Hoping a unified voice will be heard louder than those of individuals, Peninsula cities and local officials are beginning to band together as a group to express their concerns to the state about bringing high-speed rail to the Peninsula.
In November, voters passed Proposition 1A, authorizing $10 million to be used to begin developing plans for a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The California High-Speed Rail Authority began holding public meetings and city officials began receiving questions from constituents about the plan. However, few cities had answers and officials were often in the dark about the actual plans for high-speed rail.
All that is changing as cities come up to speed on the project and city officials are forming groups to offer unified voices against plans that might adversely affect their cities.
Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Atherton are championing the Peninsula Cities Consortium — a formal group representing common interests of cities hoping to reduce the impacts of high-speed rail. The Menlo Park City Council discussed last month a memorandum of understanding that can be signed by all cities choosing to participate in the group. Participating cities will be represented by a group by members of various city councils appointed by that city’s mayor, according to the memo. Burlingame and Belmont recently joined.
The memo allows all cities to take policy positions that are independent of the consortium. Also, any decision reached in the consortium is non-binding and a city may withdraw at any time, according to the MOU.
"While all of the Peninsula cities may have different points of view on some issues, this agreement outlines a set of objectives that are common to all Peninsula cities. The consortium intends to speak as one voice on these and other issues of mutual agreement concerning the future of high-speed rail,” according to the MOU.
The consortium will only form if five cities join. Once formed, members will choose a chair and vice chair and all votes will pass with a majority vote, according to the MOU.
The consortium will "focus on all things we can agree on,” said Burlingame City Manager Jim Nantell.
The Burlingame City Council voted 4-1 Monday night to join the consortium. Councilwoman Rosalie O’Mahony opposed the idea.
While the consortium is the brainchild of the cities suing the California High-Speed Rail Authority, it does specifically support the lawsuit. Menlo Park and Atherton argue in the lawsuit that the California High-Speed Rail Authority improperly chose the Peninsula as the best way to bring fast-moving trains from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Another popular plan was to bring trains through the Central Valley and across the Bay via an addition to the Dumbarton Bridge.
Belmont has also joined the consortium, said Vice Mayor Christine Wozniak.
Wozniak said it is in the city’s effort to "do what’s best.” Being part of the group will help cities get answers faster and be heard clearly. Wozniak said she wants answers about how the proposal could affect property on Old County Road and whether raised rails would divide the city.
"One good thing is it gives us a voice,” Wozniak said.
A problem the group is facing is the lack of answers from the high-speed rail authority, which is only in an initial public input period and will not have specific plans for months.
The authority and Caltrain agreed to lead community meetings over the next couple of months. However, not everyone is comfortable with the rail agencies leading the meeting and presenting the findings when they have specific interests to represent, Nantell said.
Burlingame is also part of an informal group with Millbrae and San Mateo officials. The group will remain intact and Burlingame intends on being part of both the north county and south county group, Nantell said.
That group has decided to hold its own community meeting and turn over its reports regarding residential concerns to Caltrain and the High-Speed Rail Authority.
The major issue facing cities is whether rails should be placed underground. Many agree they should, but are afraid they will be forced to pay the cost of undergrounding the rails.
The cities will have to decide if that is an appropriate use of city money, Nantell said.
Dana Yates can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.