Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Frivolous Lawsuits

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

In a move they've been telegraphing for weeks, a group of wealthy NIMBYs have convinced the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton to join forces with the Planning and Conservation League, the California Rail Foundation (which has all of 3 members) and "lawsuit-happy activist" David Schonbrunn of TRANSDEF and sue to block high speed rail. Their claim is that the EIR/EIS that was adopted last month by the California High Speed Rail Authority violates the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) - but what is really going on is that a small coterie of long-time HSR deniers are greenwashing themselves and using the courts to stop one of the most important projects in state history.

Menlo Park and Atherton's objections are perhaps the most absurd. Driven by a handful of wealthy landowners, including Morris Brown and Martin Engel, their argument is that HSR would harm the aesthetics of their wealthy enclave:

The proposed route of the project runs down the heart of Menlo Park and Atherton on a narrow corridor occupied by CalTrain. The necessity of 4 tracks, where there are currently only 2 as well as needing the high 15 foot berm for the rail bed to accommodate grade crossings is of concern to both communities. With a minimum of 100 feet of width needed , as well as overhead catenaries for the electrical power to power the train, the impact in both communities is severe.

This is a comical, classic NIMBY objection. They're arguing that clean, sustainable mass transit, which California so desperately needs, should be stopped because it might not look pretty in two of the state's wealthiest communities?! That they're making an environmental argument is even more ridiculous. Currently Caltrain is powered by diesel trains and has a high rate of accidents caused by cars and people wandering onto the tracks. HSR would solve both problems by electrifying the tracks and physically separating them from the surrounding landscape, eliminating air pollution and making the entire corridor much safer.

Morris and Engel are inherently opposed to this project, and have spent months trying to dredge up any thin reed they can find to kill HSR. They never have proposed alternatives to how California can deal with the energy and climate crisis, and seem to prefer the failed status quo. And why not? They've got their land already, who cares about the masses?!

NIMBYism is one thing. The involvement of the PCL and TRANSDEF, two groups that have done good work in the past on containing sprawl, in this lawsuit is another. It's a profound disappointment to see them engaged in an effort to kill the HSR project. Surely they realize that a lawsuit filed three months out from the election jeopardizes the passage of Proposition 1. They don't have an alternative political strategy either on this, either for passing the HSR bonds or for dealing with our state's transportation issues.

Their reason for suing involves the choice of Pacheco Pass to connect the Bay Area to the Central Valley instead of the Altamont Pass. As this blog has repeatedly argued, both alignments had their good points and their bad points - but neither was clearly superior to the other. The most important thing for those who truly want to see HSR built in California is that we make a choice and stick with it. The California High Speed Rail Authority chose Pacheco, and so these Altamont supporters are choosing to sue.

The arguments against Pacheco are weak and by no means enough to suggest HSR should not be built. We dealt with the sprawl issue on Sunday but more detail is warranted. Much of the Pacheco Pass region cannot be built upon for topographical or legal reasons. A station at Los Banos has been permanently canceled. Gilroy has an urban growth boundary that could be stronger, but it exists. Moreover, HSR as a station-oriented system would primarily encourage growth near the station itself, not in far-flung exurban areas. Finally, these critics have consistently ignored or dismissed the reasons why sprawl is in mortal danger - without cheap oil and cheap credit, sprawl is simply not possible.

More to the point, sprawl is a problem whether we build HSR or not. So why hold HSR hostage to an issue that we have to solve no matter what? This really is a case of the perfect being the enemy of the good. HSR would mitigate against sprawl, would reduce carbon emissions, save on oil consumption, and promote mass transit riding habits. Why on earth would two organizations who are usually supportive of mass transit try to kill HSR?

The Altamont option isn't perfect either. It would require a new rail bridge across the bay, which would bring environmental problems of its own. The cities of Fremont and Pleasanton promised to sue if it were built, while the cities along the Pacheco route are supportive. On the whole there is no clear and compelling case to choose Altamont over Pacheco - and besides, if we really want HSR to be built, we need to rally around the project and ensure it passes, not drag this out forever. It's like Hillary vs. Obama all over again.

The deeper problem is that these groups have no sense of urgency. Al Gore and Van Jones have both explained the need for environmentalists and conservationists to come up with solutions NOW if we are to blunt the momentum of the "drill now, drill everywhere" crowd. We cannot build the public momentum for mass transit solutions if environmental groups spend their time in opposition, It is time to start showing Californians that high speed rail is a better deal for them than relying on wallet-busting oil prices, a failing airline industry, or carbon-spewing methods of travel.

The last group involved in the suit is the California Rail Foundation, headed by Richard Tolmach. Their opposition sounds dire, but the CRF has all of three members. The much larger - and therefore more representative - California rail organizations have chosen not to join the suit, such as TRAC, or openly support high speed rail and Prop 1, such as RailPAC and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (TRAC's decision on whether to endorse will be made later this month). Several chapters of the Sierra Club, including many in Southern California, are also supportive of high speed rail, suggesting something of the broad support HSR has around the environmental community.

So it's deeply unfortunate that a small group of people upset that their favored route wasn't picked, or upset that their wealthy communities will have safer and cleaner trains, are choosing to sue. They don't represent the California environmental movement, they don't represent the California transit movement, and as the election results in November will surely demonstrate, they don't represent Californians period. Their frivolous lawsuit is a nuisance, but it won't stop us from making the case to Californians that high speed rail is a good and necessary project.


