Viewpoint - July 7, 2010

Guest opinion: Suit was a distraction for rail authority

by Quentin L. Kopp

Aristotle wrote that "the law is reason free from passion."

No doubt there was great passion behind a lawsuit brought against the agencies working to build the nation's first high-speed rail system in California. But as a Superior Court judge ruled this week in dismissing the case, it was supported by precious little reason — much less the law.

The case was an unnecessary distraction from the important work being done throughout the Peninsula to inform and engage local officials and the public in the process of examining the alternatives being considered for the project. That's unfortunate, because gathering community opinion and suggestions is vital to building the best system we can.

Three opponents of the high-speed train had other ideas. They attempted to use a longstanding agreement between Union Pacific railroad and Caltrain officials on the Peninsula to head off the project. To do so, however, required misreading the agreement, misreading the facts, and misreading the law.

It's not entirely surprising that project opponents would misinterpret the Trackage Rights Agreement between Union Pacific and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board. After all, they were never parties to it in the first place. And, that encapsulates the hubris of their lawyers who knew their allegedly "pro bono" effort was a sham.

It's as if, after your next-door neighbor and you negotiate a pact about how you'll share in the use and upkeep of a fence between your properties, a third neighbor from down the street raises an objection. It's not his fence, or his property, or even his agreement. And from a legal perspective, his complaints are irrelevant.

In an attempt to ignore this rather large legal elephant in the room, opponents claimed that the expenditure of public funds on the project would be a waste, because Union Pacific would not agree to share the right-of-way through the Peninsula with high-speed trains.

Here, the facts got in the way. Union Pacific has not refused to work with Caltrain or the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Are there issues to be resolved as all sides work together to complete the project? Yes. But to suggest that cooperation cannot or will not occur is fanciful, contradicted by the both Union Pacific's public statements and the terms of the Trackage Rights Agreement itself, which dictates good-faith negotiations.

As a legal matter, this dispute is over. That's a welcome development for most Californians, who support high-speed rail as a way to create thousands of good-paying jobs, reduce air pollution, and provide us with a cheaper, faster and more convenient way to travel.

It's certainly good news for taxpayers, who will be spared the expense a protracted legal battle would have taken in even more time and money, for the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain, its regional partner in the project, as well as the court itself.

And while dismissal of this suit won't quiet the temper of those who oppose the project, for personal — not civic — reasons, this week's ruling will encourage them to join the discussion about how, and in what manner, to make high-speed rail work for the good of all, before heading to court again for another waste of taxpayer money to defeat another frivolous lawsuit.

That would mark a welcome and well-reasoned change in strategy.

A former State Senator and Superior Court Judge, Quentin L. Kopp serves on the board of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.


Posted by Anonymous, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2010 at 12:02 am

Oh, Mr. Kopp. You again feel the need to compare Apples to Oranges when it comes to your beloved high speed rail. First with the bogus ridership estimates- now with the issue of eminent domain. You bring up the "third neighbor-" a meddling fiend, bent on destroying progress. You make the allusion that the third neighbor is a metaphor for the cities fighting the construction of a high speed rail system. You have things reversed- the third neighbor is you- the high speed rail authority, Mr. Kopp. You are the one who is growing ever unpopular with the people whom your business is with. You are trampling over local opinion with reckless disregard for the very "community opinion" that you mention in your piece. The opinion of the community is clear, Mr. Kopp- we want you out. We don't want high speed rail. The waste of taxpayer money is not in defending a frivolous lawsuit (even though it is a travesty that taxpayers are forced to pay for the defense of this ridiculous project) but in the project itself. The waste of taxpayer money will stop not with the lawsuits, Mr. Kopp, but when you and the rest of the rail board are thrown out on your rears when this pet project of yours gets tossed out of the budget.

Posted by Roxie, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Jul 7, 2010 at 12:37 am

Mr. Kopps editorial is correct, the lawsuit was ridiculous and a waste of court resources and time as well as the HSR project resources. The people who filed the suit knew it was on vaporous legal ground--they sent it to court anyway for who knows what reason.

We need the high speed rail, the citizens of the state voted yes for it. Why is it when elections are not to a small group of people's liking they suddenly declare them null and void? Folks who live near train, sorry you bought a house there but you knew the tracks were there. The train will be much better if you work with the designers and engineers on decisions that need to be made in for the segments in your area, instead of stonewalling and pretending the state election authorizing high speed rail did not happen.

