Guest opinion: High-speed rail critics have come a long way
As early as 2003, when Menlo Park was threatened with grade separations that would have achieved what the high-speed rail authority is now threatening to do on the Caltrain corridor, there was hardly any opposition.
The City Council promoted this idea aggressively, and refused to hear any opposing opinions.
By 2004, high-speed rail began to lurk seriously in the Sacramento legislative background. It was opposed by Gov. Schwarzenegger — that is until 2008, when he "flip-flopped" and supported it.
From those early days, the only local vocal opposition came from three people, who spoke before the City Council, wrote angry letters to all the local papers that always were rejected, to many elected officials, and seldom had opinion pieces published by those local newspapers.
Those opposition voices went pretty much unheard. The Almanac, initially favoring both rail separations and high-speed rail, became convinced of how bad that would be for Menlo Park, the Peninsula and California.
The Almanac published our guest opinion pieces and letters to the editor. They published editorials, written by their editor. They understood just how harmful this project would be for us, and were not afraid to say so and have others say so in their pages. Gradually their stance was followed by other Midpeninsula newspapers and finally, today, the main-stream media newspapers in the Bay Area have followed suit.
The three of us (Mike Brady, Morris Brown and myself) worked with a few legislative members (Republicans, as it happens) who opposed high-speed rail and Proposition 1A on the 2008 ballot.
We wrote drafts of the opposition for the ballot books. Mike, the attorney, organized the three of us into a 401(c)3, called DERAIL. We made numerous trips to Sacramento. We had the pleasure of being publicly insulted by Rod Diridon.
Needless to say, we were among the Menlo Park minority that voted against Proposition 1A and this threatening nightmare of a project, knowing full well what a disaster it would be environmentally and financially.
We lost. Proposition 1A, which the Palo Alto City Council supported unanimously with a resolution, passed. We continued to "politik" as vocally as we could against high-speed rail. We rejected it through Menlo Park, on the Caltrain corridor, and in California.
Most newspapers, until the most recent three or four months, supported this project by parroting the rail authority press releases. At first, state Sen. Joe Simitian wouldn't even listen to us. Now, finally, things are different. There is a daily media outpouring of high-speed rail criticism. There are a number of lawsuits pending against the rail authority.
I'm trudging out all this history, not for any personal reasons; I'm too old to really care. (I'm long past career building.) But, it's to remind everyone of how long this fight has taken to bring us to this point: whereas last year's polls continued to find more Californians sympathetic to high-speed rail, things are different now.
The media now do their due diligence from reliable sources, not the rail authority press releases. Numerous government agencies in Sacramento, the Legislative Analysts' Office the most prominent, have been courageously critical of the project and its mismanagement. The newest Field Poll now shows that a majority of Californians oppose this project.
It's about time! I just hope that it's not too late. I might point out that four years after having unanimously supported high-speed rail, the Palo Alto City Council now unanimously opposes it.
"Ye shall know the truth; and the truth shall set ye free!"
Martin Engel lives on Stone Pine Lane in Menlo Park and is a longtime critic of the high-speed rail project.