Anonymous said...

On thing is for sure, we are one step closer to Morris getting his wish of a $100 billion dollar train. Lawyers ain't cheap and every year this drags out inflates the cost of labor and materials.

We all wondered where Morris and Engel got their super high cost projections...turns out it is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Anonymous said...

How undemocratic! Trying to keep this proposition away from the voters so that a couple of rich jerks don't have to put-up with a couple of years of construction.

Where was East Menlo Park Morris at your little cabal?

You sir Morris are a villain!

Anonymous said...

The unfortunate thing is that sooner or later, Atherton and Menlo Park are going to get a grade separated four-track railroad whether they like it or not, as Caltrain ramps up service and the current two tracks prove inadequate, probably within a decade.

Eco Creative said...

TRANSDEF asked the HSRA for a "tolling agreement", which would have extended the CEQA filing deadline until after the election. The HSRA rejected this, leaving us no choice but to file now.

Your anger and desire for HSR is causing you to make TRANSDEF and PCL a scapegoat for HSR's woes. I have no confidence that the HSRA will actually deliver on the project even if the bond measure does pass.

Robert Cruickshank said...

"No choice" but to file now? I think you misunderstand my argument. It's not the timing I object to but the suit itself.

I'm not saying the project is perfect or that it can't be improved. However, neither is it so flawed that a lawsuit is needed.

Ultimately you folks need to ask yourself what's more important - taking action on sustainable transportation, fuel costs, and climate change; or going to the courts because you didn't get the decision you wanted.

I would welcome an explanation as to why this is so incredibly important an issue as to put the entire project at risk. This action quite rightly calls into question your commitment to sustainable mass transportation.

Anonymous said...


Why I should bother to reply to this thread Robert is questionable, but many of your assertions are just plain false. You seem to want to make this personal, as do some of your responders.

1. Martin and I both live in Townhomes. The lots are small; I would hardly use the term "wealthy landowners" to describe us.

2. You obviously know next to nothing about the politics of Menlo Park and Atherton. Menlo Park is a City of about 30,000 and the Council is hardly beholden to either of us or to any small group of residents. Your statement "Driven by a handful of wealthy landowners," is patently ridiculous.

The CalTrain corridor runs through the heart of the City and at places is only 55 to 60 feet wide. This is hardly what you say "should be stopped because it might not look pretty"; building this project will present enormous economic problems for the businesses in the heart of the City. Menlo Park, like all Cities depends on sales tax revenues to remain viable. This project will destroy business and these revenues.

Particularly in the center of the City, the commercial district has a narrow corridor. The project as presented requires at a bare minimum of 100 feet in width. This will necessitate eminent domain proceedings for CHSRA to obtain extra need land to build the project. During construction, to keep CalTrain running is going to require even more width along the corridor.

3. The headline for your thread, belies you. "Frivolous Lawsuits". If the lawsuit is frivolous why do you care? If it is frivolous, it will be tossed quickly by the courts. It is not frivolous and I think you well know that fact.

4. Your comments about urban sprawl hold no water. The project will encourage urban sprawl. You before talked about saving or reducing pollution in the central valley. Yet the CHSRA, by its own numbers, say 450,000 jobs will be created because of the project. Do you really believe that the relatively small amount of pollution saved by HSR moving passengers on rail instead of auto,is going to be anything but insignificant compared to the huge amount of pollution that is going to be created by the families of all those new job holders, who use autos everyday for normal tasks?

5. Lowenthal's committee 35 page report with its 15 items that needed to be addressed, seems not to faze you. You are ready to just push these under the table because of the wonderful greater good you see being created by the project 10 to 30 years in the future.

6. The leadership of the project has failed. It needs to be replaced. How can you come to any other conclusion, when you learn they haven't an agreement with the UPRR to use their right of way? How can you endorse this project when it has no business plan?

I say again. The project should be delayed. That really doesn't look like what is going to happen. I again urge viewers to listen to Senator Ashburn's comments when trying to get Prop 1 delayed for 2 years. They are so on point.

Anonymous said...

Robert you are being a tool. You object to the very idea of a lawsuit, ever, even by groups that will be supporting Prop. 1 in the fall?

Parties to the lawsuit wanted a tolling agreement so as to HELP Prop 1 pass; then fight out the Altamont/Pacheco thing in court. Know the authority has way them do both at the same time. Their lawsuit is about improving the HSR project, not defeating it.

By insisting that everyone shut up now, and forever, you are insisting that we all bend over and let Diridon, Kopp, et al. have their way with the project, no matter how much harm they cause. BS. People can fight their stupidity, and support the bond. You know walk and chew bubble gum at the same time.

Why not tell us why we should trust Kopp and Diridon given their records for transit planning disasters BART-Milbrae & SJ light rail)?

p.s. You know that the lawsuit is against the EIR for N. Cal crossing and not against the entire project EIR right?

p.p.s. The NIMBYs hate HSR and Caltrain too, but TRANSDEF & Sierra Club are big Caltrain supporters, and both Diridon and Kopp love BART and hate Caltrain, maybe the issues are more complicated.

Tony D. said...

