Despite our last-minute suggestion to Barstow City Council that spending $21,000 for a public relations firm to help fight a high-speed train through the desert was an unneeded expense, City Council moved forward anyway.
Based on the comments of those who voted in favor of hiring Public Management Advisors to raise awareness about the impact of the DesertXpress train on Barstow, the decision seems based on emotions. The train, designed to travel between Victorville and Las Vegas, would pass through Barstow without stopping. Theoretically, this would mean a significant drop in travelers passing through Barstow, and pass-through traffic stopping at our restaurants and outlet malls is one of Barstow's biggest producers of revenue.
This assumes that the train's business model actually succeeds — a prediction we are not prepared to accept for the moment. We just do not visualize SoCal drivers struggling to make it up through the Cajon Pass and then — once they have completed the most frustrating, difficult part of the journey — abandoning their vehicles and hopping on a train in Victorville. We don't see it happening in numbers enough to support a train line. We don't believe the prediction of 20 percent fewer cars on Interstate 15.
But regardless, now that the city has embarked on this public relations endeavor, we would like to suggest City Council think carefully about its tactics. We got the impression from the comments made by Mayor Pro Tem Julie Hackbarth-McIntyre and Councilman Tim Saenz that they believe that if the city publicizes the impact the train would have on Barstow to the residents of other communities, that this would somehow lead to some sort of opposition elsewhere.
We don't believe this is the case, and a comment by Community and Economic Development Director Ron Rector really highlighted the city's lack of clear thinking in this matter. Rector said that Victorville residents were "oblivious" to the train project. That's simply not true. Our sister newspaper in Victorville, the Daily Press, has run a number of stories about the train, and have reprinted several of our stories as well. Those who follow these stories in Victorville know full well what it means.
The relevant questions are, "Do they care if the train has a negative impact on Barstow? And why should they?" Before embarking on this public relations campaign you have to be able to answer this question. Reverse the situation: If Barstow residents could easily bypass Victorville and the Cajon Pass and get down to Ontario, would we care about the economic loss Victorville would face from fewer shoppers from Barstow? Did the effects of the highway system on Route 66 stop progress? We already know the answer to that question. We cannot argue that other people should deliberately inconvenience themselves for our benefit and expect it to have any impact.
We seem to be trying to argue "If the train gets built, people will be able to skip past Barstow!" Well, that's the same argument being used to market the train to these very same people in the first place! City Council needs to be clearheaded about this campaign. We cannot approach this publicity campaign on the assumption that other communities care about what happens to Barstow. We need to assume the opposite and figure out a message that does hit them where they do care.
Hint: Go after the federal funding. Go after all those people who won't be riding the train, but will be expected to help front the money for it to be built. But this would also require setting aside the delusion that the ridiculously expensive MagLev train alternative will ever be built as well. That would be admitting that the entire high-speed rail system plans for California are nothing but massive pork projects. Can the city stomach that argument?