Almanac

Viewpoint - March 9, 2011

Guest opinion: Menlo Park still lacks official position on rail project

by Steve Schmidt

As the saying goes: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

The latest Menlo Park kerfuffle puts City Council member Kelly Fergusson in the cross-hairs again and this time the critics are making a variety of complaints. Her planned trip to Washington, D.C, to influence Congress members "on funding for high-speed rail" seems to be a problem due to a questionable need for the trip, the cost of the trip, and more recently, an alleged conflict of interest due to her employment at Siemens, a company that some say wants the contract to build high-speed rail.

The high-speed-rail issue in Menlo Park has become an animal of many colors and stripes. Ms. Fergusson was one of two council members who approved the city's joining Atherton in a lawsuit opposing the project two years ago. She has also approved the city's participation in two other lawsuits against the project and approved our city's membership in the Peninsula Cities Consortium, an organization that appears to oppose high-speed rail on the Peninsula. One might think that based on these bold acts, she would be appreciated for her devotion to the anti-HSR cause and her trip to D.C. applauded.

Applause is not what she's getting. Because of Ms. Fergusson's employment, she is presumed to be a high-speed-rail proponent. The often-used line, "Do it right or not at all," has left a void in both Ms. Fergusson's and the city's position regarding HSR. It is the kind of expression used by many who want to sound reasonable but also firm. The question that lingers is: What is "right"? Does it mean two, three, or four tracks, a tunnel, a trench, at-grade, on a viaduct, six trains a day, six trains an hour, or not on the Peninsula ever?

No one really knows where Menlo Park stands on any of these variables, as there has not been a full discussion by the council with high-speed rail on an agenda. Mayor Rich Cline has stated that the city "has been on this for two and a half years. It's been in every newspaper. (and) ... nothing has been outside the public light on our position on high-speed rail. ..." While this may be true, it is the council's job to adopt a policy regarding this state-wide project, a project that will bring both benefits and negative impacts to Menlo Park. There appears to be no policy.

This process is overdue and puts Ms. Fergusson in a tough position as she travels to Washington, D.C., carrying a message that may be only hers and has not been adopted in public by the city. If the council had a policy position, Ms. Fergusson's job of influencing key members of Congress would be much easier. It's no surprise she's getting flak from all quarters, most of it not based on substance.

As Mr. Cline asked last Tuesday night, "What's that (high-speed rail) policy going to be?" Apparently, no one knows. Yet we have a paid lobbyist and a council member going to Washington to say something to important people without our knowing what that something is.

Steve Schmidt, former

Menlo Park City Council member

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