Watchdogs happy with high-speed rail ruling


This is a revised version of a story previously published online.

High-speed rail watchdogs in Menlo Park were thrilled when a California judge ruled that the funding plan for the $68 billion high-speed rail system must be rescinded and refused to endorse the selling of bonds for the project.

Two rulings by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny on Nov. 25 dealt with what opponents of the project described as "dual body-blows" to the California High Speed Rail Authority, which is charged with building the rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The project received a major boost in 2008, when state voters approved a $9.95 billion high-speed-rail bond measure. In July 2012, the state Legislature authorized spending the first $2.7 billion from this bond measure, as well as $3.2 billion in federal grants, on the line's first segment.

In response to the rulings, Menlo Park resident Russ Peterson, who belongs to a community coalition on high-speed rail, said: "I have a one-word impression -- finally! As an individual, and as part of, we've tried to show that high-speed rail in California is an idea with no real plan to get us there."

Mr. Peterson and other rail watchdogs wondered how the decisions will affect funding for Caltrain electrification, which has been tied to the development of a blended rail system with high-speed trains sharing tracks with Caltrain along the Peninsula.

Morris Brown said the rulings, if upheld, would leave Caltrain's electrification plan in search of new funding. "In any case barring a complete change on the federal level regarding additional funding, high-speed rail won't be in our area for at least 25 years, and most likely never," Mr. Brown said.

He said that while it may be possible to secure new funding for electrification, the plan likely won't include any further grade crossings or expansion from two tracks to three or four on the Peninsula.

The rulings came in response to a lawsuit from a group of Central Valley plaintiffs -- John Tos, Aaron Fukuda and Kings County -- represented by attorney Stuart Flashman; and to a request from the rail authority to "validate" the issuance of more than $8 billion in bonds.

In both cases, Judge Kenny sided with opponents of the rail project, though in some cases he didn't go as far as the plaintiffs had hoped. He declined, for instance, to order the rail authority to rescind its existing two contracts for the construction of the first segment, which total about $1.1 billion.

He also did not challenge the rail authority's ability to spend the federal funds, despite arguments from Mr. Flashman that doing so would commit future expenditure of "matching funds" from the state.

Rail authority Chair Dan Richard said in a statement that the agency is "reviewing both decisions to chart our next steps." He stressed that the judge did not invalidate the bonds, and that the court "again declined the opposition's request to stop the high-speed-rail project from moving forward."

Almanac staff writer Sandy Brundage contributed to this report.


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Posted by Steve Schmidt
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 5, 2013 at 1:42 pm

The HSR saga is loaded with bad actors and bad decisions: The Almanac’s Three Amigos of Stone Pine Lane, smart, fearful and angry old men opposing any development project near them; the original HSR proposal, whose backers insisted that it would only work if it were four tracks; the Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton City Councils, who were stampeded by a few noisy residents and bored Palo Alto housewives to support lawsuits rather than join a discussion of what was possible and practical. Instead of working with HSR to build a useable and functioning segment from SF to San Jose, the locals chased the HSR management off to the boondocks where the project absolutely positively made no sense whatsoever.

What could have been: An elevated alignment of three tracks on the Peninsula that would accommodate Caltrain and several HSR trains per day to SF & LA; more would originate & terminate in San Jose, where local connections would be made to the BART system and Caltrain; elevated tracks facilitating numerous opportunities for local e/w connectivity under the shared Caltrain/HSR right of way; and a conversion of Caltrain to a safer, non-polluting and quiet electrified system. All within the existing right of way.
What was not to like about all that? Oh, yes, it was something different from the car-centric status quo.

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Posted by Downtown Menlo Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 5, 2013 at 1:55 pm

Finally some sanity on this misguided and out of control project. Peninsula residents should be very thankful that there are a handful of citizens who have spent their personal time and attention on making sure the facts are recognized rather than the hype from the rail authority. We owe them a debt of gratitude. High speed rail is a nice concept, but the reality of this project is that the State of California cannot afford to be saddled with an economically unfeasible undertaking that would likely never make financial sense, and which would cause great destruction to our cities.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 5, 2013 at 5:37 pm


what was not to like about that? How about that what you envision could never be built for the amount of money voters approved? How about the entire project in ANY form couldn't be built for what was sold to voters? The whole thing was one giant fraud perpetrated on the voters by organized labor and their bought and paid for legislative lackeys.

By the way, grade separations were never on the table. Rail on the peninsula never would have been high speed and thus the system never would have delivered on the promised 2 hour and 40 minute SF to LA transit time that was sold to the voters. The entire thing was a pack of lies.

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Posted by Ruth W
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 5, 2013 at 11:29 pm

The high speed train system in China works beautifully. Less stress than flying, clean, and on time. I've traveled several times between Shanghai and Nanjing, Hangzhou, and Beijing on high speed rail. Japan has a great system too. A high speed rail line between SF and LA would have caught on giving people a sensible alternative to driving and flying. As a society we can afford this technology, we are choosing to ignore something that would help commerce and consumers.