Mr. Kopp has worked for years on this project and I for one appreciate his work and the progress he has made on bringing high speed rail to the state. Thank you Mr. Kopp.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2010 at 7:09 am


it has nothing to do with living near the tracks. It has to do with the fact that HSR is NOT needed. It was sold to the electorate using bogus ridership numbers and a bogus business plan. It was sold as self financing. It is becoming quite clear that what the voters voted for is NOT what we are getting. HSR is a huge boondoggle that we, the tax payers, will be left holding the bag for if it is allowed to go forward.

Posted by no on HSR, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 7, 2010 at 9:47 am

HSR is a fraud that the voters bought because it came accompanied by seductive artwork and false promises. It was a big election year and most people didn't have the opportunity to do the research and find out the truth about this boondoggle. Remember, almost half the state voted against it, and don't tell me that half the state lives next to the tracks! (I don't, and I voted against it.)

Kopp is obviously biased, and just because he's put years into getting HSR build doesn't mean that we should give him what he wants. Many unbiased sources, including the state assembly's legislative analyst and the recent Berkeley study, have pointed out the many flaws in the HSR plan.

I love trains and will be using HSR later this month in Europe, but anyone who takes a hard look at the California plan can see the truth: it's simply a way to take the public's money and put it in the pockets of a small group of rich guys.

Posted by R.GORDON, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2010 at 9:54 am

R.GORDON is a registered user.

THE HSR IS INEVITABLE. Now, get over it, and think of yourselves as a community which resembles Versailles. It is a string of cities which will be well served and help the U.S. out of a hole...Most of all, it might add some nice flashing neons to the roads.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2010 at 10:51 am

To "Menlo Voter" ... you say "HSR is NOT needed." Yes, strictly speaking, after food, water and shelter, there isn't much that man wants that is really "needed." But the world, the state and our region will be a better place with HSR ... and the voters have spoken. Opponents have not convincingly articulated why HSR has long enjoyed great success in so many places around the world -- to the point where there is hardly a major country in the world that either does not have or is not planning to build it. Those that do have it, keep building more as fast as they are able.

So what is this special knowledge Peninsula HSR foes have that nobody else does about what a terrible thing HSR is? And what are the costs and implications of not having it? Opponents never bother to discuss that much either.

It's hardly surprising that opposition (increasingly in the guise of all manner of civic and altruistic fiscal and societal "concerns" over ridership and viability, etc.) varies inversely with proximity to the planned route ... but the Caltrain line has been in continuous operation with steam and diesel commuter, intercity and freight trains ever since the 1860's.

It's no surprise that as population and travel demand grows that this is a logical route and place for additional tracks and trains. (Just as it's no surprise that new freeway lanes are added to existing freeways over time.)

Instead of needlessly wasting money and time on killing the project (only to be build later at even greater cost), let's focus on making sure the HSRA builds HSR the best way possible for everyone involved. Yes, there will be compromises and impacts. (We don't demand that highways be undergrounded every time they are widened with a couple more lanes ... why then should we demand it of rail? And why should anyone who makes a big enough legal and political stink get property-enriching tunnels for their community when there is hardly a community in the world that wouldn't demand a rail tunnel if they knew they could make everyone else pay for it?)

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2010 at 12:38 pm

Reality Check:

you say opponents have not convincingly articulated why HSR has long enjoyed great success in so many places. That is not correct. It has been articulated here many times. Two things - higher population densities along the HSR corridors than we have here and they are all heavily subsidized. The voters were told this HSR would not need to be subsidized. Given the fact that the ridership numbers that was based upon are wrong, clearly that will not be true. We do not need another subsidized transportation system. This state can't pay for what it has.

Yes, the voters have spoken. They spoke after being fed piles of bullsh*t.

Posted by Reality Check, a resident of another community
on Jul 7, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Not at all categorically true about higher densities and subsidies. And new and better ridership study using more recent data may well show even higher ridership ... so be careful what you ask for on the ridership/revenue numbers, because the scuttlebutt is that the new HSRA CEO will probably make sure you get it.