MB states in the last post that PCL is one of the most admired environmental groups in the state...that is until now! What a bunch of whining baby's, "we didn't get the route we wanted, so let's file a lawsuit!" Idiots! And who cares what some jerk off from Howard Jarvis writes in Orange County; their "no money for anything" opinion is akin to nothing! I tell yah Robert, these people trying to thwart California's future really bug the hell out of me. Again, please tell me that the courts won't look seriously on these attempt to keep our state in the dark age. By the way, MB still hasn't answered the question: do you prefer Caltrain in its current state, or would you rather have clean, safe transit in your backyard? Earlier this decade, 101 in southern Santa Clara County was widened to 8-lanes (between south San Jose and Morgan Hill), and we heard the same stupid nonesense about encouraging sprawl...I live in Gilroy and have yet to see the sprawl that many naysayers predicted (and I'm not holding my breath either). Lastly Robert, is the Sierra Club now divided into pro/against camps for HSR? Meaning, those members south of Merced into Southern California favor, but those in the Tracy/Modesto area now oppose?

Anonymous said...

If anyone thought there was never a chance of some silly lawsuits with a project this huge theymust have been dreaming. Prop 1 will pass!! Polls since the 1980s have always shown people want HSR.We just need to move forward and wipe this doggie doo doo lawsuit and its nimby naysayer backers off our tracks!!

Anonymous said...

Caltrain has already studied and presented plans for a 4-track grade separation through Menlo Park. The drawings and report were once available from the Menlo Park city website. This was done in 2003, and I'm sure all interested parties were at all the meetings and are familiar with the designs. There ISN'T a need for a 100' ROW or taking peoples homes or much extra ROW at all.

Strange how things can get distorted.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Those who are trying to paint this suit as pro-HSR are missing the politics of this. How exactly do you expect your suit is going to be reported? As some friendly amendment, or as "omg enviros hate HSR!!!"? I'm not worried about the actual suit, but the political effect is not smart.

Those who are planning to sue over the choice of alignment need to ask themselves a hard question: do they support Altamont, or do they support high speed rail? I never cared which option was chosen as I never saw a definitive case for or against either one. Since the choice of Pacheco is not environmentally ruinous, there is no reason to sue over its choice, and no reason to resist its adoption.

We need to keep the big picture in mind. Those who sue because they didn't get their alignment do NOT have that in mind. They aren't paying attention to the politics or to the need to get started on this now.

As to Morris Brown's points, he seems to have ignored my repeated arguments as to why sprawl is in deep trouble. If HSR might cause sprawl, then why build it at all? That's a line of argument HSR can never win. Instead we need to build HSR *and* fight sprawl. Better land use laws will be needed regardless of whether HSR is built. To oppose a very green, sustainable form of transportation because it might cause sprawl is to de facto embrace oil, cars, freeways, and carbon emissions. It's a nonsensical and false opposition.

As to Menlo Park and Atherton, the effect on business as I understand it isn't an environmental issue, is it? I don't agree with you that this will destroy businesses - the most property that will have to be taken are private homes, and the business areas are already set back enough from the route to not be impacted by construction. The real issue is that these two cities have not accepted the fact that they are railroad town and not accepted the fact that the 20th century model of urbanism is no longer viable.

As to Lowenthal's report, I posted a point by point refutation in June when it came out. But like my arguments about sprawl, about the environmental benefits of HSR to Menlo Park and Atherton, you routinely ignore them because, I assume, you can't counter them.

Finally, as to leadership - the only reason you claim the HSR leadership has failed is because they haven't killed the project as you wish. Leadership does not mean "doing whatever Morris Brown and Martin Engel want."

Robert Cruickshank said...

Excellent points, cal and anon @ 4:03. tony d., I believe you are correct about the splits within the Sierra Club. There are many members who are actively trying to push the statewide organization to endorse Proposition 1. This blog fully supports those efforts.

Anonymous said...


You write:

"I don't agree with you that this will destroy businesses - the most property that will have to be taken are private homes, and the business areas are already set back enough from the route to not be impacted by construction."

So now you know more about our City than our CIty council and our City Staff> Amazing.

Anonymous said...

Menlo Park Local paper just put out an article on the lawsuit

Spokker said...

"The project would require grade separations -- building overpasses or underpasses to separate the tracks from the roadway at six local intersections -- resulting in years-long construction impacts for homes and businesses located near the Caltrain tracks, and major impacts on local property values."

Haha, oh no, those evil grade separations are going to destroy our community. Separate train and vehicular traffic? Not in my backyard.

Since I was the first to comment on the story it told me to pick a category for the article for some reason. I chose "fiction" :)

Anonymous said...

Looks like there may have been an error in the original post.

The last group involved in the suit is the California Rail Foundation...
The much larger - and therefore more representative - California rail organizations have chosen not to join the suit, such as TRAC...

The article points out that the CRF is TRAC's educational arm.

Anonymous said...

Under no conceivable non-Pacheco (= non massive pork for construction mafia) scenario does Caltrain EVER -- ever -- require four tracks through Menlo Park, or any point between Atherton and Santa Clara.

This diagram shows how the maximum useful level of Caltrain service -- four local trains per direction per hour PLUS four "bullet" trains per direction EVERY hour -- along with the maximum useful level of HSR service -- four HSR to SF every hour, plus anywhere from four to eight to Might San Jose every hour -- can be accommodated by a wise and strategic amount of infrastructure.

