Attorney: Agency insists on 4 tracks
Efforts to settle a lawsuit filed against the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed nine days after they started because the agency insisted on a four-track system, according to the attorney representing three local cities in the suit.
"Suffice it to say the mediation was unsuccessful and we're back on the litigation track," Stuart Flashman told the Almanac on July 25. He estimated the case will take at least a year now to resolve "one way or the other."
Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto sued the authority over aspects of the environmental impact report for the high-speed rail project, including projected ridership figures and the impact of various design scenarios on their cities.
Mr. Flashman said that one key obstacle to a settlement was the authority's insistence on a four-track system as recommended in the environmental impact report.
Even though the lawsuit wends its way slowly through the courts, the actual project got a jump start on July 6 when state lawmakers approved funding for the first phase of the $68 billion project.
According to the plaintiffs' attorney, the key funding vote for the Peninsula portion of the project is five to 10 years away. "As most insiders know, the Legislature's limitation on the use of funds in the initial appropriation is nothing but a smokescreen," he said. "Those funds won't be used on the Peninsula except for Caltrain electrification in any case."
He said the funding legislation does not permanently prohibit using high-speed rail funds for a four-track system along the Peninsula, despite statements to the contrary from legislators who voted for the bill.
That assertion puzzled at least one of those legislators. "The language in the legislation that was passed was very clear that those funds that were allocated cannot be used to build anything but a blended system, a non-four-track system," said Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park. "The high-speed rail authority is, in any current presentation they make, talking very clearly, very openly that it will be a blended system, that the Peninsula will be a blended system that will share facilities with Caltrain."
Mr. Gordon noted that he wasn't privy to the mediation, and so couldn't comment on why design presented an obstacle to settlement. "The blended system — that's what we've got, that's what is in the legislation and that's what the HSRA is committed to building."
That's missing the boat, according to Mr. Flashman, who stands by his criticism of the bill. He said those issues are why Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, voted against it. "This is an indication of why it's a really a bad idea for legislators to rush through these bills without taking the time to fully understand them. It may have said 'these funds right now' can't be used for a four-track system, but it says nothing about the long-term. The authority's ultimate intent is to build a four-track system."