Almanac

News - August 25, 2010

Atherton roundup: town calls on feds to halt funding for state's high-speed rail project

by Dave Boyce

The proposed elevated high-speed railroad would be akin to a six- to eight-lane freeway bisecting Atherton — "a blight" on the community, say members of the Atherton City Council.

That sentiment was expressed in a letter to federal officials, approved Aug. 18 by all five members of the Atherton council, and calling on the federal government to halt funding for the California high-speed rail project.

There were intimations of support for the high-speed rail at the Aug. 18 council meeting, but with provisos: that the trains not pass through Atherton on their way to San Francisco, and that if they do, that they do so below ground.

Having heard from three or four speakers whose opinions ran in that same vein, the council members unanimously approved the letter to the Federal Railway Administration and local members of Congress, opposing the California High-Speed Rail Authority's application for stimulus money.

The city pointed out that the application did not contain any below-grade options, including open trenches, on the Midpeninsula.

Other complaints against the rail project included ill-considered funding schemes, poor analysis of passenger demand, unexplained rejections of alternative routes, illegalities, and simply being out of step with contemporary urban history.

San Francisco, the council members noted, demolished the elevated and earthquake-damaged Embarcadero freeway to "create a more livable city."

And, the letter asks, if the train goes below ground as it approaches the San Francisco's Transbay terminal, why can't that be done on the Peninsula?

Council OKs refund of road-impact fees

By a 4-1 vote, the Atherton City Council agreed Aug. 18 to refund about $427,000 in road-impact fees to builders who engaged in major home construction or remodels between Aug. 17, 2007, and Sept. 18, 2009. During that time, the town had an elevated road-impact fee.

The fee was charged to developers to compensate the town for damage done to roads by construction vehicles.

Councilman Jim Dobbie was the sole opponent of the refund. He has contended that the road damage by heavy trucks justified the fees, and that the fees are not a disincentive to construction.

Many cities charge the fee to developers and contractors, but a type of road-impact fee was recently and successfully challenged in court.

Go to is.gd/dCn7g (case sensitive) and turn to Page 130 for an overview of the refunding procedure.

In July, Councilwoman Elizabeth Lewis responded to Mr. Dobbie's opposition to refunds with a single word: "Lawsuits." That has happened.

The Pacific Peninsula Group, a developer that frequently builds in Atherton, filed suit in San Mateo County Superior Court on Aug. 16 demanding refunds.

On Aug. 18, the council rejected Pacific Peninsula's claim for a road-impact fee refund of $298,145. In the 4-0 vote, Councilman Charles Marsala recused himself. Asked why, Mr. Marsala said that he is not obligated to explain. "I just felt using my discretion at this point was a prudent thing to do."

Firms to compete for city attorney position

The Atherton City Council agreed in principle, in a unanimous vote on Aug. 18, to invite area law firms to make their cases in a competition for the position of city attorney.

This situation came about because of the imminent dissolution of the Oakland- and Sacramento-based law firm McDonough, Holland & Allen, the firm of current city attorney Wynne S. Furth and her assistants.

Ms. Furth and her staff will remain in their Oakland offices, but on Aug. 30 will affiliate with Burke, Williams & Sorensen, LLP, a statewide firm with offices in Menlo Park, Ms. Furth told The Almanac.

The council agreed to a temporary contract with Ms. Furth's new firm, an arrangement that the town can cancel at any time, a lawyer for the firm said.

Meanwhile, the council is forming an ad hoc committee starting with council members Jim Dobbie and Elizabeth Lewis and to be filled out with residents experienced in the law, including lawyers and retired judges.

Mayor Kathy McKeithen in July noted considerable dissatisfaction with Ms. Furth's performance, an opinion not publicly supported by other members of the council.

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