Yes, grade crossings are (eventually) necessary at every road crossing the full length of the line, regardless of HSR.

No, it is not necessary to WASTE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS building unnecessary, disruptive and, by rational analysis, useless infrastructure (= quad-tracking SF to Hillsdale including massively expensive four-track tunnels into SF; quad-tracking Redwood Junction-Sunnyvale; literally insane CHSRA plans for double-decking San Jose Cahill Street Station and building underground junctions in Santa Clara to do this.

In the end if comes down to whether you view state expenditures as massive, open-ended, bottomless, free-for-all swilling troughs for the consultant mafia who make out so very, very well hereabouts (BART to Millbrae! BART to Santa Clara! Central Subway! Caldecott Tunnel! BAY BRIDGE!) or whether you allow room even the slightest room for the idea that what we should be doing is maximizing economic and environmental return on massive public investment.

The problem is that CHSRA, with its proven failures (BART to MIllbrae, VTA Light Rail, etc) actively fronting the cause, has explicitly telegraphed that cost is no object, utility is no goal and environmental consideration are to be bulldozered.

Yes, we desperately need HSR.

But not at any cost -- which is what our Special Friends are planning to deliver.
They've made that absolutely explicit in their "environmental" document (bottom line: whatever is good for the builders of BART to San Jose -- who just happen to the same people preparing the Bay Area HSR EIR, surprise! -- is good for California), and they've made that absolutely explicit in their track record (look no further than Kopp's BART to Millbrae.)

When this tanks, and when the costs blow out by 100% or more, and when the "promised" program can't be delivered (8 HSR per direction per hour to SF is simply impossible because of terminal congestion, just for example), and when the construction and in particular tunneling costs in Pachecho "unexpectedly" blow out by an order of magnitude, and when the environmental impacts turn out to be exactly what environmental groups claimed they would be, well, don't say it wasn't blindingly obvious what was afoot.

We've seen it all before, from exactly the same corrupt cast of characters, after all.

Rafael said...

A few cents if I may:

a) the lawsuit may well delay getting the Bay Area to Central Valley EIR/EIS portion nailed down, but that does not mean prop 1 is off the ballot. If CHSRA is smart, they will respond to the filing quickly by announcing a change to the construction phasing, focusing on the uncontroversial portions of the route. There's plenty to do, so they might as well start on the Fresno - Anaheim and San Francisco - Redwood City sections.

b) CHSRA would also do well to adopt a divide-and-conquer approach to settle this lawsuit out of court. The cities of Atherton and Menlo Park are actually the easier plaintiffs to deal with in this context. There is no good reason not to run trains at grade there, eliminating the need for a high berm, temporary shoofly tracks for Caltrain etc. Only a single underpass would be constructed, at Ravenswood Ave. (Atherton already has one at 5th Avenue). The money saved could be put toward attractive soundwalls.

If these cities want HSR construction to actually increase local realty values, they should chip in so their section can be entirely enclosed above ground. The underside of the roof would support the overhead catenaries for both Caltrain and HSR. The exposed side would be a linear park 100 feet wide and 3.4 miles long, similar to the Promenade Plantee in Paris or the Highline in New York (currently under construction).

The plaintiffs' legal arguments will center on wildlife habitat in Pacheco Pass and water resources. The former should be easy enough swat down, but CHSRA will have to demonstrate that tunnel construction will not result in aquifer damage, as it did in Abdalajis Valley in arid Andalucia (Spain) in the context of an HSR project there.

c) Altamont variation #9 does NOT require a new Bay crossing. It just doesn't.

What is more, if you omit the spur to Oakland to obtain a fair comparison, it costs the same as Pacheco. Note that all of the Pacheco options studied did include the ~$2 billion section between Madera and south Stockton, again for the sake of a fair comparison.

The SF-LA line haul penalty for this variation was overstated. True, the San Jose-LA leg takes 10 minutes longer. However, it simply does not take an additional 30 minutes to reverse the direction of travel with a high speed trainset. The driver just has to walk the length of the train.

To eliminate even that, there are two options: either use Santa Clara/SJC instead of San Jose Diridon station or, keep the station but route the trains south onto 280 east and north on 680 to the foot of Sunol Grade, site of an HSR station for selected semi-express HSR trains. From there, either cut across to Fremont Central Park or, tunnel over to Sunol and perhaps, across to the western edge of Livermore and out along 580/205.

This latter option would give Fremont, Pleasanton and Livermore adequate access to HSR service without running tracks through their town centers. The alignment would also steer clear of UPRR tracks, crossing them at a right angle in west Livermore and a couple of times in the Altamont Pass. It would also steer clear of the proposed BART extension to Santa Clara.

c) Altamont instead of Pacheco would eliminate any need for an "HST overlay" for Northern California, which would cost an additional $5.3 billion ($8 billion with the spur to Oakland). It would also relieve pressure on highways 205, 580, 680, 880 and 80 (once the spur to Sacramento is complete). Furthermore, serving the Delta counties early would encourage people and business to move there early as well, reducing demand for additional water and electricity distribution projects down the road. Building up the economic muscle sooner of the Central Valley would also reduce the state's overall exposure to earthquake risk at an earlier time.


