Published Friday, April 16, 2010, by the San Mateo County Times
Peninsula High-Speed Rail Critic Sues State, Caltrain
By Mike Rosenberg
San Mateo County Times
A Menlo Park bullet train critic sued the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain on Thursday in hope of stopping the massive development, the third such lawsuit emanating from the small Peninsula city in the past 20 months.
Morris Brown filed the taxpayer's lawsuit <http://tinyurl.com/y2shnbt
> in Sacramento Superior Court and essentially seeks to block construction of high-speed rail and its companion project to electrify the Caltrain railroad.
His legal argument is one many high-speed rail enemies have been preaching for the past year.
Brown cites language in Proposition 1A, the $9.95 billion bond voters approved in November 2008 to launch the project. He said the legislation that created the bond requires the rail authority to gather all the costs of the $43 billion project before spending Prop. 1A money on construction.
The rail authority has about one-fourth of its financing in place. It plans to start building the railroad in late 2012 and pick up the rest of the money from private investors and government grants throughout the decade.
The bond language states the rail authority can use 10 percent of the money for planning. After that, it cannot tap into Prop 1A until it "identifies the sources of all funds to be used and anticipates time of receipt thereof based on offered commitments by private parties and authorizations, allocations or other assurances received from governmental agencies."
The authority has stated where it expects each chunk of funding to come from and says it is confident in its financial planning. But it has received neither pledges for financing from private investors nor guarantees of future grants from governments. It remains unclear what the authority will have to show, in a legal sense, to demonstrate an investor's "offered commitment" or a government's "authorization, allocation or other assurances."
Brown's lawsuit says if the rail authority were to start the project with only partial funding, it risks having to abandon it midway, which would constitute a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Brown further argues the $9 billion in bond money earmarked specifically for the high-speed rail project should not be used to electrify the Caltrain line. The rail agencies have said electrification qualifies as a project for high-speed rail funding because bullet trains cannot run through the Bay Area using the current diesel system, and Caltrain can afford only 60 percent of the $1.23 billion project on its own.
Leaders at the rail authority and Caltrain, which received the lawsuit on Thursday, said they would not comment on the litigation.
"Except to say that the authority is committed to building this project right and in a way that is within the letter of the law," said rail authority deputy director Jeff Barker.
Brown's Redwood City-based lawyer and the lawsuit's author is Mike Brady, his neighbor. Along with a third neighbor, Martin Engel, the trio for years has been among the most vocal California high-speed rail opponents.
This is the third lawsuit filed against the rail authority in the past two years, and all originated from Menlo Park, which has roughly 30,000 residents.
In August, Menlo Park resident Russell Peterson sued the rail authority and Caltrain in a San Mateo County court, a case that has since been transferred to Sacramento and awaits a June 15 hearing. Brady is one of Peterson's two attorneys in that case, which has to do with rights to retrofit the tracks on which the rail authority intends to zip its bullet trains.
In August 2008, the city of Menlo Park, along with Atherton and four environmental groups, also sued the authority in a Sacramento court over the agency's decision to pick the route that will bring the train up the Pacheco Pass to the Caltrain line.
The plaintiffs won part of that lawsuit, which led the rail authority to revise part of its planning documents but not change the project route.
Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation. Contact him at 650-348-4324.
[BATN: See also:
Peninsula cities to consider NIMBY repeal of Prop 1A HSR bond
Peninsula Cities group to discuss NIMBY bid to repeal HSR Prop 1A
Letter: Call for cities to try to change or revoke HSR Prop 1A
Will the Peninsula Cities Coalition (PCC) Try To Repeal Prop 1A?
Why three Menlo Park NIMBYs may be best hope for HSR foes
Orange Co. Republican's bill AB2121 would eliminate HSR funding