Though critics are often referred to as NIMBY (not in my backyard) opponents because the planned route would impact many Peninsula residents who live along the rail corridor, recent glitches in the authority's ridership claims and oversight ability has now caught Mr. Simitian's attention.
He told the Palo Alto Weekly that these and other problems reflect "an unfortunate trend that needs to be turned around." He and his colleagues have decided to give the authority until Feb. 1 to present a list of ways to remedy the identified problems or risk losing some state funding for the estimated $43 billion rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles, he said.
Earlier last week the Peninsula Cities Consortium (Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto, Burlingame and Belmont) issued a statement that said the authority has "an enormous credibility problem" after an independent review uncovered problems in the ridership projections.
The statement from the consortium's chair, Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline, is highly critical of the authority, citing mistakes found by the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, a professional group commissioned by the state Legislature. Only with a high number of riders can the authority justify the huge construction costs of the project.
And that wasn't all from Mr. Cline, who also noted recent critical reports from the Office of the State Auditor and the Legislative Analyst's Office, and he challenged the authority's assertion that when built, the system would be financially self-sustaining.
The consortium also is concerned that the "key problems may not be resolved because of the intense pressure being exerted by the authority's desire to qualify for federal stimulus funding." Construction must begin by September 2012 on the San Francisco to San Jose segment to qualify California for a $2.25 billion grant. Overall, the authority hopes to get about $17 billion in federal grants, although only $2.25 billion has been committed so far.
"Common sense is absent from the high-speed rail discussion," Mr. Cline said. "Right now the authority plans to select final alignment and release its draft environmental impact report by December of this year under an extremely rushed project schedule that is dictated solely by the desire for federal funds."
"The project is suffering from an enormous credibility problem, due to its widely criticized business plan, faulty ridership numbers and the absence of funding to carry out the project statewide — let alone offer realistic alternatives for the section planned on the Peninsula," Mr. Cline said.
Looking ahead, Mr. Cline and the consortium are concerned that "there is no stated plan for paying to operate high-speed rail once it is built, and we fear local taxpayers may be left holding the bag."
Given the High-Speed Rail Authority's lackluster performance so far, the entire state should be worried about the ability of the authority to manage and build this multi-billion-dollar project on time and on budget. Peninsula residents whose homes back up to the rail corridor may have raised the initial red flags about this project, but now their concerns are proving to be far more than just NIMBY criticisms.