Insufficient outreach, inaccurate projections and a shoddy business plan have all plagued the California High-Speed Rail Authority's latest environmental analysis of the $43 billion rail line, Palo Alto officials are alleging in a letter to the rail authority.
The City Council this week approved a letter to the rail authority outlining more than 100 concerns about the controversial high-speed rail line. The letter, which the council unanimously approved Monday night, argues that the rail authority's recently re-released Environmental Impact Report for the controversial rail line includes flawed and "grossly overestimated" ridership figures, inadequate discussion of right-of-way issues, and incomplete analysis of the rail line's impacts on Palo Alto businesses, historic landmarks and air quality.
The letter also describes the document's analysis of the various route alternatives as "inadequate, inaccurate, incomplete and biased."
Some of the city's comments pertain specifically to Palo Alto, including the rail's impact on El Palo Alto, the city's iconic redwood. Other comments take on broader subjects such as noise impacts, greenhouse-gas emissions and the ridership model used by the rail authority in its reports.
The Environmental Impact Report was initially released and certified by the rail authority in 2008, at which time few in Palo Alto knew or cared about the project. But the rail authority decertified and modified parts of the report because of a lawsuit filed by Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of transportation and environmental groups.
Palo Alto's new letter illustrates the city's snowballing concerns since 2008, when the City Council enthusiastically endorsed high-speed rail and state voters approved a $9.95 billion bond for the project. Since that time, the city hired outside consultants, formed a special high-speed-rail committee and watched dozens of high-speed-rail watchdogs and critics spring up around the city and all over the Peninsula.
"This is an issue, frankly, that the council got a little bit of criticism on early on for not being on top of it," Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa said at Monday's meeting. "I think its one where a lot of communities were caught off guard by how quickly the High-Speed Rail Authority moved into plans that had been discussed as part of the election.
"This is a community that's really come together and a staff and council have really come together and said, 'We have to get on top of this, we need to address it and we need to make sure the authority is acting properly.'"
"I think this document speaks to that and really outlines the fact that there are many concerns we as Palo Altans have about nearly every aspect of what's coming out of the high-speed rail authority and we want those questions answered."
Palo Alto officials aren't the only ones asking these questions. Last Thursday, state Sens. Joe Simitian and Alan Lowenthal held an informational hearing on high-speed rail as part of their review of the state budget. Simitian, whose district includes Palo Alto, said he remains concerned about the information released by the rail authority.
The two senators spent more than an hour grilling rail-authority staff and Rod Diridon, member of the rail authority's board of directors, on issues ranging from right-of-way acquisitions and outreach strategies, to its ridership model and track alignments for the new system.
Simitian also urged the rail authority to do a better job informing the communities along the rail corridor about the project and providing transparent information in a timely manner.
"Frankly it feels like we have to claw this information and this improved behavior out of you," Simitian said. "It's not acceptable."