Bottom line: while having any kind of HSR network is far preferable to not having one at all, I do agree that choosing Pacheco was a fairly boneheaded move. Getting to LA about ten minutes sooner is not reason enough to screw over millions of voters in the East Bay and Delta counties, jeopardizing the passage of prop 1. Besides, lots of people will need to travel within Northern California. HSR is not only about avoiding new runways at SFO and LAX.

IMHO, CHSRA simply did not try hard enough to come up with a viable Altamont-only solution, perhaps because doing so would have reduced the revenue opportunity for Parsons Brinckerhoff and research grants their friends at the Mineta Institute.

That said, I think the timing of this lawsuit is clearly intended to sabotage the entire project ahead of the November vote. Any plaintiffs who claim they only want to improve the chances of passage are either disingeneous or hopelessly naive. Whatever direct or indirect cost savings might result from reconsidering the HSR route out of the Bay Area will be negated up by construction cost inflation.

Rafael said...

@ richard mlyanarik -

CHSRA had to plan for four tracks along the entire peninsula corridor because of FRA rules on mixed traffic.

This federal agency must approve all rail projects in the US. Its crash safety rules are different from those used internationally. The agency essentially prohibits running compliant and non-compliant rolling stock on the same tracks.

Caltrain's equipment is currently compliant, though it plans to apply for a waiver to let it buy off-the-shelf European EMU equipment for commuter rail service.

HSR makes no sense unless FRA grants a separate waiver to use off-the-shelf high speed trainset technology.

IFF FRA grants BOTH waivers AND Caltrain and HSR operations are very tightly integrated it might be possible to avoid eminent domain proceedings in the 38% of the peninsula corridor ROW that are currently too narrow to accommodate four tracks.

However, SF-SJ line haul time would increase from 30 minutes to something close to 45 just to placate a small number of homeowners - quite possibly, an unacceptable penalty for this statewide project.

Anonymous said...

'Frivilous' is a loaded term, and certainly does not describe the excellent work done by Transdef. Frivilous implies lawsuits quickly dismissed as without merit. In fact, Transdef usually wins their cases, or at the very least settles out of court on very favorable terms.

Also note that BayRail alliance is one of the plaintiffs. This is hardly some random nimby group. They are the ones who saved the Caltrain ROW from getting sold off (at firesale prices). They got the Baby Bullet express service funded, and numerous other improvements. Oh, and they pretty much single-handedly saved the TTT and got the DTX project going. Without their efforts, I don't think we would even be here discussing a CAHSR program (though no doubt we can look forward to more asinine criticism of this group too from Robert).

Anonymous said...


Why aren't you on the CHSRA board or even better head of the whole project? Then quite possibly a project would have been designed that was a good project; certainly not what is being proposed here.

I take exception to a couple of items.

You write:

"That said, I think the timing of this lawsuit is clearly intended to sabotage the entire project ahead of the November vote.

This simply is not true. The timing was dictated by the 30 day rule that the suit must be filed within that time frame from date of certification. Indeed the CHSRA was asked to agree to a tolling agreement to extend the time period beyond the election -- they refused.

You write:

"However, SF-SJ line haul time would increase from 30 minutes to something close to 45 just to placate a small number of homeowners - quite possibly, an unacceptable penalty for this statewide project."

It is hardly only a small number of homeowners objecting. As I stated earlier, the councils were acting on behalf of their whole communities; homeowners, business owners, commercial land owners etc.

The has become a fully partisan battle, with Democrats on the pro side and Republicans on the con side.

Finally please note that DERAIL, while supporting the lawsuit, is not one of the plaintiffs. DERAIL did not itself comment on the EIR; DERAIL thus has no standing with the court.

Brandon in California said...

I have yet to locate a link to the lawsuit.

Until it is reviewable... what comes to mind is if Menlo Park or Atherton have “standing”. They need to prove “standing” in order for their participation to move forward.

If the lawsuit only specifies objection to Pacheco (b/c of environmental or sprawl implications) ... then they have zero “standing”. Altamont goes through both communities too… or has options that do the same. The lawsuit would need something else to continue their participation. Or, they file a separate lawsuit.

With that said, I have two comments


The lawsuit will very likely not be heard until after November 4th. Why? A judge will see that the lawsuit and Proposition 1 (the bond measure) are not legally linked. Prop 1 only authorizes the state to barrow funds for a specified purpose (including alignment in this case). It does not “okay” the project. HSR is not on a referendum. Or, the alignment of the HSR on a referendum. Only barrowing money is on the ballot measure.

If it fails, HSR can still move forward.

Therefore, the judge assigned to the lawsuit will likely see the political implications, if any (see 2nd point), not want to interfere, and delay hearing the lawsuit until after November 4th. The lawsuit would therefore have little, if any, implications on voter feelings on HSR. Maybe only locally in Atherton and Menlo Park?


Not a single person outside a small group of folks is familiar with Menlo Park and Atherton’s objections. That includes millions of voters in Southern California and elsewhere outside of those two small berg’s. Or, outside of the communication links to the advocacy groups mentioned in the blog post. As of this evening there is only one news article mentioning the lawsuit.

Ironically, they probably learned about it through this website.

So, you know what I think… no big deal relative to the outcome expected this November.

But I am not finished.

