Almanac

News - August 25, 2010

Judge may decline to reopen high-speed-rail lawsuit

After a judge tentatively decided Aug. 19 to not reopen a lawsuit filed against the high-speed rail authority by Menlo Park, Atherton, and other parties, the project's opponents considered their next step. The court plans to issue a final ruling this week.

Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ruled the plaintiffs had not proven the rail authority deliberately misled the public about ridership figures. His decision also stated the plaintiffs had shown no evidence that the rail authority would ignore their concerns about the figures.

The plaintiffs said they'd discovered flaws in the models used to calculate projected ridership, and that those models had been "significantly changed after the peer review process had ended," according to court documents. The judge didn't disagree, but stated the data was available to the public.

"If the judge is under the belief that available data means residents first have to request the study via the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and understand the various versions of the studies, and understand when the decisions were made in relation to said data, then I guess I can see his point," said Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline.

"At some point someone in the legal system needs to think about the rest of us and how these predetermined decisions were made outside of the public light," Mr. Cline said, referring to the plaintiffs' claim that the rail authority modified its ridership model without telling the public.

He said the rail authority's behavior shows that only insiders, not residents, have access to information about the project.

The lawsuit, initially filed two years ago, challenged the project's environmental impact report. A judge ruled in August 2009 that the rail authority did need to revise the portions evaluating land use, right-of-way impacts, and vibration effects. The California High-Speed Rail Authority revised the report to address those areas and released a new, final version on Aug. 20.

The chief executive officer of the rail authority, Roelof van Ark, said in a press release that he was happy with the tentative ruling, and that the agency is "committed to transparency."

The rail authority and Caltrans recently applied for another $1.58 billion in federal funds to help build the system; the project was already awarded $2.25 billion in federal funds in January.

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