Almanac

News - August 11, 2010

High-speed-rail directors told to avoid Midpeninsula

by Gennady Sheyner

Two members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board of directors have been advised by agency staff not to participate in public hearings on the Midpeninsula, where residents and elected officials have persistently criticized and occasionally jeered the voter-approved rail project.

Rod Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor and member of the rail authority's board of directors, said at an Aug. 5 board meeting that he and fellow board member Quentin Kopp were instructed to avoid the Midpeninsula region, where city leaders adamantly oppose above-ground rail designs.

Two of the cities in the area, Menlo Park and Atherton, have sued the rail authority, forcing it to rewrite several sections of its environmental impact report for the Peninsula segment. A third city, Palo Alto, filed a friend-of-the-court brief in support of the plaintiffs in the case.

The rail authority on Aug. 5 unanimously approved a Supplemental Alternatives Analysis for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the rail line. The document essentially eliminates the two locally popular options: covered trenches and deep tunnels, and recommends designs that rely on at-grade tracks, aerial viaducts and some short tunnels.

The rail authority approved the report with little discussion despite pleas from many Peninsula rail officials and residents who asked the board to keep the tunneling options on the table.

Just before their vote, Mr. Diridon said he has "a little impatience" about retaining all the design options that were previously identified and reaffirmed that the rail system will go through the Peninsula and along the Pacheco Pass.

He also asked Peninsula residents to "come together" and help the rail authority come up with a solution that's both acceptable and affordable.

"We've got to move from our entrenched positions," Mr. Diridon said, with no hint of irony.

He quickly clarified that by "we" he means the residents because the rail authority isn't allowed to reach conclusions before adequately studying all options. This was too much for one member of the audience, who interrupted Mr. Diridon with a shout of, "Give me a break!"

Mr. Diridon told the audience that the interruption was "really rude" and that interruptions like that one was one of the reasons he and Mr. Kopp no longer make presentations on the Peninsula.

"Last time we were there, you shouted us down," Mr. Diridon said. "That's not democracy. That's a sick kind of process."

Mr. Diridon said he would be willing to return if people were more polite.

"I'll come back and meet with you any time that you be polite and let me meet with you," he added.

Not all directors are avoiding the Peninsula. Board Chair Curt Pringle last month toured the Caltrain corridor with elected officials from Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto and Mountain View.

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