Almanac

News - March 31, 2010

City to hire high-speed-rail lobbyist

by Sean Howell

The city of Menlo Park has hired a lobbyist to make the city's case to Sacramento when it comes to the California high-speed-rail project, and has devoted $200,000 for the upcoming fiscal year to rail issues.

The expenditures highlight the importance of the issue to city officials, as Menlo Park strains to balance its budget following the economic recession. The upcoming year will be a particularly crucial one for the rail system, with a decision pending on how high-speed trains would make their way through the city.

Ravi Mehta, the lobbyist in the city's employ, also advocates for Palo Alto on the issue. He works on a retainer of $5,000 per month, plus expenses. Mr. Mehta will represent the city to the rail agency board and to legislators, and will report to city officials on new developments, according to Mayor Rich Cline.

"It's not really equitable," Mr. Cline said. "The High-Speed Rail Authority has the ability to call a public hearing pretty much whenever they want. ... We have to schedule who's going to Sacramento, and most of the time it ends up being a resident. It's a great disadvantage for the city."

City officials spend a lot of time drafting and revising letters to the rail agency that end up going "straight into a file" once they reach Sacramento, Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said, adding that the city needs an advocate who's present at the meetings if it wants to be heard.

Ms. Fergusson sits on the city's high-speed rail subcommittee with Mr. Cline, who chairs a regional advocacy group made up of representatives from five Peninsula cities. Mr. Cline estimates that he spends 15 to 20 hours per month in his role on the committee, as much time as he devotes to other city business issues.

Part of the city's rail-related budget will go to hire experts who will help to interpret technical documents released by the rail agency. It's scheduled to publish an analysis in April of how the Caltrain corridor would accommodate high-speed trains.

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