The Burlingame City Council, whose members have long been against the California high-speed rail as currently planned, discussed next steps in stopping the railway at its Tuesday meeting, most notably encouraging a ballot measure bringing high-speed rail before California voters once again.
“Until we just say stop this, we're going to continue to have this cloud over our heads,” said Councilmember and Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC) representative Cathy Baylock, noting all of the work City staff has put into studying and responding to high-speed rail in the past three years. “I’m still skeptical that the Governor will do anything about it, and I feel really strongly it's time for us to just say 'This is not what we signed up for.'”
When voters first approved the rail in 2008, it was estimated at abour $36 billion and passed with roughly 52 percent of votes. The project has since grown to cost approximately $98 billion, and the Authority has released environmental reports, business plans and ridership studies received with skepticism.
“[The High Speed Rail Authority doesn’t] expect any private investment until 10 years out and $30 billion goes into the ground…the reward is privatized and the risk is socialized,” said Councilmember Brownrigg. “It’s just a terrible, terrible idea. It does seem to me that putting it to the voters is the right thing.”
Brownrigg said people know much more about the project now, and legislators need to revisit if high-speed rail is on course with what residents want.
Burlingame City Councilmembers believe that, if placed before voters again, high-speed rail with its current plan would fail.
Members also discussed encouraging state and federal legislators stop or reverse funding for high-speed rail.
“I think there should be something on the ballot to end the funding if our legislators don’t defund it themselves,” said Mayor Jerry Deal. “We need to do something. If we don’t, they’ll just keep playing the game they’ve been playing, holding us off as long as they can.”
Deal said if high-speed rail isn’t stopped, it will drain transportation money in California for years to come, money members feel is desperately needed elsewhere, like with electrifying Caltrain and linking Bay Area transit systems.
“What I would like to see…is for us to take a position saying not just that we think the current plan does not make sense…but to say what we do need for transportation,” said Councilmember Terry Nagel. “If we could start a plan to have the money reallocated…that would make more sense.”
Nagel noted the expense and backlash from construction and union groups a ballot measure entails, and said she was uncertain if a ballot measure would fail given the power of special interest groups.
However, Baylock countered that as long as high-speed rail exists, all transit money will go towards it, and a ballot measure would be necessary to unfund the project and redirect funds towards local transit.
While councilmembers also discussed drafting a resolution on the council point of view, Brownrigg said supporting a ballot measure might prove more powerful, as a letter or resolution sent to legislators could be interpreted as Not In My Back Yard (NIMBY) politics. He also encouraged waiting to make a final decision until the High-Speed Rail Authority completes a draft business plan, a process expected to wrap up in the next couple of months.
Vice Mayor Ann Keighran suggested Baylock bring up the issue at a PCC meeting, perhaps encouraging multiple cities to draft letters to legislators requesting they either draft legislation to stop funding to high-speed rail or put it back on the ballot.
Earlier this week, a peer review group issued a report criticizing high-speed rail’s plan, and suggested it be put on hold.
The first segment of the rail, which plans to run from San Francisco to Los Angeles and Anaheim, would be a 130-mile segment in the Central Valley.