Richard Mlynarik often has good points if you read beyond the editorialization of his comments. I have reviewed other posting of his at other locations. But, I’d like to hear more about the claim that only 2 tracks are needed through Menlo Park and Atherton.

I note two things that should be spoken too…. One, the scenario he describes requires “creative scheduling” of trains AND two, that HSR trains are capped at 4 trains per hour per direction.

To me it seems that a statewide system should not cow-tow to this small segment. Why should 38 million Californians, minus 50k in that area, have to adjust their travel behavior (picking train times) for so little of a physical area? Something costly, like a tunnel or airial structure is something, but not something with so little of an implication. That’s my initial thought… and I’d like to hear a rebuttal.

About HSR being capped at 4 trains per hour… that is terrible service. Where do those trains go? If those trains are split between destinations to terminuses at Sacramento, San Diego, and Anaheim/Irvine… that leaves absolutely terrible levels of service when one further considers that HSR will need to provide varied services types (express, commute, regional, etc).

Additionally, anticipated/projected ridership will have demand that will outstrip those 4 trains per hour limitation.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I am not sure that the article is correct. As folks inside TRAC have told me, there is separation between them and CRF, and that TRAC has specifically voted to NOT join this suit.

It is profoundly disappointing to hear that BayRail Alliance has joined the suit as well. I have a lot of respect for that organization, attended several of their meetings on HSR last year, and I know that Margaret Okuzumi played a key role in ensuring that the CHSRA got funded during last year's budget cycle when Arnold was trying to basically shut them down. I think it is a major strategic error for them to be a part of this suit.

rafael, as always, makes excellent points. I have been consistent in my own agnosticism on the Altamont vs. Pacheco argument - my point was that everyone needed to keep a sense of perspective, and not allow the debate to overshadow the real task at hand which is getting high speed rail built.

Unfortunately those who are choosing to sue have done exactly that. They are willing to jeopardize the entire project just because they're not happy with the chosen alignment, even though Pacheco is by no means a flawed or bad choice. Even those arguing for Altamont are merely saying Altamont is better, not that Pacheco is horrible.

It's a sad truth that far too many people in California do not have an adequate sense of perspective on mass transit, and are willing to let parochial concerns prevent long overdue action. In LA County the Board of Supervisors actually voted against the sales tax plan that would finally build the Subway to the Sea. Now we see some transportation and environmental groups trying to kill high speed rail because it didn't go their way.

Meanwhile British government scientists warn that global warming is proceeding much faster than anticipated and that catastrophic impacts now seem likely. And yet we can't even agree on building HSR, which would be a small but significant step forward in addressing the crisis here in California.

When looked at in the bigger picture, Altamont just isn't that important. I am certain that California voters will see that. Why can't these groups see it too?

Brandon in California said...

I have visited websites of each group mentioned in the post and some of the user posts. At each official organizations website tehre is zero mention of a lawsuit. Additionally, BayRail Alliance still exhibits support....of course it is dated .

But, if any of these orgs switch their positions... tehy can be labelled as flip-floppers.... and their legitimacy, if any, takes a nose dive.

So far, I think this is being blown out of proportion... even if the lawsuit is real.

Robert Cruickshank said...

It's true that nothing has yet been filed with the court, as I understand it. But the lawsuit is quite real. I'm not surprised that these groups haven't posted about it yet, since especially if you're a transportation group do you really want to advertise that you're against trains? (And the BayRail Alliance site hasn't been updated in several months anyway.)

As to blowing it out of proportion, I dunno. Blogs sometimes have that effect. I believe in rapid response, so that is invariably going to sometimes come off as being a bit overheated. I don't think this lawsuit is going to kill Prop 1's chances, far from it. But it is a sad commentary on just how little vision and perspective some groups have. Suing over Altamont? Come on. See the forest, not just the trees.

Tony D. said...

You stated "Getting to LA about 10 minutes sooner is not reason enough to screw over millions of voters in the East Bay and delta counties." So are you suggesting that the millions in San Jose, Santa Clara County, Gilroy and the Monterey Bay Region should instead be screwed?!! Look, what are Santa Clara County's options for traveling to Southern California and Central Valley...Southwest Airlines and a two-lane farm road known as Pacheco Pass Highway/hwy. 152. The East Bay to same destinations...Southwest Airlines, ACE rail, BART deep into eastern Alameda Co. and an 8-lane freeway in 580. The Pacheco Pass HSR alignment gives San Jose/Silicon Valley (the economic/population powerhouse of Northern California) a desperately needed transportation alternative to the hwy. 152 nightmare. Also, can someone tell me what the hell is wrong with the Pacheco Pass HSR alignment AND an Altamont HS overlay? Why not have the best of both worlds people? My apologies Robert, but these Altamont backers, who are crying like baby's because they didn't get their way, are really starting to get on my nerves. The BayRail Alliance, as Brandon suggested, is no longer legitimate if they're part of this lawsuit nonesense. It's Pacheco Pass main line and Altamont HS overlay...GET OVER IT AND LET'S MOVE ON!

Anonymous said...

@ morris-

"Martin and I both live in Townhomes. The lots are small; I would hardly use the term "wealthy landowners" to describe us"

Really? Because zillow estimates that Martin's home is worth.... get ready for it...


hardly wealthy indeed! Thats a home value worth denying the state a valuable piece of infrastructure for! But Martin Engel wealthy! Never!