Posted by Don't be naive, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2010 at 12:52 pm

I'm currently in Europe and have been riding HSR, even today. Lovely trips through the countryside, the edges of towns, and... tunnels. I have not seen a single backyard. And I have been looking. To be clear, HSR does not run through dense residential neighborhoods. Reality Check writes of building HSR "the best way possible," but that is no one's reality given the cost. Even Hon Kopp will be the first to tell you that. Putting HSR 40 ft in the air, with catenary wires 20 ft above that running though the centers of long-established towns and neighborhoods is lunacy. The recent reports blasting the Authority's business plan and ridership study are the real issues here. California voters were sold a bill of goods. If we want to discuss reality, let's stick to the facts and leave the rhetoric behind.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 7, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Great reality - more cooked up numbers.

Posted by Henry Riggs, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jul 8, 2010 at 11:08 am

I grudgingly voted for high speed rail in spite of the obvious fallacy of the numbers because transit serves us all, directly or indirectly - the infrastructure of transit is never paid back by the fares, that's just reality; out interstate system wasn't either, it was 90% federal money.

That said, the only way HSR will be acceptable through our tight neighborhoods is underground, the way modern trains run in any urban area. Until the authority can budget for that, HSR needs to run LA to San Jose and then shift to the Baby Bullet run to SF that was recently inaugurated. Pending a tunnel project, the HSR funds for the peninsula should be spent in support of the Baby Bullet.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jul 8, 2010 at 6:55 pm

Henry Riggs, do you think anyone has the $10,000 per inch that it takes to dig a tunnel for HSR? There is no chance.

Posted by oh spare me for real, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jul 9, 2010 at 9:04 am

Mr. Kopp, you write that dismissal of the suit is "certainly good news for taxpayers, who will be spared the expense a protracted legal battle would have taken in even more time and money, for the California High-Speed Rail Authority and Caltrain, its regional partner in the project, as well as the court itself."

What would really be good news for the taxpayers is if this poorly conceived (with your help) project were abandoned and we wouldn't have to waste another dime on it. Millions if not billions have already been wasted. This is the wrong direction for public transit in this state, and the way it was sold to the voters is something PT Barnum would be proud of.

Even if it were built (and I hope it won't be), it will be a financial sink hole for the taxpayer forever. We need real mass transit options for getting to and from work, not this joke of a "solution."

Posted by no on HSR, a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Jul 9, 2010 at 10:43 am

Those of us who live or work in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Redwood City, and points west have yet to deal with real traffic snarls. But just wait until the new medical center, Bohannon behemoth, and Cargill project come online. By 2020, we may be dealing with daily LA-type gridlock.

If we're going to come up with forward-thinking solutions to traffic, that should be where we start. Sure, it would be nice to be able to get to Disneyland two hours faster, but HSR doesn't solve any existing or future foreseeable problems. It's a solution without a raison d'etre.

Posted by HSR SUPPORTER, a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Anyone unable to look ten years ahead when HSR will hopefully be finished and not see the need has clouded or no vision. Freeways will not be expanded beyond their current scope nor will airports. We should not use airports for dozens of LA-Bay Area flights per day.
Their capacity should be used for longer distance, including international, flights.

Posted by R.GORDON, a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2010 at 2:26 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

It is apparent not many people have traveled on HSR across almost every country in the world and their convenience cannot be underestimated.
Tell me "no on HSR" how we will be able to maintain our beautifully kept up highways, roads, bridges and other pristine and perfect speedways if automobiles continue to eat away at the asphalt and cement?
What an awful thing to do to our highway system especially now that so many electric cars, and green technology will be coming to drivers who use those roads?
In an article in today's FORBES a roundabout question is asked about the development of our new fuel concious transportation....NOT!
Go to the following web link if you HATE HSR:
Web Link
We will not need no stinkin' HSR.
Reality does seem to hit a sinkhole when it approaches the area which collectively was called Silicon Valley...
HSR will not make money for citizens, but electric cars will most certainly make a few entrepreneurs very rich already. Read FORBES.

Posted by R.GORDON, a resident of another community
on Jul 9, 2010 at 2:30 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

IF you have a problem reading the GUARDIAN, simply type in TESLA in the SEARCH box.......all the information with names of those who are trying to keep our Peninsula HSR free by their green products.

Posted by ANONYMOUS, a resident of Menlo Park: Fair Oaks
on Jul 9, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I agree with Mr. R. Gordon. High-speed rail is coming. There's nothing we can do about it. The time to SELL is now, before buyers figure out what a disaster this place will be in a couple of years. I'm putting my house on the market at the end of the month. I recommend the rest of you do the same thing AFTER I'VE SOLD MY PLACE!!!!

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