News


Atherton may sue, again, over high-speed rail

 

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.

Comments

3 people like this
Posted by gb52
a resident of another community
on Nov 10, 2016 at 10:41 am

The city should stop wasting money fighting the very rail line that brought about it's existence and actually advocate how to make it work for the community. This is short sighted and a waste of time for political gain.

The electrification of caltrain will bring benefits to the region and building it correctly for HSR just makes sense.


1 person likes this
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 10, 2016 at 1:40 pm

gb52, what do you mean by "building it correctly for HSR?" My understanding of that phrase is building a viaduct the entire length of the Peninsula with four tracks, two dedicated to HSR, the other two for Caltrain. That is the ultimate intention of the CHSRA. Is that what you mean?


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Posted by pj65
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2016 at 6:56 am

Martin, the four track solution was indeed the original plan, but it was rejected and replaced in the HSR Business Plan update approved by the legislature. The new plan specifically commits to shared use of Caltrain tracks, except for sections of passing track that will be built mostly within the existing right of way. As for using a viaduct, to the contrary, the plan envisions extensive use of below grade trenching and grade separation, to improve visuals and minimize conflict with traffic. The real issue now is there is more demand from cities "on board" with HSR for grade separations and trenching. The challenge is funding isn't available to build as many grade separations as cities want. Atherton should embrace the project and recognize its key value to the region, rather than continuing to spend taxpayer money to make political statements outside of its jurisdiction.


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Posted by eminent domain?
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Nov 11, 2016 at 9:11 am

@pj65 - So why have eminent domain notices been issued to Felton Gables residents? Please provide factual information.


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Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2016 at 1:55 pm

@pj65

Atherton has been advocating a proposal that works for the community: bury the rail line. With that solution, CA HSR can run as many lines as it wants through Atherton.

They said no to the proposal. So, Atherton is litigating on behalf of its citizens.

From Atherton's perspective, we think CA HSR should stop litigating as well and find a compromise that works for every community along the rail line.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2016 at 2:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"Atherton has been advocating a proposal that works for the community: bury the rail line."

I totally agree with that approach but wonder how Atherton would plan to pay its share of the cost?


5 people like this
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 11, 2016 at 3:25 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Lets see. No money for the new town hall, but money for law suits????


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Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 11, 2016 at 3:31 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

what were the resuls of the other law suits?


1 person likes this
Posted by Apple
a resident of Atherton: other
on Nov 11, 2016 at 4:55 pm

@Peter
How would Atherton pay its share? I like your proposal about selling the land rights of the abandoned above ground corridor. Some of the money would come from there and the ongoing tax revenue that would generate.

It's a moot point in any case. CA HSR stopped negotiating with Atherton because it had more critical priorities, such not having another $100 to $200 billion on hand to complete HSR.

With Republicans taking over the entire federal government, I wouldn't expect any more federal money to come in.


2 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 11, 2016 at 5:43 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"How would Atherton pay its share? I like your proposal about selling the land rights of the abandoned above ground corridor. Some of the money would come from there and the ongoing tax revenue that would generate."

The air rights over the CalTrain right of way belong to CalTrain so monetizing those air rights would not be an Atherton contribution.

Tax revenue from any development of those air rights would go to, among other agencies, Atherton so that would be REVENUES to Atherton.

So what exactly would Atherton CONTRIBUTE to this project???


2 people like this
Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 12, 2016 at 8:17 am

The lead paragraph in this article:

"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. "

is quite miss-leading.

As noted in the article, $118,135 went to the lobbying firm Capitol Advocates, really Ravi Mehta. This was really not a legal effort, but rather an effort by Atherton and other Peninsula Cities (Menlo Park also paid Mehta for his services), to be kept in touch with what was going on in Sacramento that would affect the cities with regards High Speed Rail.

Mehta was totally ineffective. He was finally fired by the Cities.

The point I am trying to make is, this $118,000 was not for legal fees, but rather an effort for Atherton and other Cities to be informed about what was going on in Sacramento with regards HSR. Mehta failed miserably in this mission. He should have been fired much earlier.

Palo Alto was much smarter and hired a really competent lobbyist, who indeed provided Palo Alto with useful information.


2 people like this
Posted by Atherton taxpayer
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Nov 12, 2016 at 11:35 am

People who bought homes close to a train track knew they were buying homes close to a train track at the time. If they want to fight this because of their property values and impact, so be it. Don't ask me (aka Atherton taxpayer) to pay for it, though. It also has no chance of making any practical difference. It's just kowtowing to a bunch of people who own these homes who happen to be active in civic government or used to be like a former mayor Janz.


6 people like this
Posted by keenplanner
a resident of another community
on Nov 14, 2016 at 11:48 am

This is getting tedious, Atherton, and making your town look petty and obstructionist to all the rest of us who support rail electrification.
Electric rail will be much cleaner and quieter than the current diesels. They will pass by your backyards faster. They will cut down on all those airliners that interrupt your pool parties. It's just not feasible to alter the right-of-way. So what's the problem?
If you want it underground, pony up the cost of the tunneling, since no other town on the line is getting an underground train.
Yes, we know you're special. Now please get out of the way, and take your lawyers with you.


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

on Sep 25, 2017 at 10:33 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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