Palo Alto on Thursday cemented its position as the vanguard of opposition to California's proposed high-speed-rail line when a City Council committee recommended that the full council officially adopt a position calling for the project's termination.
Citing uncertain ridership data, a flawed business plan and a dramatic difference between the project in its current form and the one presented to state voters in 2008, the committee voted unanimously to send to the full council two competing proposals, both of which state that the project should be killed.
The Palo Alto council, which initially supported the high-speed-rail (HSR) project in 2008, has gradually turned against it largely because of the rail authority's proposed designs and its ridership and revenue projections. The council last year unanimously adopted a position of "no confidence" in the rail authority. If it adopts the committee's newest recommendation, it would take its strongest stance yet.
The Thursday discussion centered on two proposals, one drafted by Larry Klein and Gail Price and another one written by Pat Burt and Nancy Shepherd that includes more information about the reasons for opposing it.
The version by Klein and Price states: "The City believes that the State should terminate the HSR Project since it's too expensive, has no credible funding plan, is based on deeply flawed and unreliable data and was put before the voters on the basis of serious, material misrepresentations."
The one presented by Burt and Shepherd emphasizes that the current project "fundamentally contradicts the measure presented to the voters under Prop 1A in 2008" (which provided $9.95 billion for the project) and states that the business plan for the project is "fatally flawed and not credible."
Klein and Price Thursday both argued for their shorter version, saying that there are many other potential venues for providing more information about the city's opposition.
"High-speed rail is such a complicated issue that you can probably find 10, 20 or 30 reasons to be opposed to it," said Klein, who chairs the committee.
Shepherd agreed but said the council's guiding principles on high-speed rail should at least highlight the two biggest reasons for opposing the project.
"It is too expensive; it doesn't have credible funding; and it's based on deeply flawed and unreliable data," Shepherd said.
She also said she is troubled by the second half of Klein and Price's statement regarding misrepresentations, and advocated for including more information about the city's opposition.
"This is a bold statement for any city to make," Shepherd said. "We might get attacked seriously for making this type of statement, and we want to make sure our community can speak to it."
Each proposal failed by a 2-2 vote before the committee voted unanimously to present both proposals to the full council. The council is expected to take it up on Dec. 19.
Palo Alto isn't the only place where opposition to the rail project is mounting. A Field Poll released earlier this week showed about two-thirds of the surveyed voters support a new vote on the project. Fifty-nine percent of those said they would vote against the project if given an opportunity.
"There is strong sentiment for holding another vote across all partisan subgroups and irrespective of how voters may have voted on the project in the 2008 election," the poll stated.
A recent report from the Legislative Analyst's Office, which reviewed the new business plan, found that the rail authority's proposal to construct the line in phases, starting with a Central Valley segment, would conflict with the language of Proposition 1A. The nonpartisan office also questioned the rail authority's funding plan, which relies heavily on federal grants and on $11 billion in private investment.
The Legislative Analyst's Office noted that the U.S. Congress has not approved any funds for high-speed rail for next year and concluded that "it is highly uncertain if funding to complete the high-speed rail system will ever materialize."