Tri-city lawsuit filed against high-speed rail

Midpeninsula cities, nonprofit groups, claim latest high-speed rail plans violate state environmental law

Palo Alto, Atherton and Menlo Park launched a fresh lawsuit Thursday against the California High-Speed Rail Authority, claiming the state agency violated state laws when it approved a comprehensive study evaluating the Bay Area-to-Central Valley segment of the 800-mile high-speed rail system.

The three cities, which have been among the most vocal critics of the voter-approved rail system, claim in their lawsuit that the rail authority ignored their comments and essentially disregarded new information identifying flaws in the agency's ridership models.

The cities are joined in their lawsuit by the nonprofit groups California Rail Foundation, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund (TRANSDEF) and the Planning and Conservation League; and two citizens' groups -- Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail and the Midpeninsula Residents for Civic Sanity.

This is the second lawsuit filed by Midpeninsula cities that challenges the rail authority's Program Environmental Impact Report (EIR) -- a voluminous document that identifies the Pacheco Pass as the preferred alignment for the voter-approved rail line.

The first lawsuit forced the authority to "decertify" and revise the EIR but did not force it to reconsider the preferred alignment for the Bay Area segment. The authority completed the court-mandated revisions and re-certified the document on Sept. 2.

While Menlo Park and Atherton were both plaintiffs in the initial lawsuit, Palo Alto remained largely on the sidelines. Palo Alto submitted a "friend of the court" letter in support of the plaintiffs, but the court didn't consider the letter in issuing its judgment. The City Council voted unanimously on Sept. 21 to officially join the new lawsuit against the rail authority.

The lawsuit, filed by the coalition's attorney Stuart Flashman, claims that the rail authority's new Program EIR continues to violate the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and asks the Sacramento County Superior Court to invalidate the newly approved EIR.

The authority, the suit states, approved the Bay Area-to-Central Valley segment of the project based on a report that "did not have an adequate description, did not give adequate consideration to the Project's impacts on the environment" and "failed to proposed adequate mitigation measures to address the Project's significant impact."

The authority also failed to "provide a fair and adequate consideration of feasible alternatives" to the project, as approved in the document, the suit claimed. Plaintiffs had persistently lobbied the authority to reconsider the Altamont Pass in the East Bay as the possible alternative to the Pacheco Pass for the Peninsula segment.

The new suit seeks both to reopen the Program EIR and to prevent the authority from releasing and certifying any future environmental reports predicated on the Pacheco Pass alignment. This would include the highly anticipated "project-level" Environmental Impact Report for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment. The detailed and highly anticipated document, which the authority plans to release in December, is expected to analyze and narrow the design options for the Peninsula segment.

The authority hopes to certify the Project EIR later this year and start construction on the Peninsula segment next year. The agency needs to break ground in 2012 in order to qualify for Federal Railroad Administration grants.

The new lawsuit argues that because the broad program EIR violates state law, any project EIR based on it would also be illegal and "will result in irreparable harm" unless invalidated by the court.

The new lawsuit also argues that the authority violated the CEQA when it failed to re-circulate the Program EIR for public comment after "significant new information" emerged about the methodology in the report. The new information includes the discovery earlier this year by the Palo Alto-based group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) that the authority's transportation consultant used ridership models that were neither publicized nor peer reviewed.

The lawsuit claims the "model used to obtain the data contained major flaws that rendered the data obtained from it untrustworthy." The Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, also reviewed the ridership methodology in the program EIR and concluded in June that the numbers in the study are unreliable.

Flashman, who also represented the coalition in the first lawsuit, warned the authority last month that the revised document remains flawed and that a fresh lawsuit would soon be filed. He and other members of the coalition urged the authority on Sept. 2 not to approve the revised Program EIR until the Peninsula's concerns are addressed.

Flashman also wrote in a letter to the authority that while he understands the authority's desire to break ground by 2012, "the desire to meet a deadline is not an excuse to ignore the law."

He asked the authority to "stop, take a deep breath and reconsider its course of action."

"Indeed, if the authority continues forward on its current course, the most likely result will be that it will once again find itself embroiled in litigation and eventually end up, as before, on the short end of an adverse court ruling," Flashman wrote.

"That will require you to waste even more time by having to back up and try again," he wrote.

