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Menlo Park, Atherton join lawsuit to invalidate HSR EIR

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  • 8/13 Menlo Park Almanac
    Published Wednesday, August 13, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac Menlo Park and Atherton join high-speed rail standoff Cities sign on to lawsuit against Pacheco
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 13, 2008
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      Published Wednesday, August 13, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac

      Menlo Park and Atherton join high-speed rail standoff

      Cities sign on to lawsuit against Pacheco Pass route; state officials
      confident it will be dismissed.

      By Rory Brown

      Menlo Park and Atherton officials don't want high-speed passenger
      trains zooming through town, but state officials say the local
      segment of the Caltrain corridor is a key to connecting Northern
      California and Southern California by train.

      Now the court will have a say in the matter.

      Both cities joined a group of environmental and rail nonprofits suing
      the California High Speed Rail Authority on the basis the authority
      picked an environmentally insensitive route in plans to connect San
      Francisco and Los Angeles with electric trains that would reach
      speeds up to 220 miles per hour. The trains would not stop in Menlo
      Park or Atherton, but a station is tentatively planned for either
      Palo Alto or Redwood City.

      The lawsuit was filed Aug. 8 in Sacramento County Superior Court, and
      both city councils voted Aug. 5 in separate closed-session meetings
      to join the lawsuit. Neither city is required to help cover the costs
      of the suit, according to Atherton City Attorney Marc Hynes and Menlo
      Park City Manager Glen Rojas.

      The lawsuit comes as high-speed rail supporters are trying to build
      momentum for Proposition 1, the $9.95 billion ballot measure that
      would provide the first wave of funding for the high-speed rail
      project, and is expected to be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

      The lawsuit won't keep Proposition 1 off the ballot, but if
      successful, it could require the authority to conduct more strenuous
      environmental review, adding costs and delays to the estimated $45
      billion project.

      Behind the Lawsuit

      The lawsuit is being spearheaded by environmental and rail nonprofit
      groups that were previous supporters of the high-speed train project,
      but have since become vocal critics of the rail authority's selection
      of the Pacheco Pass as the route to connect trains from the Central
      Valley to the Bay Area.

      Under the Pacheco plan, high-speed trains would connect to Gilroy
      from the Central Valley and shoot up the Caltrain corridor to connect
      to San Francisco. That route would cut through sensitive wetland
      areas, encourage suburban sprawl and serve fewer riders than the
      Altamont Pass route, according to the suing nonprofits.

      Under the Altamont plan, trains would continue north into the San
      Joaquin Valley before heading west and crossing a new bridge across
      the Bay to connect to the Caltrain line -- a route that could still
      pass through portions of Menlo Park and Atherton or could bypass the
      cities entirely.

      High-speed rail officials are standing by the environmental reports
      that say Pacheco Pass is the best route.

      "We are confident that the environmental work was done appropriately
      and the findings of that work are sound," said Dan Leavitt, deputy
      director for the high-speed rail authority. "We're confident the
      environmental documents will hold up against any lawsuit."

      The nonprofits leading the lawsuit include the Planning and
      Conservation League, the Transportation Solutions Defense and
      Educational Fund, the California Rail Foundation and Bay Rail
      Alliance.

      Local impacts

      It's no secret that Menlo Park and Atherton officials are more
      concerned with the local impacts of grade separations than the
      regional concerns expressed by the nonprofits leading the lawsuit.

      The project would require grade separations -- building overpasses
      or underpasses to separate the tracks from the roadway at six local
      intersections — resulting in years-long construction impacts for
      homes and businesses located near the Caltrain tracks.

      "It's about leverage," said Menlo Park Councilman Richard Cline.
      "This is not a position on high-speed rail, it's a stake in the
      ground for Menlo Park to have a voice."

      While Atherton officials have long been opposed to high-speed trains
      zooming through town, the closed-session vote was the first action
      regarding the project taken by Menlo Park council members.

      The sudden closed-session vote "surprised" Judge Quentin Kopp, chair
      of the high-speed rail authority board, but he said the lawsuit
      "should be thrown out" and recent polling suggests the high-speed
      rail bond measure will pass in November and move forward as planned.

      "I'm surprised that without any notice, Menlo Park apparently decided
      to join a lawsuit," a chuckling Judge Kopp told The Almanac. "I am
      confident the lawsuit will be rejected."

      Menlo Park Councilman John Boyle, the lone council member of either
      city to vote against joining the lawsuit, said in Menlo Park's case,
      the city should study the potential impacts -- positive and negative
      -- of high-speed rail before signing on to a lawsuit regarding the
      project.

      "It sure seems like the cart before the horse," Mr. Boyle said. "To
      take a position before the public even sees the pros and cons of if
      the issue -- I don't think that's how we should do this."

      The two councils' decision to join the lawsuit pleased local high-
      speed rail critics -- many of whom own homes or businesses near the
      Caltrain tracks, and would be severely impacted by the construction
      and operation of a high-speed rail line in their respective backyards.

      "I'm ecstatic as you can be about a lawsuit," said Felton Gables
      resident Russ Peterson, a former high-speed rail supporter who has
      become a critic of the project. "We're told there will be impacts
      and they'll be mitigated, but it's never really been defined what
      those impacts or mitigations are going to be."
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