web sites. I have looked at proponents web sites. I have found alternative analysis reports or at least parts of them. I found no discussion of why the 101 right of way was not selected.

I would also add I have similar questions about route selection elsewhere for the HSR, I only use this one because I am most familiar with it. There is also a very strong suspicion (that I share) that ridership projections are overstated.

This is a significant project, current estimates of cost are in the neighborhood of $80 billion. I personally am in favor of proceeding with it and have voted for it when voting was available to me. But it is also apparent to me that decisions about the details of the project are being made in a fashion that is not clear to the public. Or at a minimum decisions are being made and the public, which is going to pay the bills, are not being given the reasons for those decisions.

I worked, as an engineer, in a public agency for over 35 years and know that some of what we did was not worth the cost. I know that public agencies do make internal decisions and then fix the public data to justify them. Decisions that if the public was given truthful data about the benefit they might choose to do something different.

As much as I disagree with the right in this country about what the government does and how they do it I have to say that there are far too many cases where the government makes decisions about the expenditure of public funds without making the reasons for those decisions clear. Government tries in far too many cases to prevent the public from understanding exactly what the alternatives are and what the actual benefits are. Infrastructure improvements are required nationwide. Decisions about those improvements need to be clearly explained to the public. This would allow knowledgeable people to comment on them in a way that could improve the decisions or at least understand the reasons.
Governments of the world, of the type we have experienced on a large scale thus far, will not share all of the facts.

Unlike in science where sharing opinion, data and hypothesis leads to a progression in understanding of the world, sharing your ideas and data in politics can spell the end of your career.

Until a system of government is developed that will embrace facts, and inform the public of developments, we are destined to be lied to.
I am not so surprised that governments are untruthful about some things.

I would have been hard for the Bush regime to explain the exact reasons they wanted to go to war in Iraq. The geopolitical reasons were complex and difficult to reduce to things that the public would understand. Most of the analysis to date has only appeared in publications that are generally aimed at an audience different than the general public. None of the above should imply that I either agree with the reasons or approve of the actions. Only that there were reasons that would be difficult for the general public to understand.

What is more troubling for me is when the government is spending public money for infrastructure improvements intended to benefit the public. The decision process for this sort of project should be more readily available than they are. There is both technical and political knowledge that the public could apply to those decisions that could improve those decisions. The public who is interested but cannot access the necessary data has to become suspicious about the quality of the decisions being made.
I think you underestimate the ability of at least part of the public to understand. If Bush could understand it, we could. Going into Iraq was a really bad idea, no matter how complicated the decision-making might have been. President Clinton and the UN played the sanctions game with Saddam for eight years without going to war.
John, sounds like maybe it's time to write a letter to the editor of your local newspapers, which could lead to other people questioning the 101 route (which, btw, is such a beautiful, scenic drive through the CA and OR coasts), coming up with ideas for possible other routes, and also questioning the lack of information being given to the public. You're certainly not alone there.

Perhaps some phone calls even, including your gov. reps., could get you some answers and would at least let them know that their constituents want to know why they're being kept in the dark about so many of the details regarding the project.

Like Cat, I can see where the government would be scanty on details regarding some issues, but this kind of thing isn't one I agree they need to be or should be. This kind of thing is, in a sense, much more in one's own backyard than some other issues.
JohnH, I do not agree with the justification for keeping secrets through the fear of confusing people.

The reason why many do not have a grasp of the intricacies of social issues is precisely because there is not truthful progressive discussion of it that crosses that public-government line.

Yet, the way in which the information is given has to be done in a correct manner, news media tend to select the controversial or create controversy.
The vast majority of the time government secrecy covers up greed or some other near criminal abuse of power. I know that in the old days right-of-way for railways was a a huge money grab for greedy politicians and land speculators.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
Yes, that old "You wouldn't understand it. Trust us, we know what's good for the country" dodge doesn't fly with me.
I need to clarify something. I did not mean to imply in my previous post that I agreed with politicians withholding information from the public. I only meant to say that in certain circumstances it can be very tempting for politicians to withhold information. Particularly where that information is complex. I also used a bad example in that what was done was, for lack of a better word, evil.

Perhaps I should have used the example of welfare reform. For far too long the moderate left in this country ignored the unintended consequences of welfare. Multigenerational dependence, high birth rates among recipients, segregation of recipients and other consequences that may have been small but did have negative effects. In the end because politicians were oblivious to real public concerns and with limited debate Clinton caused a very flawed reform bill to be passed. Again I understand the political reasons why this was done. That does not mean I accept those reasons. Complex issues are difficult to reduce into 30 second TV ads.

Hypatia, I am taking you advice regarding my OP. I make no promises but I will spend some time composing a letter today.
Edited by JohnH on 09/22/2010 17:10
Infomercials are not enough, you need dedicated channels. We have handreds of tv channels in the UK, most of which are "(insert channel name here) + 1" meaning the same shite just repeated an hour later.

You could easily provide a few channels.
Unfortunately the nature of government is that someone somewhere will always be unhappy with it.
"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." - George Santayana
But having been presented with all of the facts, that is their issue.
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