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Posted by confused
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 6, 2013 at 12:24 am

Interesting arguments, Steve. First you attack the detractors of HSR by taunting them as old and/or female. Amazing that such losers have been so successful. Any way you can explain that?

Fact is, a small number of people who would have profited substantially managed to fool a few too many ignorant voters. The business model never made sense. The funding was never there.

Time to stop looking to 19th century technology to fix 21st century problems.

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Posted by Cycle bob
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 6, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I find it disheartening when folks who speak their minds and work the democratic process are vilified as being angry old men and bored housewives. I truly thank them for their involvement, resolve, and great work in helping our state avoid a big expensive white elephant.

There is no economic justification for high speed rail in CA. It won't pay for itself as evidenced by the failure of the Authority to provide a real funding plan. So what is the big benefit to our State? Does anyone believe the Chinese systems cited by Ruth W aren't heavily subsidized by the central government? Maybe it would be really cool to be like Europe, China, and Japan, but not when our state and federal governments are running huge deficits.

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Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 7, 2013 at 10:12 am

Whenever I read an author's position which attacks those with opposite views personally, inevitably their position reveals how little that author knows about the subject at hand.

Here, Menlo Park ex-mayor Steve Schmidt, knowing little about the High Speed Rail project, personally attacks those who oppose the project. He certainly has not dealt at all with the HSR Authority and understands nothing about the reality of the project.

A perfect example of his ignorance would be what happened in Palo Alto. The Palo Alto council before the Nov 2008 election, in which Prop 1A was passed, enthusiastically endorsed the project with a unanimous vote to endorse the ballot measure.

Only later, when details were disclosed, and when it became obvious to that council what the Authority was really proposing and what serious damage to the community would result, did that council completely reverse course and vote unanimously 9-0 to opposed the project, and that position exists today.

Today, five years later, a large majority of the public now understands the HSR rail project is a huge boondoggle. Today, we finally have in Judge Kenney's rulings, the rule of law forcing the Authority to adhere to what the voters in Nov 2008 passed.

Sorry Steve, my advice to you is get educated and quit authoring non-sense like you posted above.

Morris Brown
Stone Pine Lane
Menlo Park.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 7, 2013 at 10:52 am

"Smart","fearful","angry", "old"? Sure.

What's your point?

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Posted by build infrastrure, America
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm

BUILD IT. Get us out of the stone agen

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 7, 2013 at 1:07 pm


we are out of the stone age or haven't you noticed? Tell you what. You throw as much of your hard earned money at HSR as you want and those of us who don't want to can stand back and laugh at you in 10 years when all you have to show for you money is a rail line to nowhere. Quit drinking the organized labor koolaid.

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Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Dec 7, 2013 at 1:52 pm

1) The only reason Prop 1A passed was due to the taxpayer safeguards that were included in the proposition. Some of those safeguards were FINALLY enforced.

If CHSRA and its minions wants Prop 1a money, then CHSRA needs to abide by the requirements of Prop 1A. You don't get to take the money from prop 1A, then ignore the strings associated with that money. It's that simple.

2) it violates the California CONSTITUTION to take money from a proposition, then use that money in a manner different than what is specified by the proposition;

3) the population densities of SF and LA do not support HSR being even remotely financially feasible. The places where HSR are reasonable financially feasible have much higher population densities;

4) Prop 1a requires all funding be in place BEFORE beginning work on the IOS. CHSRA's attempt bypass this requirement by creating the ICS was rightfully flagged as a violation of prop 1a.

5) Prop 1a requires all environmental impacts be approved throughout the IOS (which CHSRA chose that route, and length BTW) before construction, roughly 130 miles. CHSRA has about 10 miles, last I heard.

It goes on and on.

If those of you that support HSR in california want it, then get a proposition on the ballot that can achieve that, and get it passed. Prop 1a will never do what you think it will do.

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Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Dec 7, 2013 at 2:15 pm

> A high speed rail line between SF and LA would
> have caught on

There is very little data to support this statement. CHSR cannot financially compete with air travel unless it received a government subsidy for operations, which is a violation of prop 1a.

> As a society we can afford this technology,

Our society has deteriorating infrastructures for water, bridges, electrical, etc, that are far, far more important than the choo choo train you're supporting.

> we are choosing to ignore something that would
> help commerce and consumers.


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Posted by look to Europe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 7, 2013 at 2:25 pm

In most of Europe, HSR goes underground when it reaches communities like ours. Tunnels are created for through-traffic to minimize congestion, pollution, and delays of cars on roads going through small towns. Bike lanes in the heart of old cities like Paris take up what used to be car lanes to encourage biking and discourage driving. Our city and our state are stuck, thinking that elevated tracks, new turn lanes, and mere talk about bike pathways will make a difference.

Local and state decisionmakers simply don't have the foresight to make the decisions and to sell the investments required to preserve our quality of life.

Most of us who dislike the HSR project as it stands in California don't dislike HSR in general, we don't prefer cars over all else. We want HSR done a whole lot better, and there are examples of doing just that.

