Menlo Park, Atherton join suit challenging HSR EIR
- 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
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@...