Related stories:

Rail authority to discuss Palo Alto station Thursday

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Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Oct 7, 2010 at 1:26 pm

Nobody seems to have considered how invaluable the HSR would be for the entire PENINSULA AREA if and when the monstrous EARTHQUAKE, which is 30 years overdue,hits here.
Since we are sitting on the very top of the San Andreas Fault, and we are rocked to the point that the SAN BRUNO gas explosion blew up and killed but a few, but decimated 57 houses, it is a wonder why you do not think of WANTING a means to get OUT OF HERE on BULLET TRAINS that will evacuate the area quickly. If tracks got bent, they could be fixed quickly. Regular highways will be at a standstill. You will be torched in an inferno and there will only be Stanford to accomodate the dying, the burned...If San Bruno had only ONE gas line blow, imagine how many OLDER and worse off lines there are along this corridor.
You are playing with your lives to protect your property. Only those with helicopters and evacuation RICH people will get out in the worse case scenario.
People are not as dumb as they are stubborn. Besides needing the jobs to build the HSR, we need IT in order to help those trapped in this HELLHOLE if and WHEN it happens.
THINK about it.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 7, 2010 at 3:51 pm

Elevated HSR will be desimated in a large earthquake and it won't be a simple fix.

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Oct 8, 2010 at 8:02 am

In that case, we build them on ground using EMINENT DOMAIN.
Lives are more important than houses. Ask the people who were thrown out of their homes during the prohibition era when THE GOLDEN GATE BRIDGE was built....THOUSANDS.
EDITOR: This is NOT "off subject"

Like this comment
Posted by full disclosure
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Oct 8, 2010 at 12:27 pm

the original lawsuit succeeded in the loss of $35 million in funding because the e.i.r. wasn't certified on time. The only reason they
aren't paying the costs of the lawsuits is because they prevailed on a couple of points. The state should make them pay back all the money lost and spent due to the frivolous lawsuits they'll keep filing just to delay and eventually kill the project. It isn't about high speed rail. Menlo Park has already turned down millions of dollars to separate tracks from traffic. That money went to other cities as will the funding for modernization of Caltrain which would
protect our health from diesel fumes and the trauma of train horn blasts.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 8, 2010 at 2:05 pm

Mr. Gordon:

the only way they can build HSR on the ground is to put it IN the ground. That costs a lot more and the authority has said they won't do it that way because of the cost. So that leaves elevated tracks becuase of the requirement for grade seperation. So, pretty much kills HSR because as long as it is elevated the cities along the corridor will continue to sue to stop it.

Like this comment
Posted by R.Gordon
a resident of another community
on Oct 9, 2010 at 10:00 am

WRONG. It CAN and should go directly through ON ground as planned.
This is a matter of taking care of CALIFORNIANS, not rich home owners.
It will still go through and now that earthquakes have been considered as a definite PLUS to build ON LAND and tear down what must be torn down, it is IMPERATIVE that we have a route to evacuate and save lives as well as employ HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS.
Other states are already planning HSR even though we were the first state to implement the possibility, and our President has already allocated 3.8 BILLION dollars towards the need of HSR.
Road repairs across the country and CALIFORNIA are determined to cost into the TRILLIONS.Get into the 21st Century where the majority of college students believe the HSR MUST be built.

Like this comment
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Oct 9, 2010 at 1:34 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

The sky isn't falling Mr. Gordon. Please relax. You are also wrong about there being grade seperation required for HSR. Do a little research you will find you are wrong.

Like this comment
Posted by Gern Blanston
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Oct 10, 2010 at 9:41 pm

R. Gordon, this notion you've shared here and elsewhere, that were a major earthquake to rock the Bay Area, causing massive structural damage, loss of life, explosions, and what have you, and all we'd need do is straighten a little track to safely evacuate some large percentage of the population via HSR, is childish at best, and only slightly more plausible than receiving aid from aliens in the event of such a catastrophe. You apparently forget about electrical infrastructure and transmission along with caternary poles and wires which would power the trains, to say nothing of the structural integrity of rail bridges and grade separations along the right-of-way. Have you seen photos of the damage caused to railroad tracks after the 1906 quake, even 50 miles from San Francisco? HSR has its uses but in the Bay Area, at least initially, it will merely serve to line the pockets of the contractors who build it.


Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 26, 2017 at 8:13 am

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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