Just search on zillow:
Stone Pine Ln Menlo Park CA 94025

I won't disclose the address totally, though it is easy to find on the discussion boards for menlo park. I didn't want to do this, but the gall of Morris Brown is too much.

And to Morris, anyone that lives on Stone Pine Lane owns housing worth over a million dollars. For most of us peasants, that's a "wealthy landowner." Try and reconnect to reality sometime soon.

Mike Fogel said...

Heh, living in Redwood City (right next to Atherton and Menlo Park) I can say that those two communities, without a doubt, are the most out-of-place of the bay area. Especially Atherton. It's surreal. Basically one big country estate with mansions scattered about, vineyards, tennis courts, and... armies of gardeners from Redwood City. And one crazy guy on a bike weaving in and out of the mercedes and land rovers...

So, Robert, you have a ton of great info and thoughts on the project. Thanks very much for taking the time to write, maintain, research - everything. You're doing an awesome job. Hopefully what you're doing will be a small part of a very large change for our state, and in the longer term, for our nation and our planet.

But! I want to call you out on one thing.

"A station at Los Banos has been permanently canceled. Gilroy has an urban growth boundary..."

Those boundaries will exist, and stay strong, as long as we have the luxury of doing so. 10 years? 30 years? 30 would be great. When there's pressure on those communities for growth on the magnitude that high speed rail will bring, growth WILL happen. If not by us, by our children, and if not by them, then by our grandchildren. But... it's kinda impossible to plan that far out anyway. But don't pretend that greenline legislation is like some mountain or ocean in the way... it's not. Those laws exist at the will of the people & their government - who on a 30-year time scale, are extremely fickle.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps in an ideal world it would be possible to build both Altamont and Pachecho. But at the very least, we should prioritize the one that has the most benefit, and that is without a doubt the Altamont alternative. It is less expensive and serves much greater population area.

Anonymous said...

@ Morris Brown:

"Do you really believe that the relatively small amount of pollution saved by HSR moving passengers on rail instead of auto, is going to be anything but insignificant compared to the huge amount of pollution that is going to be created by the families of all those new job holders, who use autos everyday for normal tasks?"

Yes. How rude that the project would create so many permanent jobs!

By the way, I take public transportation to work along with thousands of others. You should look into it. It's nice.

Robert Cruickshank said...

michael d., you're absolutely right that no law is permanent. But that is a struggle we have to undertake whether or not HSR gets built. And given the state's overwhelming need for HSR - a need those who are suing persistently overlook - I am more than happy to have to engage in more determined anti-sprawl activism as a price of constructing HSR.

Those defending the suit are drawing a false dichotomy: either we build HSR or we fight sprawl. Instead the two can and should work hand-in-hand. HSR encourages city center to city center traveling and spurs transit oriented development. For anti-sprawl measures to be effective you must also encourage density. HSR does that.

More importantly, what IS permanent and not fickle is global warming, the energy crisis, air pollution. Those defending the suit are implicitly saying we have the ability to wait 5-10 years to start construction on HSR. The scientists don't think we have that long to wait to act on global warming. Neither does Al Gore. What do the lawsuit filers know that Gore and the scientists don't?

Robert Cruickshank said...

bikerider, the question is no longer whether Altamont would be better. The question before the state now is whether we pass Prop 1 or not. Your ongoing Altamont advocacy is like Hillary supporters who would rather derail the Democratic convention than accept Obama's nomination.

Pacheco is the option chosen. If we want to build HSR, we must accept it and work our ass off to pass Prop 1. We need to not let the small details overwhelm the big picture.

Rafael said...

@ tony d. -

I'm with bikerider on this. The public perception is that the state budget has been severely stretched by the Schwarzenegger administration, mostly to deal with the mess Gov. Davis left behind and, decades of underinvestment in critical infrastructure. CHSRA decided against adjusting the bond volume for construction cost inflation since 2002 because it felt - probably rightly - that votes would not approve more than $10 billion in the present political climate.

Voters are feeling the pinch privately and want to see the state maximizing value for dollar. That goes doubly for an ambitious brand-new infrastructure project - it should serve the anticipated needs of as many people as possible as soon as possible.

Ten years of CHSRA analysis have led to the following requirements for the route of the Bay Area:
1. SF-LA line haul time of 2.5-3 hours (lower bound strongly preferred for relieving congestion at airports)
2. all trains must stop at both ends of the SF peninsula
3. no new Bay crossing
4. zero or minimal damage to remaining wilderness areas
5. welcomed by local communities
6. acceptable construction cost
7. high ridership potential (high capacity utilization)

It turns out both Altamont (var. #9) and Pacheco (var. #12) meet all of these requirements. Pacheco is better in aspects 1 and 5, Altamont in aspects 4 and 7.

CHSRA claims Altamont would yield lower revenue, but that is based on the nonsensical assumption that all trains need to run from SF to LA, regardless of how full they are. There's nothing wrong with terminating some trains in Merced or Fresno if that's how the market plays out. A better clue to utility may be the population of the counties served.

