Without state and local intervention, San Joaquin Valley cities with high-speed rail stations will become sleeper communities, farming out tech workers on express trains to the Bay Area and Los Angeles, a report released Wednesday by nonprofit think-tank SPUR argues.
While the Central Valley could serve to supply the cheap housing the Bay Area has so far failed to provide its own workers, report author Egon Terplan says that outcome would fail to capitalize on perhaps the single greatest infrastructure investment this state will make in the entire century. Rather than being the tide that lifts all boats, high-speed rail could exacerbate already-stark income disparities between the two regions, he said.
If it’s done right, Terplan said those Central Valley cities can reverse years of high unemployment and disinvestment and become incubators for fledgling companies seeking cheaper rents outside the urban poles while still staying only a one- to two-hours’ commute away from either end, he said.
California’s metro area knowledge organizations operate largely on an outdated Industrial Age, commuting-based model. That has concentrated demand for housing and residential development in metro areas. That demand in turn has boosted housing prices to unaffordable levels in the Golden State, sending workers to more distant locales where housing is cheaper like the state’s Central Valley region.
This report suggests the state’s high speed rail system could begin a redistribution of knowledge work outside of the high cost metros of Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco by shrinking the distance and time between them and Central Valley locations. However as noted above, “only” a one or two hour commute isn’t a trivial matter if done on a daily basis. It adds up to the equivalent of one or two additional workdays each week.
High speed rail should instead support a once — or at most twice — weekly trip to a metro center office or other meeting location. How? By complementing it with another and arguably more vital 21st century infrastructure: fiber optic to the premise telecommunications connections. High speed rail can move bodies faster than automobiles. But fiber can move knowledge work far faster in mere seconds, virtually eliminating the distance between a knowledge worker in the Central Valley and Los Angeles and the Bay Area.