Almanac

News - July 14, 2010

Atherton: Carlson can vote on rail matters, attorney says

by Renee Batti

An analysis by Atherton's town attorney gives City Councilman Jerry Carlson the green light to continue participating in decisions regarding the high-speed rail project, although his home is near the railroad right-of-way that the massive project will impact.

Attorney Wynne Furth issued a report on July 9 to address the concern by a number of residents that Mr. Carlson was violating the state's conflict of interest laws by not recusing himself from council actions regarding the rail project because of his home's proximity to the tracks.

He is a member of the Peninsula Cities Consortium, representing Atherton on high-speed rail issues, and he voted with his council colleagues to join in a lawsuit with other cities challenging the adequacy of the project's environmental impact report.

To help with Ms. Furth's analysis, town staff studied Mr. Carlson's property, taking measurements and determining that he lives nearly 710 feet from the right-of-way. The threshold for establishing that a council member has a conflict of interest is 300 feet of the right-of-way if other conditions are present, according to Ms. Furth's report.

Other factors that must be considered are size of property and the number of other properties under separate ownership that are located within a 500-foot radius of the right-of-way, the report said. Mr. Carlson's house met those requirements as well, she determined.

In neighboring Menlo Park, Councilman Andy Cohen has recused himself from voting on high-speed rail matters since the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) advised him that he should do so.

The difference between the two determinations may be linked to the size of the two towns. Ms. Furth cited FPPC law that applies to "small jurisdictions" — less than 30,000 in population and less than 10 square miles of land, she wrote. The rules governing a larger jurisdiction differ.

Menlo Park is considerably larger than Atherton, and has more than 30,000 residents.

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