Published Tuesday, March 3, 2009, by Palo Alto Online
Palo Alto may sue state high-speed rail authority
High-speed train agency denies city's request to reconsider alternative routes for proposed rail line
By Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly Staff
Palo Alto community outrage and City Council skepticism will not
stop the state agency in charge of the high-speed rail project from running the line on the Caltrain corridor through the Peninsula,
rail officials said Monday night.
Rod Diridon, a member of the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors, told the council the authority has no intention of revisiting routing the high-speed trains through the Altamont Pass east of Livermore, despite requests from Palo Alto and other cities.
The council discussed the tunnel projects with rail authority officials while dozens of residents filled the Council Chambers to voice concerns and vent their outrage about the Peninsula segment of the proposed 800-mile $45 billion rail line that would connect San Francisco to Los Angeles.
City staff issued a report last week detailing Palo Alto's concerns and laying out issues the authority should consider in its Environmental Impact Report on the section between San Francisco and San Jose.
The top two requests on the staff's list are for the agency to evaluate all track-elevation options with the same level of detail
and for the agency to reexamine using Altamont Pass or U.S. Highway 101 and Interstate 280 up the Peninsula before it finalizes its
Both Diridon and the agency's regional manager, Dominic Spaethling, told the council that the rail authority will examine all viable options for track designs. But Diridon made it clear the authority will not revisit its program-level Environmental Impact Review, a broad document it completed last year that identifies the Pacheco
Pass as its preferred rail route.
"We're not going to reopen the program-level review," Diridon said after Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto suggested the agency revisit its decision and explain how it chose Pacheco Pass.
Palo Alto isn't the only city calling for a reexamination of routes. A coalition that includes Menlo Park and Atherton filed a suit against the authority in August seeking to get the authority to reconsider Altamont Pass. The group filed its opening brief last month.
But while Palo Alto has not joined that suit, several council members suggested Monday night they may consider suing if the city's concerns aren't met.
The council's unanimously agreed to create a council subcommittee focused on the high-speed rail project, to support the creation of
a memorandum of understanding between various Peninsula cities to streamline negotiations with the authority, and to direct staff to work on a regional rail plan.
The council also asked City Attorney Gary Baum to research the ongoing litigation and to discuss it with the council in a closed session. Councilman Larry Klein also asked Baum to report publicly on the litigation at a future meeting, after the council's closed session.
Baum said Palo Alto is unable to join the ongoing suit against the rail authority because the statute of limitations had expired. But several members of the public urged the council to step in as amicus curiae, a designation that would allow the city to participate in
the lawsuit without being a party in it.
Council members and residents also continued to lobby for deep tunneling and lashed out against a proposal by the agency to elevate the high-speed rail tracks, a move that would require a 15-foot barrier to stretch along the Caltrain corridor.
Resident Helen Sandoval asked the council to take a stand against
"I urge you to prevent construction of the biggest eyesore and graffiti magnet ever seen in Palo Alto," Sandoval said.
Klein called the wall it a "bad, bad, bad idea" and a "nonstarter."
Others lambasted the rail authority for leaving the city with few good choices and described its planning process as one that stultifies local policies and opinions.
Vice Mayor Jack Morton complained that the authority is acting as
if some of the most critical questions surrounding the project have already been decided.
"Seems to me they're on an express train and we're on a bicycle
trying to catch up," Morton said.
A few speakers expressed enthusiasm for the proposed system, which
is slated to whisk passengers through the state in about a decade.
Resident Andrew Bogan called high-speed rail a "fantastic way to travel" and urged the city to support the project.
"It's not a minor effect, it's a transforming transportation project for our state," Bogan said.
[BATN: See also:
Meno Park, Atherton want HSR underground if not via Altamont Pass
Palo Alto staff: tunnel HSR or switch back to Altamont Pass route
ACE seeks funds for fast, publicly-owned Altamont Pass rail route
HSRA sued by cities, groups supporting Altamont Pass route
Oblivious Palo Alto NIMBYs suddenly notice decade-old HSR plans
Updated HSRA business plan also backs Altamont Pass route (8 Nov 08)
Where was Menlo Park's public discussion on HSR lawsuit?
Letter: Menlo Park right to join lawsuit challenging HSR EIR
Letter: Menlo Park should rescind decision to join HSR lawsuit
Editorial: Can NIMBY Menlo Park, Atherton stop HSR juggernaut?
Menlo Park, Atherton join lawsuit to invalidate HSR EIR
Menlo Park, Atherton join suit against Pacheco-biased HSR EIR
Menlo Park, Atherton join suit challenging HSR EIR