Atherton has spent more than $145,000 fighting both the state's plans to put high-speed rail through the middle of town, and Caltrain's plans to electrify its trains, which the town says is clearing the way for high-speed rail. Now, it's considering spending even more.
At a Nov. 2 study session, Atherton's City Council discussed participating in a lawsuit challenging a state law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown on Sept. 28.
The law, which goes into effect Jan. 1, modifies how the California High-Speed Rail Authority can spend money from the 2008 bond measure approved by voters to pay for high-speed rail.
Most of the council members agreed with the town's Rail Committee recommendation to sue the state over the new law, but they expressed reservations.
Councilman Mike Lempres, a former Rail Committee member and an attorney, called the new law a "pretty clear violation" of the terms approved by voters.
Councilman Cary Wiest said he is "disappointed that no other jurisdiction with a lot more money" isn't taking on the issue, calling the new law "a method they've come up with to get around the voters." He said he supports City Attorney Bill Conners' suggestion of capping the town's contribution.
Councilman Rick DeGolia urged waiting until after the election. "I don't want to take any action until we see what happens with Proposition 53," he said.
That proposition, on the Nov. 8 ballot, requires voter approval for any revenue bonds of more than $2 billion. Mr. Conners said the proposition will not impact the $9 billion in bonds already issued, but would apply if the high-speed rail authority tries to issue more bonds.
"I'm very comfortable waiting to see what happens with this election," Mr. DeGolia said.
At the request of the Almanac, Atherton provided the town's total bills, so far, for fighting high-speed rail and a lawsuit against Caltrain's electrification project's environmental report.
The total cost is $145,550 and comprises $118,135 for Capitol Advocates, a Sacramento-based consulting firm, for help with legislative, regulatory and other high-speed rail issues; $22,415 for attorney Stuart Flashman for legal services in both high-speed rail and Caltrain cases; and $5,000 for the California Rail Foundation, which is advocating for a rail route that does not include the Peninsula.
Mr. Connors said the council, if it joins the lawsuit, could cap its contribution to between $20,000 to $50,000.
Mr. Conners' staff report says the 2008 bond measure restricted spending to only "usable segments" of rail that could accommodate high-speed trains when completed.
The new law redefines "usable segments," and the town's Rail Committee said it unconstitutionally changes the bond measure substantially without a public vote.
State law allows lawsuit discussions to be closed to the public, but City Manager George Rodericks said the council wanted public input in the discussion. No one from the public commented.