A direct connection may have been achieved Thursday night between Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office and California cities concerned about impacts of high-speed rail on their communities and region.
Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt and other Palo Alto officials met with about 30 representatives of 15 cities along the 800-mile initial phase of the planned rail route Thursday evening at a League of California Cities conference in San Diego.
The meeting, initiated by Palo Alto, featured a telephone presentation by Schwarzenegger at its conclusion.
During a dialogue following Schwarzenegger's comments Burt as chair said the review process on rail has suffered because no direct connection exists between cities and the state administration. Cities have had to work exclusively through the California High Speed Rail Authority.
Schwarzenegger agreed such a connection should exist, Burt said of the dialogue -- noting that it was in a public meeting.
Schwarzenegger's main comments were about his recent trip to China and his ride on a high-speed train there, which he said was very fast and comfortable. A Southern California representative of the governor's office attended the meeting.
The meeting of cities was set up as an informal discussion of city concerns and there was no action proposed or taken.
But there was a sharing of concerns and comparison of interests, Burt said after the meeting. He said the session was intended to meet with other city representatives, share information and share common concerns.
He said one area of Southern California in particular shared concerns similar to those being voiced by Peninsula cities -- of a surface or elevated rail line going through residential and populated areas.
About a dozen cities, known as the Gateway Cities, have been dealing directly with the rail authority through memorandums of understanding (MOUs), which initially seemed to be working. But recently there has been a serious falling out with the authority as its alternatives have been limited to surface, open trench or aerial structures, Fred Latham of Santa Fe Springs, the gateway group's chair, said at the Thursday night meeting.
He said his area is a twin to the Peninsula in terms of the concerns of its cities.
Burt said a big difference is that the Peninsula cities have no direct MOUs with the authority but must work in the context of an MOU that Caltrain has with the authority.
Brisbane, a Bay Area city that also once strongly supported the rail plan, also attended the meeting to express its displeasure with the direction of the authority's plans. Councilman Sepi Richardson said the city initially believed the rail line would just pass through its industrial area, but later found out that the authority was planning a major storage and maintenance yard on a site Brisbane officials had designated as a new biotech and greentech development area.
Burt said after the Thursday meeting that Schwarzenegger's announced push to put in a bid to have the World Expo based at Moffett Field in Mountain View in 2020 has important implications for rail transportation. That is the year that high-speed trains are targeted to begin operations on the statewide system.
But even if that system doesn't materialize or is delayed, Burt said that a major modernization of Caltrain would have to be accomplished for the World Expo to be a success. Caltrain also is needed to provide local connections that the high-speed-rail system would not have.
The Expo if it happens "will assure the survival of Caltrain, whether or not high-speed rail goes through," Burt said.