MERCED — Merced County leaders have been doing all they can in recent weeks to show how much they support high-speed rail and want the heavy maintenance hub to come to this county.
Two governing bodies, the Merced County Board of Supervisors and the Merced City Council, passed resolutions in recent weeks supporting alignment A2 for the project, which runs along the Highway 99 corridor. And almost every city on the east side of the county has supported the project in general.
But Thursday night took the cake. More than 620 local and state dignitaries, from outgoing California Assembly Speaker Karen Bass to Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani and Merced College President Ben Duran, gathered for a night of back slapping and boosterism at the Merced County Fairgrounds. The crowd had come for a dinner fund-raiser for the Greater Merced High-Speed Rail Committee.
"This is an issue that affects north and south, right and left on the political spectrum," said California High-Speed Rail Authority Board Chair Curt Pringle to the crowd of local leaders.
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The event, which cost $75 a seat, was replete with two open bars and a steak dinner. Each table was topped with sleek fliers and each seat had a tote bag for the diners to take home.
The dinner had corporate sponsors too, which included Rabobank, Delta Sierra Beverage, Joseph Gallo Farms and Razzari Automotive, among others.
The whole affair, aside from gathering some of the county's most powerful and influential people into one room, appeared to be a show of unity for the consumption of the High-Speed Rail Authority members who had come for the show.
Congressman Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced, who could not attend, even sent a video message from Washington that was projected on a screen inside the hall. "My heart is with all of you there," he said to the room.
While the rail project is gathering steam — the state received more than $2 billion in federal grants recently — the county is still a year off from finding out if the rail authority will choose Merced County as the site for the project's heavy maintenance yard.