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Menlo Park, Atherton join suit challenging HSR EIR

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  • 8/8 Redwood City Daily
    Published Friday, August 8, 2008, by the Redwood City Daily News Cities sue to block state s bullet train Menlo Park, Atherton among plaintiffs fighting
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 8, 2008
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      Published Friday, August 8, 2008, by the Redwood City Daily News

      Cities sue to block state's bullet train
      Menlo Park, Atherton among plaintiffs fighting Peninsula alignment

      By Will Oremus
      Daily News Staff Writer

      Menlo Park and Atherton are among a coalition of plaintiffs expected
      to file a lawsuit today against plans for a $40 billion bullet train
      from Los Angeles to San Francisco.

      The two Peninsula cities voted this week to join several
      environmental and rail groups in fighting the project's environmental
      certification. They argue it understates the damage the rail line's
      construction would cause on the Peninsula and elsewhere.

      The suit comes as voters statewide are beginning to consider a $10
      billion start-up bond for the project on the November ballot. If
      Proposition 1 passes, construction on the 800-mile high-speed rail
      network could begin by 2011.

      The lawsuit against the California High Speed Rail Authority extends
      a long-running controversy over the trains' route through the Bay
      Area. In July, the authority approved an environmental report
      concluding that the line should run up the Peninsula rather than
      through the East Bay.

      The decision thrilled some groups, including Caltrain, whose tracks
      would be widened, improved and elevated to accommodate the high-
      speed trains. It dismayed others, for a variety of reasons.

      Some rail advocacy groups, environmentalists, and cities such as
      Oakland cried that the East Bay was more in need of high-speed rail
      to combat sprawl. Menlo Park and Atherton joined the fray more out
      of concern that the widened, elevated tracks on the Peninsula would
      blight their cities and take land from neighboring property owners.

      "We have residents that have lived in Atherton more than 40 years
      along the tracks," said Atherton Council Member Charles Marsala.
      "Are they going to relocate these people?"

      Marsala and others also fear that the project's eventual cost will
      spiral far beyond current estimates, leaving taxpayers to make up
      the difference.

      Those disparate interests have joined forces in the lawsuit, which
      Attorney Stuart Flashman said he plans to file today in Sacramento
      County Superior Court.

      "A lot of the concern is that the (authority's) board wasn't
      given accurate information about the relative impacts of the two
      alignments," Flashman said. "The staff of the high speed rail
      authority, I don't know if I'd say they cooked the books, but they
      tilted things very strongly to make it look like (the Peninsula
      alignment) had a lot less impact than it does."

      In other words, Flashman said, the supposedly neutral environmental
      report was "pretty clearly manipulated by Sacramento interests."

      Not at all, countered Dan Leavitt, deputy director of the rail

      "We are fully prepared to defend the document," he said. "We
      believe the work was done soundly."

      A big advantage of the Peninsula alignment, Leavitt added, is that
      it doesn't require the trains to cross the San Francisco Bay --
      an extremely costly proposition. And while elevating the Caltrain
      tracks throughout the Peninsula would be expensive and potentially
      disruptive, the same would be true in the East Bay.

      Besides, Leavitt said, the electric trains -- which would slow from
      a top speed of 220 mph to about 100 or 125 in populated areas --
      would be quieter than Caltrain's diesels, and the elevated tracks
      would eliminate the need for horns and clanging crossing bells.

      For Menlo Park Council Member Kelly Fergusson, however, those
      positives are outweighed by the prospect of rail overpasses
      forming "this wall dividing our city."

      "I think that the high speed rail authority has shown a great deal
      of disrespect to these communities by completely ignoring our
      comments" in its environmental report, she said. Legal action is
      "unfortunately our only option at this point."

      E-mail Will Oremus at woremus@...
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