Rod Diridon is taking his recent dismissal from the California High Speed Rail Authority board of directors with a philosophic generosity toward former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who failed to reappoint him in a last-minute round of appointments.
But Diridon acknowledged this week that he has "hope" that he might be reappointed in the near future by new Governor Jerry Brown.
That appointment would hinge on two things: a vacancy occurring on the board in one of the five seats reserved for a governor appointment, and Brown choosing Diridon to fill it.
Given a longtime caveat that in politics nothing is real until it is done, there is both a longtime friendship between Brown and Diridon and -- perhaps a deciding factor -- Diridon was co-chair of Brown's initial campaign for governor in 1974.
The vacancy on the authority board could occur because board member David Crane was appointed Dec. 30 to an opening on the University of California Board of Regents, a 12-year appointment also made in the closing days of Schwarzenegger's governorship. There has been growing attention to "incompatible" appointments on the authority board, and if this is deemed one of those Crane almost certainly would opt for the regents.
Diridon, 71, describes himself as a "staunch Democrat," and points to a record of chairing or serving on environmental bodies. But he is best known for decades of advocacy for public transit, and during 20 years on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (1975-1995) became known as "the father of light rail" in the county.
He currently is head of the Norman I. Mineta Transportation Institute under San Jose State University, an organization that sponsors nearly 200 Ph.D.-level transportation researchers spotted around the world.
As a rail authority board member, Diridon is a lightning rod for controversy largely due to his being seen by Peninsula city officials as a do-or-die advocate of high-speed rail along the Caltrain right of way, through a number of residential areas, despite a growing list of serious impacts on the communities.
But his own words have also contributed to the sturm und drang, notably when he publicly referred to opponents of a rail line up the Peninsula as "rotten apples." He later qualified his reference to mean about a score of individuals who had opposed high-speed rail, as far back as Proposition 1A on the 2008 state ballot that approved the concept and provided $9.95 billion in bonds as a down payment.
At one point, Diridon announced that he and another board member, Quentin Kopp, had been asked by staff to avoid speaking on the Peninsula because their appearances would be attended or disrupted by opponents interpreted as a "gag rule." But Kopp called the Weekly to protest that he was a state Senate appointee to the board and "no one is going to gag Quentin Kopp."
The overall system is estimated to cost more than $43 billion a figure being eyed with increasing skepticism even by supporters of a high-speed rail system.
A number of supporters, such as state Sen. Joe Simitian, have added a condition to their support: "... if done right."
But Diridon told the Weekly this week that he remains positive that the 800-plus mile system will do great things for the state and be a key in helping save the Caltrain local commute system that historically has served communities from Gilroy to San Francisco. Diridon said he loves Caltrain but that it is currently "near bankruptcy" and the high-speed rail system sharing the Caltrain right-of-way could save and upgrade the system at the same time.
He said he feels the authority has failed in some areas, such as spending greater effort to get the word out about its benefits.
He said the December decision by the authority board to start the system in the Central Valley, currently between Corcoran and Bakersfield, was in large part because local officials in that area or their state representatives want the system, and there would be less chance of legal action against it.
But for the Peninsula, Diridon said it buys time for both the authority and the local cities opposing the line to try again to find a way to move forward. His suggestion is that engineers determine the cost of a raised structure then subtract the estimated cost of a trench, then local communities could pay the difference.
He said a model for that would be Berkeley when the BART system was being built in the East Bay in the 1960s: The community passed a bond measure to bury the tracks.
That would assure that the wealthier Peninsula communities aren't getting special treatment compared to valley communities that could not afford to trench the tracks.
Local officials aren't yet lining up behind that concept, however. Palo Alto's former Mayor Pat Burt, who has been a point person in building opposition to surface or elevated tracks, said there are special impacts that need to be considered, such as possible narrowing of Alma Street as a north-south artery and loss of homes in the vicinity of grade-separated crossings.