Palo Alto took its most extreme step to date to oppose the state's proposed high-speed rail line Thursday morning when a City Council committee unanimously passed a resolution declaring "No Confidence" in the project and its governing body.
The resolution, which will go to the full council Sept. 13, states the council "hereby declares that it has No Confidence in the High Speed Rail Authority and in the High Speed Rail Project as presently planned."
The resolution calls for the California High-Speed Rail Authority to "immediately" become more responsive to local communities and to come up with a "viable" plan for the system's design.
"It's time for us to recognize what the facts of life are and to act accordingly," said Councilman Larry Klein, chair of the High-Speed Rail Committee.
"We need to be proactive in defense of our community and our region, or else this will be just rammed down our throat and all the studies and alternative designs won't make a bit of difference."
Klein, who authored the resolution, suggested the city take an even bolder stance against the controversial $45 billion rail project and immediately adopt the actions he listed in the document. The actions include encouraging federal and state officials to withhold funding from the project, urging Caltrain to sever its relationship with the rail authority; encouraging Union Pacific to "remain steadfast in its refusal to waive any of its rights to the HSR Authority," and considering litigation to protect the Palo Alto's interests.
Klein, who in 2008 joined the council in formally supporting Proposition 1A, which funded the nearly $10 billion down payment, also wrote a background document explaining the drastic change in the city's position on high-speed rail.
He said since 2008 "an overwhelming number of facts have been discovered or developed and events have occurred that lead us to believe that the only reasonable alternative is to stop the HSR project now."
These include the continued uncertainty over the validity of the authority's ridership and revenue forecasts; the swelling cost estimates for the project; and a business plan that has been heavily criticized by state legislators and by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office.
Klein also accused the authority of trying to build the rail line "on the cheap" and pass on the true costs of mitigating the impact on local communities.
"If we're going to say it shouldn't be done, then I think you have to take the actions I'm suggesting or else it's going to be done to you, or done to us," Klein said.
Klein's colleagues on the committee agreed with his "no confidence" position, but balked at adopting the actions in his resolution without further discussion.
Councilwoman Gail Price characterized many of Klein's recommended actions as "premature" and said they could undermine the city's ongoing efforts to understand the impacts of the project.
"It prejudges all the materials and resources that we're investigating now," Price said of Klein's proposed resolution.
Mayor Pat Burt said he shared Klein's skepticism about the rail project but said committing to the actions in Klein's resolution could handcuff the city in future negotiations and discussions with state and federal officials.
Burt said the city should adopt a policy statement that defines the city's stance without hampering its latitude to take whatever actions it deems necessary in the future.
"I believe making this policy statement does have a substantial political impact as one additional city that is moving into a position of fundamental skepticism over the project," Burt said.
Burt and Councilwoman Nancy Shepherd also insisted the committee's resolution underscore the city's commitment to Caltrain, which is partnering with the rail authority on the Peninsula segment of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles rail line. They added language to the resolution identifying Caltrain as the "indispensable backbone" of the local and regional transit system.
Shepherd said recent letters and documents from the rail authority underscore the need for the city to take a position against the project. The documents include the rail authority's recent application for federal funds, which outlines a backup plan in which high-speed rail would run through the Midpeninsula along the existing two-track street-level system.
"Until this can be looked at as a serious business project with serious plans I think we need to start to respond to Palo Alto's interests and not the deadlines that the High-Speed Rail Authority has produced in order to move their project forward," Shepherd said.