Cities in San Mateo County interested in joining an alliance to lobby the High Speed Rail Authority – in a fashion that is not limited by a preexisting lawsuit against the agency – now have a new option.
Recently, four Peninsula cities – San Mateo, Redwood City, Millbrae and Burlingame – formed the San Mateo County Rail Corridor Partnership in an effort to consolidate and unify communications with state and federal authorities regarding high speed rail on the Peninsula.
The new group may soon get more recruits as well: South San Francisco plans to discuss the possibility of joining at its council meeting this Wednesday. And Brisbane, Belmont and Foster City attended the group's meeting on March 9 and have showed interest in joining, according to San Mateo Public Works Director Larry Patterson.
This is not the first time local cities have banded together to address the Rail Authority as a group: The Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC), composed of Menlo Park, Atherton, Palo Alto, Burlingame and Belmont, formed in 2009 with a similar mission.
Late last year, however, some of those cities against the agency, claiming the Rail Authority did not fully review the potential environmental impact of running high speed trains along the Caltrain corridor through the Peninsula.
Patterson said San Mateo leaders had reservations over how that lawsuit could sour relations, and decided to stake a claim in the new group's formation rather than join the PCC.
"My city council members were concerned that having a lawsuit in place changes the nature of communications we can have," Patterson said. "We preferred to have a more open communication."
"The lawsuit may be a distraction," he said.
Patterson's sentiments were echoed by Redwood City council member Barbara Pierce, who represents her city during the new group's meetings.
"I think the fact that there was some concern about the lawsuit, our council didn't feel that was the approach we wanted; that was the reason we didn't want to get involved in the PCC," she said.
Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel represents her city in the Peninsula Cities Consortium and the San Mateo County Rail Corridor Partnership – making Burlingame the only city, so far, with a presence in both groups. She said the new group formed in part because of a discussion Peninsula city government members had with U.S. Reps. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo.
Last fall, Eshoo and Speier reportedly told representatives of the cities in the newly formed group that they should "get their act together" if they hope to receive federal funding for the rail project.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood had told Speier and Eshoo that "he heard cities on the Peninsula were bickering, and he was not going to give any money until we figured out what we wanted to do," Nagel said.
Since the new group's formation its members have worked toward developing a set of rail strategies all the involved cities can agree on, Patterson said.
The group's initial mission statement said member cities "accepted" the Rail Authority's proposal to bring high speed trains through the Peninsula along the Caltrain corridor. Since then, however, the group has retracted that statement, and is still open to alternate routes – but it's the prerogative of the member cities to address what is currently proposed by the High Speed Rail Authority, Patterson said.
Should the rail line be constructed as currently proposed, it will be necessary for the neighboring cities to work together on how it will be aligned, he said. For example, San Mateo will be effected by how Burlingame and Belmont wish the rail to be constructed, and vice versa. So it's in the best interest of all cities to get together early in an effort to resolve any possible differences, Patterson said.
Nagel said she believed it would be wise for any Peninsula city that has a vested interest in high speed rail to join the new group.
"If you want input to the Rail Authority, in my mind, you had better be at this table," she said.
Martin Engel, Menlo Park resident, verbalized his disagreement in his blog High-Speed Rail Talk.
"Anyone paying attention would have learned that the California High-Speed Rail Authority doesn't, in fact, give a rat's-ass what the local communities think or want," Engel said.
"Nonetheless, another group of cities...are starting the process all over again. When you find yourself in a hole, just keep on digging. Right?"