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Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 7, 2013 at 4:20 pm

" We want HSR done a whole lot better, and there are examples of doing just that."

Yep, and they cost a WHOLE lot more than the HSR that has been proposed. Think 68 billion is a lot? Try double that to do it the right way and even then it would have to be subsidized by taxpayers.

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Posted by Michael G. Stogner
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2013 at 6:41 am

Great Job Watchdogs, Thank You so much for paying attention and Getting Involved.

Private Investors were to play a huge part of the HSR plan Taxpayers approved. No takers, smart.

Like this comment
Posted by Linda Griffin
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 9, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I would also like to thank the watchdogs and everyone who gave their time and money and agree entirely with Downtown Menlo Resident.

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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2013 at 2:07 pm

We could have built a fairly fast rail system to LA, later southward, with a connection to Las Vegas. Instead our choices are flying, driving, taking the bus or the train.

Flying to LA can drain you, long lines, cramped seats in a tin tube, overbooked flight, checked luggage wait. I really don't what is worse, long flight or that short flight from LA.

Driving. Traffic getting out of Bay Area or traffic getting out of Bay Area weekend. Worse yet regular rush hour. Took me 3 1/2 hours to drive to?


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Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Dec 9, 2013 at 2:18 pm

You could take the bus down to LA, but it has to sit in traffic.

There is a train down to LA that follows some the HSR route, Greyhound is faster.

Only really good alternative if you are willing to spend the money. Surf Air, but with the noise complaints and the possible lawsuit that could hamper their growth.

Only choice in the end is become a pilot of tin can cramped seating.

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Posted by HOWSILLY
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:40 pm

HSR is planning for the future, so we have a very functional Silicon Valley and California overall!
The population here has changed...its grown and will grow even more...if we don't have a plan for transportation it keeps the 99% miserable and the wealthy 1% holding onto the illusion of their control. Traffic challenges will be greater and stress levels higher. A miserable community is one full of many unwanted behaviors from frustrated, tired of long commuting people like freeway shootings and much more.
Compare a bit of noise from train vs. calmer, safer communities for all, which would you choose?
Only the "Selfish" will choose to stop the noise over safer calmer communities!
Think about it..."What affects one, affects ALL!"

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Posted by Gail Slocum
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 10, 2013 at 12:41 pm

I agree with those noting that HSR doesn't (and never did) pencil out and never had a sound business plan, overall. Although I personally concluded it made sense to vote no on Prop 1A to begin with, many enviros didn't fully appreciate that fundamental problem and most would probably not have voted for it if they had known more.

One nagging question: What does this court ruling mean for the money that Rich Gordon and others got for CalTrain in the near term? I thought that was coming through the HSR bond, no? We need to make sure CalTrain can continue and get electrified (diesel is bad on many scores).

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Posted by MadamPresident
a resident of another community
on Dec 10, 2013 at 2:09 pm

I am with Steve Schmidt

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Posted by Len
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 10, 2013 at 9:00 pm

CA HSR has been a fraud from the start. Years later and nearly $1B squandered by the CA HSR Authority, there is absolutely nothing of benefit to the tax payer to show for the dollars lost to this greasy pork project. The CA HSR Authority has proven itself to be a text book case of complete arrogance and incompetence.

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Posted by Old MP
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 10, 2013 at 11:58 pm

No money for Caltrain. A different judge had stopped that previous to this ruling.

I have to agree on this one. I'm a casual user of Caltrain and I enjoy taking the train - but I don't think the entire state should pay for electrification of a regional rail line. The money is going to have to come from the counties that Caltrain serves, as well as a direct user fee on each ticket or pass.

If the shoe were on the other foot...would you want to help pay for an extension of the San Diego trolley system or the LA Metro subway system? Didn't think so.

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Posted by coh
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Dec 11, 2013 at 2:25 pm

If and when HSR comes to the Bay Area - all these posters will be long dead. How about funding research for personal jet packs? It could happen much faster and you could go door to door.

$68 Billion for a boondoggle? Try a trillion PLUS by the time they are done - no one will be able to afford a ticket from SF to SJ, let alone to LA.

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Posted by Dagwood
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Dec 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm

We will eventually get a good transit system in place of, or upgrading, CalTrain and that will be an integrated approach which should have been designed in the first place. Integrated means: with existing transit and with the considerably developed communities through which the transit passes. I'm grateful again to the several locals who led the charge on HSR critique, to Palo Alto for admitting their mistakes, and a couple MP city council members who gave so many hours to this battle.

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Posted by look to Europe
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 13, 2013 at 11:18 am

Hmm. Let the region pay for its own transit. We've been paying for BART for many years. I'm tired of it because it doesn't help us at all.

How about Menlo Park pushing to stop paying for BART and put that same money into CalTrain electrification and grade separations?

Like this comment
Posted by Apex
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 14, 2013 at 7:25 am

It sure is difficult trying to stop the constant taxation schemes.

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

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