Almanac

News - September 22, 2010

Atherton continues legal challenge to high-speed rail

by Renee Batti

The fight goes on: Atherton will "continue with legal remedies" to force the state's high-speed rail agency to address the town's concerns in the high-speed rail project's contested environmental impact report (EIR), according to Eileen Wilkerson, the town's assistant city manager.

The City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 20 to move forward with two lawsuits the town has joined against the California High-Speed Rail Authority over its program EIR, which focuses on the potential impacts of the rail line's planned Bay Area-to-Central Valley route.

The authority was forced to de-certify and revise the document last year because of a court order prompted by a lawsuit from Atherton, Menlo Park, and a coalition of nonprofit groups. The agency recently recertified the report, but the litigating groups still have concerns with the revised document.

For example, the new EIR doesn't address widespread criticism of the rail authority's ridership projections, which the authority has admitted were flawed. The agency used these projections to justify its choice of the Pacheco Pass route, which would traverse the Peninsula, as the preferred alternative for the rail line, as opposed to the Altamont Pass in the East Bay, which the plaintiffs support.

Ms. Wilkerson said that Stuart Flashman, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, recommended that the town continue fighting the rail authority when he spoke to the council at its special Sept. 20 meeting, which began at 8 a.m.

The town hopes to have its legal costs covered through private funding, Ms. Wilkerson said, noting that Julie Quinlan of the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail told the council that her group was successful with fundraising for the first lawsuit, and would do what it can this time as well to cover the costs.

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