Atherton sues Caltrain over electrification


Atherton has sued the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, alleging the agency improperly approved the environmental impact report on the project to electrify the Caltrain rail system.

Joining Atherton in the lawsuit, filed in San Mateo County Superior Court on Monday, Feb. 9, is the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, a transit advocacy nonprofit, and the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail, which is headed by former Atherton Mayor Jim Janz.

The lawsuit asks that the electrification project be stopped and the approval of the environmental report be rescinded until issues raised in the lawsuit are addressed.

Stuart Flashman, the attorney filing the suit, says the lawsuit is an attempt to force the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, the agency that runs Caltrain, to acknowledge the impacts the project will have on the Peninsula.

Atherton's City Council approved the lawsuit at a closed session Wednesday, Feb. 4, after considering a letter from Marian Lee, Caltrain's executive officer for the modernization project. Ms. Lee was responding to a Jan. 21 letter from Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia asking Caltrain for a number of concessions regarding the electrification project.

The town had asked Caltrain to extend the period when the environmental report could be challenged, to give the town and Caltrain more time to negotiate. Caltrain said no, noting "that time will not materially change the responses" to the town's concerns.

The lawsuit says the environmental report is flawed in several ways, including its failure to address the cumulative impact of high- speed rail and electrification. The lawsuit says the projects must be considered together because approximately $600 million of the projected $1.5 billion cost of the electrification project is supposed to come from funding approved for high-speed rail by the voters in 2008.

Ms. Lee addressed this issue in her letter, saying that the projects are independent and that "electrification has been a fundamental assumption in the planning for the future of Caltrain long before high speed rail was proposed."

The lawsuit claims that the environmental report fails to take into consideration that the funding for the electrification project that will come from the high-speed rail bonds could be "subject to legal challenge" because that funding was not authorized by California voters and is not a permissible use of the funds.

Caltrain spokeswoman Jayme Ackemann said Caltrain has been "working with the 17 communities along the rail corridor to address and mitigate their issues and concerns related to electrification. All save Atherton are focused on collaboration as the best method for addressing these concerns," she said.

Menlo Park and Palo Alto both recently decided "not to litigate" she said, "citing the close working relationship they have with Caltrain as evidence of our commitment to addressing their concerns."

"The issues Atherton has are no different than those concerns raised by other communities along the corridor," Ms. Ackemann said. "We are disappointed to see that rather than working with Caltrain collaboratively the town of Atherton has chosen this expensive path."

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Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 9, 2015 at 5:56 pm

The lawsuit can be read at:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:32 am

The link above posted by "commuter" does not work. You can view the Chronicle article at:

Web Link

Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Feb 10, 2015 at 10:38 am

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

Atherton City Manager George Rodericks said yesterday that the lawsuit is being paid for by the town and by the two other plaintiffs named in the lawsuit, the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund and the Community Coalition on High-Speed Rail, mentioned in this story.

2 people like this
Posted by Gail Siri
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 10, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I'm glad to see that the Town of Atherton has all this extra money to join in a lawsuit. Sounds the the Dumbarton Bridge lawsuit over again. With all this extra money for lawyers we should remember this when it comes time for the renewal of the parcel tax.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 11, 2015 at 10:41 pm

Atherton should sue Surf Air for causing excessive noise from their commercial airline flying into San Carlos Airport a general aviation airport.

3 people like this
Posted by Bad trend
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 11, 2015 at 11:01 pm

In my view, Atherton is slowly migrating from a small, out-of-the way government that allowed residents a lot of freedom, to a large, highly taxing government that gets involved in too many issues. Some cases in point:

1. Pushing for more parcel taxes when monies weren't needed, and in fact now looking to raise even more taxes by becoming a "charter city" to allow the imposition of a real estate transfer tax (yes, even if the "buyer" pays it, we really all know the homeowner/seller does in terms of a lower sales price).

2. Starting lawsuits over the train issue, mainly spearheaded by a small group of activists who bought their homes next to the railway and expect the rest of Atherton residents to finance a crusade to transform that home next to a railway into a home that's not next to a railway.

3. Starting a brigade to police whether an intercom box, landscaping, etc., is on the "town's" street instead of the resident's driveway, forcing it to be moved at considerable expense to the resident. Who is going to pay for all of this enforcement/policing? See #1 above. (A solution in search of a problem, to be sure, since the lawsuits envisioned by some commuter injuring himself on the intercom box or landscaping and suing the town has never, ever, happened).

I think the council has lost touch with what the residents want, and think that a big, tax and spend, government is what Atherton residents want. Wrong. Too many politicians abandon their fiscally responsible roots once they get into the system and start figuring out ways to spend all the money and create bigger, more important jobs for themselves.

In short, stop the lawsuit, stop the programs to create adversarial situations with residents, and certainly stop the investigation into more tax sources to create more lawsuits and adversarial programs

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

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