Palo Alto has decided to join the ongoing lawsuit against the state agency charged with running a high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
The City Council decided in a closed session early Tuesday morning to file amicus curiae -- or a "friend of the court" brief -- for the suit filed last year by Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of environmental groups against the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA). Though the deadline for joining the lawsuit has passed, the council's decision will allow Palo Alto to submit documents to the Sacramento County Superior Court supporting the plaintiffs and providing the city's perspective.
The city would not, however, be a plaintiff in the suit.
The council reached a decision by a 5-3 vote after a midnight session following its meeting Monday night. Mayor Peter Drekmeier and council members Yoriko Kishimoto and John Barton voted against filing the brief. Councilman Sid Espinosa was absent.
Several council members, including Larry Klein and Pat Burt, expressed concern during the meeting about the rail authority's process for designing its track alignment through the Peninsula.
"I think there are things that I hope that the city will achieve from the brief, mainly to assure that the program-level EIR is done with adequate analysis," Burt told the Palo Alto Weekly. "As we've been digging into all these issues in recent months, a lot more questions have been raised about the adequacy of that EIR."
City Attorney Gary Baum said the city's brief would run parallel with the complaint filed by the plaintiffs and explore many similar themes.
The coalition's lawsuit argues that the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed to conduct an adequate environmental review before it chose Pacheco Pass as its preferred route for the rail-line section between the Bay Area and Central Valley. The plaintiffs argue that the agency dismissed the Altamont Pass, which runs through the East Bay, without a proper analysis.
"Petitioners allege that the CHSRA's consideration of these two major alternatives was neither fair nor complete, but, instead, improperly distorted the analysis of benefits and impacts, and ultimately of feasibility and desirability to unfairly and improperly bias the analysis in favor of approving the Pacheco Alignment," states the complaint prepared by Stuart Flashman, the attorney for the plaintiff.
Baum said his office will be working with a consultant in the next month to put the brief together, he said. The court would then decide whether to accept the brief.
"We can provide a different perspective," Baum said. "It's not inconceivable that something that is provided in an amicus can influence the court's decision."
"We may be able to elaborate on issues already raised or provide Palo Alto's perspective," he added.