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Lawsuit: Calif. ignored cities' concerns on high-speed rail

(The following article by Mike Rosenberg was posted on the Palo Alto Daily News website on February 19.)

PALO ALTO, Calif. -- The California High Speed Rail Authority ignored Menlo Park's comment letter that outlined how their proposed bullet trains would force Peninsula homeowners to lose their property, according to opening arguments filed Thursday in the city's lawsuit against the state.

The claim was part of the 44-page argument brief filed in Sacramento County Court on Thursday on behalf of Menlo Park, Atherton and four other groups that are jointly suing the authority, which is in charge of the proposed state high-speed rail project.

The brief, filed in August by Oakland-based attorney Stuart Flashman, was submitted on the basis that authority officials violated state environmental law when they chose the plan to run the train through the Peninsula.

The rail authority will respond to the initial argument, and Flashman will respond with a counter-argument. A judge will decide to either dismiss the claims or order the authority to redo its lengthy and costly environmental planning, which would set the project back and may change the rail's route.

The plaintiffs argued the trains should be sent through the Altamont Pass in the East Bay rather than the Pacheco Pass on the Peninsula, which the authority selected as its route last July. Peninsula cities such as Menlo Park and Atherton are concerned that property owners close to the rail line would lose their property through eminent domain to make way for the new tracks.

The most significant claim in the brief was that the authority never received Menlo Park's comments that were made before the Pacheco Pass route was approved. State environmental law requires government bodies to review comments from cities and residents before a planning decision of this kind is made.

Flashman wrote that the city successfully sent the authority a letter via fax, and that the authority received it, but at some point it "went astray."

"At any rate, the letter did not appear in the (planning document) and was never responded to," Flashman wrote. "Consequently, the Authority's Board (of Directors) was never made aware of the city's concerns."

The brief also said the authority failed to take into account the cost of eminent domain purchases on the Peninsula before choosing the Pacheco Pass alignment, which the plaintiffs claimed the authority was biased toward.

Deputy Attorney General Danae Aitchison, who is representing the authority in the case, said Thursday she received the brief but couldn't comment since she hadn't read it yet. Authority Deputy Director Dan Leavitt did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Friday, February 20, 2009

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