High Speed Rail Authority Says Ruling Won’t Affect Timeline or Funding

CHSR_10_SouthBay_A_05_3600_2025.jpgHigh Speed Rail as envisioned running along the San Francisco Bay. Image: California High Speed Rail Authority.

A
Sacramento judge ruled this week that the California High Speed Rail
Authority failed to provide an adequate description of the San Francisco to Los Angeles high speed train
project in its Environmental Impact Report. Critics of the project
hailed it as an important victory, but the fine print of the decision
may leave less room for their celebration, as the court rejected
contentions about the project’s route, biological impacts, and ability
to induce sprawl in the Central Valley.

The court found that the plaintiffs – the Town of Atherton, the
City Menlo Park, the Planning and Conservation League, Transportation
Solutions Defense and Education Fund, California Rail Foundation, and
Bayrail Alliance – had two major legitimate complaints. The Authority
failed to recirculate the Final Project EIR after learning that the
Union Pacific Railroad would not allow high speed trains to share its
right of way from San Jose to Gilroy, which means the train will have
an impact either on the adjacent Monterey Highway or residents and
businesses along the route, the court ruled.

The ruling,
by Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny, also found that the Authority’s
claim "that mitigation strategies will reduce the vibration impact to a
less-than-significant level is not supported by substantial evidence."
On related complaints about noise and visual impact, the court ruled in
the Authority’s favor.

Stuart Flashman, the Oakland-based land-use attorney representing the plaintiffs, told The Almanac
newspaper the Authority is "back to the drawing board" as a result of
the ruling. In fact, the ruling may not give critics of high-speed rail
much of a wedge.

"The
assessment of our lawyers," said Authority Executive Director Mehdi
Morshed, "is that the court decision is a minor issue and that it’s not
going to impact our schedule, that we can continue our work and not
it’s going to have an impact on our project-level work or our federal
funding request."

Though the judge has yet to determine what
the Authority will need to do to remedy the situation, Morshed does not
anticipate it will set the project back. Even before the ruling, the
Authority had "accepted the fact that we can’t use the UP right of
way," said Morshed. "We’re proceeding accordingly. So the fact that
they’re saying, ‘Well, how are you going to handle UP right of way,’ is
something we’ve been doing, so it’s not something new."

The
ruling is more problematic for proponents of alternative alignments
along the Altamont Pass, I-280, and US-101, since the court sided with
the Authority in their review of alternative routes. "We actually think
it’s a very, very good court ruling," said Morshed. "If you read it,
the judge agreed with practically everything we did. All the issues
that the people who sued us raised, the judge found them to be invalid.
So, it’s just these two issues that the judge said we need to do more
work on, and we’ll be happy to do that. But fundamentally, our big
fundamental issue is, the judge agreed with us."

"For those who wanted us to basically give up on Pacheco and go back and look at Altamont, the judge didn’t give them that."

Given
how contentious the project has been with some Peninsula residents, of
course, this is not likely to be the last skirmish. But for now, the
Authority doesn’t view the ruling as the major setback portrayed in
some newspaper headlines this morning.