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MP, Atherton join suit against high-speed rail

 

Menlo Park and Atherton officials don't want high-speed passenger trains zooming through town, and now they're hopping on board a lawsuit to prove their point.

Both city councils voted Aug. 5 in separate closed-session meetings to join a group of environmental and rail nonprofits that plan to sue the California High Speed Rail Authority on the basis that the authority picked an environmentally insensitive route in plans to connect San Francisco and Los Angeles with electric trains that would reach speeds up to 220 miles per hour.

Proposition 1, a $9.95 billion ballot measure that would provide the first wave of funding for the project, is set to go before California voters on Nov. 4.

The lawsuit won't keep Proposition 1 off the ballot, but if successful, it could require the authority to conduct more strenuous environmental review, adding costs and delays to the $42 billion project.

The lawsuit is being spearheaded by environmental and rail nonprofit groups that were previous supporters of the high-speed train project, but have since become vocal critics of the rail authority's selection of the Pacheco Pass as the route to connect trains from the Central Valley to the Bay Area.

Under the Pacheco plan, high-speed trains would connect to Gilroy from the Central Valley and shoot up and down the Caltrain corridor to connect to San Francisco. That route would serve fewer riders, and be far more environmentally damaging than the Altamont Pass route, according to the group of environmental and rail nonprofits.

Under the Altamont plan, trains would continue north into the San Joaquin Valley before heading west and crossing a new bridge across the Bay to connect to the Caltrain line -- a route that could bypass Menlo Park and Atherton entirely.

The nonprofits spearheading the lawsuit include the Planning and Conservation League, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, the California Rail Foundation (the educational arm of the Train Riders' Association of California) and Bay Rail Alliance.


Local opposition

A majority of Menlo Park and Atherton council members have been clear in their opposition to high-speed trains shooting up and down the Caltrain corridor, arguing that the trains would have detrimental impacts on the two towns.

The project would require grade separations -- building overpasses or underpasses to separate the tracks from the roadway at six local intersections -- resulting in years-long construction impacts for homes and businesses located near the Caltrain tracks, and major impacts on local property values.

"We've seen no indication of the High Speed Rail Authority even considering the concerns of communities up and down the Peninsula," said Menlo Park City Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson. "We've been shown no respect."

The Menlo Park City Council voted 2-1 to join the lawsuit, with council members Richard Cline and Kelly Fergusson in favor and Councilman John Boyle opposed. Mayor Andy Cohen did not participate due to a potential conflict of interest because he owns property near the Caltrain tracks, and Councilman Heyward Robinson was absent.

The Atherton City Council voted 3-0 to join the lawsuit with council members Jerry Carlson, Jim Dobbie and Charles Marsala in favor. Mayor Jim Janz did not participate because he owns property near the Caltrain tracks, and Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen was absent.

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