CSAC lists 2006 population by county as follows:

Alameda 1,530,620
Merced 252,554
Monterey 425,356
Sacramento 1,415,117
San Benito 57,493
San Joaquin 680,183
Santa Clara 1,820,176
Santa Cruz 265,183
Stanislaus 523,095

Initially, Altamont var. #9 would best serve northern Santa Clara county plus southern and eastern Alameda and San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties. Total: around 4.5 million beneficiaries. Once the spur to Sacramento is built, it will do double duty as gateway to both SoCal and the Bay Area.

By contrast, Pacheco would best serve all of Santa Clara plus San Benito, northern Monterey and southern Santa Cruz counties. Total: around 2.5 million beneficiaries. Considering the lack of transit services into Gilroy, that's actually a generous estimate. Moreover, the Sacramento spur will be fine for getting to SoCal only. It will do little for travel within NorCal.

As discussed in my earlier post, the weaknesses inherent in var. #9 can be overcome with a few tweaks. By contrast, the weaknesses inherent in var. #12 are more profound. CHSRA even had to resort to "considering an HST overlay" with a price tag of $8 billion over and above the $45 billion for the core system. Right now, even discussing that kind of project bloat endangers passage of prop 1.

Bottom line: there's only enough money right now for either Altamont var. #9 minus the spur to Oakland or for Pacheco. In this context, Pacheco was the suboptimal choice, both with respect to getting prop 1 passed and with respect to maximizing bang for buck. That's why I would have preferred Altamont #9.

However, I don't believe the preference for Pacheco is worth suing over. The most important thing right now is to get prop 1 passed.

Note that I have argued that a separate, future bond measure for improvements to regular speed passenger rail services, especially along the central coast corridor south of Gilroy and LOSSAN south of Irvine. Perhaps the routes north and especially, east of Sacramento could also do with upgrades. By this, I mean laying new, publicly funded track to enable mutual trackage agreements with freight operators. The trains would be FRA-compliant tier 4 diesel locomotives and rolling stock, the top speed 79-110mph (to keep costs within reason).

Brandon in California said...

The decision has been made; it's Pacheco.

If Altamont occurs, it will be in a later phase.

If it is to occur in the near future, the effort should probably lead by local transportation planning organizations, such as MTC and the San Joaquin COG, because Altamont would primarily serve commute interests occuring Monday-Friday and at peak times. It has only nominal statewide merit at this time... which is the point of the proposed CHSRA system.

The future may be different and this leads me to repeating myself form past posts...

The Central Valley is expected to grow significantly whether HSR occurs or not. The Central Valley will also encounter increased transportation problems like congestion, air pollution, crowded airports, etc.

HSR would help mitigate a lot of the impacts from that expected growth.

22 million new people by 2050 need to live somewhere. And they cannot all fit on the coast. A lot will eventually find themselves in the Central Valley where land is cheaper and there is more open space to enjoy.

And in fact, if HSR moves forward, some of those peeps will be located in smart growth/TOD areas at station locations versus being located on the urban fringe gobbling-up valuable agricultural land.

My point, HSR is a solution for the Central Valley. It is not the original cause.

Anonymous said...

Rafael writes

"CHSRA decided against adjusting the bond volume for construction cost inflation since 2002 because it felt - probably rightly - that votes would not approve more than $10 billion in the present political climate."

An admission that Prop 1 is fraudulent -- that the construction costs are being under estimated so that Prop 1 will pass.

If this could be proved, I wonder if there would not be a few bodies end up residing in our ever growing prison population.

Is the new business plan going to reveal the true estimated cost of construction?

Anonymous said...

@Rafael -- "That said, I think the timing of this lawsuit is clearly intended to sabotage the entire project ahead of the November vote."

No, the lawsuit was filed because you have 30 days to file a lawsuit challenging an EIR/EIS decision.

@everyone else -- go look at the exchange Robert and I had on the Calitics Blog.

But everyone should stop saying "the decision has been made, move along, move along!"

Before 1999 the Altamont Pass was the decision. Then quietly, unexpectedly without any study suddenly - the Pacheco Pass became the preferred choice. Since then the pro-Pacheco Pass people have been saying "the decision has been made, decision was made" as a way to shut up the opposition. No studies -- to back it up.

Mind you this was before the draft EIR/EIS had even been started. This was before Regional Measure 2 which provided additional money to study the Bay Area part of the HSR project.

So absent any data or legal process - for 9 years CHSRA has been trying to shut up anyone who has opposed the Pacheco Pass for any reason with "the decision has been made - move along"

Lastly before you dismiss the areas impacted look here: and

If you believe in the importance of the law then you should ask why was the decision made prior to the legal process that is required to occur prior to the decision.

Anonymous said...

Sorry as links!
Grasslands Eco Area and TNC's Mount Hamilton Project

無名 - wu ming said...

irritating rich homeowners in atherton is a feature, not a bug.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the 15' berm, and catenary on the HSR through Menlo Park and Atherton.

About the berm, skip that, and follow the path taken by BART on the other side of the SF Bay, Elevate the track for the HSR, leave CalTrain on the ground, or raise them both.

About the catenary, I don't understand their aversion to that, I have lived in CH, F, and D, and shortly one stops noticing them. If necessary go to an older french catenary, arch,gothic window structure, so it's 'pretty' for them.

Anonymous said...

everyone keeps talking about Menlo and Atherton, what about the other communities along the route, like Sunnyvale and Mountain View, how are those homes impacted? There are condos and apartments along the tracks in Sunnyvale, how are they impacted?