WASHINGTON — The San Joaquin Valley's competition for a new high-speed rail maintenance facility came east this week, with Fresno potentially laying some tracks.
Friday, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin said she had recruited several other California mayors to endorse Fresno's bid for the maintenance facility and its accompanying jobs. The Californians were among some 230 city leaders convening for the U.S. Conference of Mayors' annual winter meeting.
"Here is a good spot to interact with the other mayors, and get their support," Swearengin said Friday.
She declined to identify the other mayors supporting Fresno's plan until she could get their endorsements in writing. Among Fresno's competitors for the facility is Merced County, which has suggested putting the facility on the former Castle Air Force Base. The Merced City Council has endorsed that plan.
Along with her mayoral counterparts from Modesto, Turlock and other cities, Swearengin had many opportunities to interact with fellow professionals.
"It's important to be engaged," Turlock Mayor John Lazar said when asked about the three-day conference.
The politicking at the 78th winter mayors' conference, which started Wednesday and finished Friday, happened onstage and behind the scenes.
Following tradition, President Barack Obama and some of his top advisers met with the mayors Thursday at the White House. He promised that his fiscal 2011 budget, expected next month, will "back up this urban vision by putting an end to throwing money after what doesn't work — and by investing responsibly in what does."
Mayors conveyed their own assessments to the president's team. These included a 118-page report on metropolitan economic conditions showing that Modesto, Stockton and Fresno had the nation's highest unemployment rates as of November.
"People in the valley are very upset," Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour said, adding that federal funding "has got to go to the local cities, to help get jobs."
Plea for federal funds
Lazar and Ridenour drove the point home in a meeting with Rep. Dennis Cardoza, D-Merced. The mayors don't necessarily expect a second stimulus package following the $787 billion package approved in February, but they say they want federal money to arrive directly rather than to come through the sticky hands of state government.
During the conference's various meetings at the Capital Hilton, mayors pursued unique agendas. For Swearengin, this included rallying support for the high-speed rail maintenance facility.
The California High Speed Rail Authority has announced plans to build the facility somewhere in the San Joaquin Valley. It would serve the system that's eventually supposed to link Los Angeles and San Francisco, and cities in between, with trains running up to 220 mph.
The maintenance facility would be big, Swearengin said, with an $800 million construction budget and an annual payroll for about 1,500.
Last Friday, Fresno city and county officials offered 700 acres near Highway 99.
Other communities have their own ideas. More than 15 sites have been proposed, including several near Chowchilla, in Kern and Merced counties, near Stockton and several in Gilroy.
Construction could begin by 2012. Officials also hope to obtain stimulus funds for the project from the $8 billion set aside for high-speed rail in the federal stimulus package.