Thursday, August 27, 2009

HSRA unprofessionalism for all to see

Yesterday was a significant day for the HSRA. First, a judge ruled in favor of the petitioners who sued HSRA for the inadequate evaluation in the program EIR for the SF-SJ segment. Second, top HSRA staffer got grilled by Congresswoman Anno Eshoo at a Town Hall meeting held in Menlo Park.


It is hard to win environmental lawsuits. Generally, judges generally give deference to government agencies that produced these documents as if they were police officers in a traffic or criminal trial. Ordinary citizens generally do not have the financial resources to hire consultants to counter the government's claim on technical basis, and generally do not have the kind of credibility, even though history shows that government agencies and consultants can literally lie to achieve their politically-predetermined results.

Essentially, HSRA lost the suit on the fact that it does not have the access to the Union Pacific owned right of way (UP clearly told the agency NO prior to the adoption of the program level EIR), which HSRA says it is necessary to travel from San Jose to Gilroy under the Pacheco option. Also, the judge found that the agency's evaluation of vibration impacts to be inadequate.

Last month, the petitioners offered a reasonable settlement that would have prevented possible delays. However, the inept boardmembers at HSRA rejected it and decided to stick with their political-predetermined position. Now the judge has agreed with the petitioners and HSRA will have to pay a higher price for their arrogence.

HSR Town Hall

Last night, Congresswoman Anna Eshoo hosted a Town Hall meeting on High Speed Rail. On the Peninsula, the high speed rail project is a contentious issue. Also like any recent town halls throughout the country, it has attracted anti-health care reform protesters. However, the Town Hall went smoothly as anti-health care reform protesters stayed outside and Eshoo refused to answer any questions on health care.

During the Town Hall meeting, Eshoo took a commanding role and read questions verbatim from her constituents. Executive directors and chief project managers from Caltrain and HSRA were on a panel answering the questions. Her constituents raised concerns about the community impact of the line, possible loss in property value, and potential need to eminent domain. Eshoo agreed with her constituents that HSRA needs to do much more in communicating with the public.

The meeting clearly showed incompetence from Mehdi Morshed, HSRA's executive director. At the meeting, Morshed was not able to anwser some of the questions directly and clearly. On a question about how HSRA came to the conclusion to support the Pacheco corridor, Morshed told Eshoo and the audience that the reasons are in the program EIR. The anwser was clearly not satisfactory. Eshoo later told the panel that she expects anwsers that are to be real anwsers.

On the other hand, Staff from Caltrain were able to provide direct answers on many of questions. Bob Doty explained the complexity of tunneling. Caltrain executive director reminded the audience about the need for an improved Caltrain system and how this project would benefit Caltrain.

The Town Hall showed the lack of confidence from Eshoo's constitutents on HSRA's ability to build this project and listen to the community's concerns, which has fueled a lot of opposition and fear mongering for the last several months.

A change in the HSRA leadership will go a long way to restore the confidence needed to take this project forward. The main question is whether there's political will to change the agency's leadership.


arcady said...

HSRA needs to do much more in communicating with the public.

That's a huge part of the problem, and I think a huge cause of the opposition is just because of misunderstandings on the part of the local residents, which the HSRA's arrogance has managed to escalate into full blown angry NIMBYism. I think if the HSRA took a more conciliatory tone and patiently explained the difference between a program-level and project-level EIR, and offered to study alternative alignments along the Peninsula, a lot of the unpleasantness could have been avoided.

Anonymous said...

The problem goes back farther than that. The way CHSRA has been pushing Pacheco over Altamont has been disgraceful. A quick look at the map shows more people being served via Altamont. Plus, if you built Altamont, a Sacramento extension would not need to be as long or expensive as it would off the Pacheco route. Plus, who wants to go from SF to Sacramento via Pacheco?

arcady said...

And the whole Pacheco vs. Altamont is symptomatic of one of the other problems of the HSR project as a whole: the way it's been mostly an ambition of various Bay Area politicians (Kopp and Diridon in particular). But even getting some SoCal folks more power on the board won't really help, because this project isn't about the Bay Area or about SoCal or the Central Valley, it's about the links between those regions, which have, at best, only a few land speculator types interested in them (hence Pacheco and Palmdale). There's not really anybody looking out for the project as a whole at the scope of the entire state.

accountablevta said...

It is not just the politicians, but the development interests who fund them.

arcady said...

And I think the sad conclusion of all of this is that even if anything is built at all, it will be a line from San Francisco to San Jose, a line from LA to Anaheim, and maybe something in the Central Valley, leaving out the difficult and actually important connections (Bay Area-Central Valley and LA-Bakersfield) which make the whole system worthwhile.