By Andrea Gemmet and Sean Howell
Almanac Staff Writers
The Atherton City Council signed on to efforts to reopen a lawsuit against the proposed California high-speed rail project, in light of recently discovered information about ridership projections.
Atherton and Menlo Park, along with several environmental groups, successfully sued the California High-Speed Rail Authority last year, forcing the agency to reopen its environmental study of several aspects of the project to bring high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles. The suit did not, however, force the rail authority to revise the route the trains would take to San Francisco, as plaintiffs had hoped.
Atherton authorized Oakland-based attorney Stuart Flashman to ask the Sacramento County Superior Court to reopen the case at a closed session meeting on Feb. 17. The vote was 4-0, with Jim Dobbie absent.
The Menlo Park City Council is set to consider the topic at a closed session meeting set for Feb. 23.
Mr. Flashman said he began investigating the possibility of revisiting the case after new information came to light about the data on which the High-Speed Rail Authority based its ridership model. The information could have had a significant impact on the ridership model, which in turn could have influenced the board's decision to run trains along the Caltrain corridor, rather than the Altamont Pass, Mr. Flashman maintained.
"Essentially what it's about is, there was a factual error in the record, and as a result, we didn't get a fair trial," he said. "If we had had this evidence, the case would have gone entirely differently."
Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, said she learned that the model the rail authority used to project ridership figures was different from the one the agency has disclosed in public documents. Ms. Alexis obtained a memo from a consultant working with the rail agency, indicating that regional transportation officials made a conscious decision not to publicize the most recent methodology in the final report, she said.
Rail officials first said the changes to the ridership model were too minor to warrant republication, then attributed the discrepancy between the published document and the information Ms. Alexis received to a "typographical error."
"It's our understanding that the model used to generate the high-speed rail ridership forecasts -– along with that model's supporting information –- has all been publicly available since 2007," said Jeff Barker, deputy director of communications for the rail authority.
The lawsuit in which Atherton and Menlo Park participated alleged that the decision to run high-speed trains along the Caltrain corridor was based on a faulty environmental review process. The results of the ridership study were part of that review process, according to Mr. Flashman.