High speed politics

Key points from the from the Gilroy City Council

Less than a month after the Gilroy City Council expressed no
confidence in the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plans for
a bullet train with a major stop in Gilroy, the high-speed rail CEO
is coming to town for a high-level meeting.
Less than a month after the Gilroy City Council expressed no confidence in the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s plans for a bullet train with a major stop in Gilroy, the high-speed rail CEO is coming to town for a high-level meeting.

Moreover, the city might soon get the word that the Gilroy-to-Merced segment of the bullet-train project might be second in line to be built. However, the implications of that are hard to gauge because there’s no firm timeline for construction.

CHSRA CEO Roelof Van Ark will meet with a joint task force of Gilroy and Morgan Hill officials formed a year and a half ago to deal with CHSRA policies. Van Ark will meet with Gilroy Mayor Al Pinheiro, Councilman Perry Woodward and City Administrator Tom Haglund, as well as Councilman Greg Sellers, Mayor Steve Tate and City Manager Ed Tewes from Morgan Hill. They will meet at Gilroy City Hall from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Dec. 15. The meeting, apparently, is not open to the public.

“As far as I’m concerned, everything is on the table: From the frustration, to … how we’re going to pay for it,” Woodward said.

Residents and officials alike have complained about the lack of specific information regarding CHSRA plans for the $45-billion, 800-mile project slated for operation in 2020, and there’s a looming issue with regards to the city’s obligation to pay for a 6,600-space parking garage.

And now, CHSRA board member Rod Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor, introduced doubt whether the station would be located in Gilroy or Morgan Hill.

“It’s a great opportunity but there needs to be a station somewhere. We really need to know what the cities want,” Diridon said.

Diridon said Morgan Hill is an option.

Pinheiro said Gilroy and Morgan Hill have already decided the station will be in Gilroy.

“We never said we didn’t want a station,” said Pinheiro. “The vote of no confidence was about how information was presented to the City of Gilroy. We prefer the station is downtown as long as it is trenched.”

As for the notion that Van Ark was swayed to come to Gilroy because of the Council’s 23-point resolution passed 4-3 on Oct. 18 – stating the city “does not have confidence in the planning, design and execution of the California High Speed Rail project” – some members of the task force say it isn’t true. They were already in communications with the CEO.

“Some people logically think that without the no-confidence vote (Van Ark would not have come). This would have happened with or without it,” Woodward said. “We had a dialogue going and the subcommittee was talking with Rod Diridon. This is how the discussion was trending. The subcommittee has been making good progress.”

Prior to the vote, Van Ark sent a letter to Pinheiro and his Morgan Hill counterpart, Mayor Tate, asking the Council to defer the vote until the CHSRA had a chance to work more closely with the city.

Pinheiro said he and Tate invited Van Ark to come to Gilroy.

“We invited him when we wrote the letter,” he said referring to a response to Van Ark’s request that Gilroy defer its vote. “We wanted him to come down.”

Councilwoman Cat Tucker, who supported the no-confidence resolution, thinks otherwise.

“I think that our vote of no confidence got the other side going, ready to meet again, so I wouldn’t change it at all if I had to do it again,” she said. “I’m speculating that it had something to do with it but I’m not on the ad-hoc subcommittee.”

Woodward hopes Van Ark will have answers.

The CHSRA will start discussions Dec. 2 on which Central Valley segment – the first bullet train construction project – will be built. If the CHSRA picks the Merced-to-Fresno, rather than the Merced-to-Bakersfield segment, Gilroy could be next in line.

“If the Merced to Fresno section were chosen to be the first segment, then an early extension from the first segment could be the route from Merced to San Jose (through Gilroy),” said Diridon.

CHSRA spokeswoman Rachel Wall said the extension of the starter segment (Merced-to-Gilroy) will probably be discussed at the Dec. 2 meeting, adding it is too early to make any conclusions. The Federal Rail Administration essentially dictated that the first segment had to be built in the Central Valley, and designated $715 million specifically for building there, Diridon said.

Diridon said the construction of the starter segment must begin no later than Sept. 2012, which makes the decisions on what alignment is chosen and which city will be hosting the station all the more urgent.

Pinheiro does not share Diridon’s sense of urgency and said he is waiting for more information on the specifics of the starter segment extension.

“Some of this stuff is so premature,” he said. “I’m gathering information. We met with Diridon four weeks ago and he gave us an update but it’s a moving project. We’re hoping that when we sit down with this gentleman we will get more information,” he said, referring to Van Ark.

For Gilroy, several questions remain unanswered including where the funding for related infrastructure is going to come from, whether the rail will be trenched or raised and what impact it will have on the community.

The CHSRA has said the rail will either align with the current Union Pacific tracks and run through the downtown corridor or cut through the rural area east of U.S. 101 with a major stop in Gilroy. A combination of the two routes is also possible.

CHSRA representatives told the Council in July that the city could forge a partnership with a developer to pay for the costs of a 6,600-space parking structure for the project as an option to deal with parking concerns for a Gilroy station.

Wall said the increased meetings with the city have more to do with the environmental review process than the “vote of no confidence.”

“We need to be there not because the vote of no confidence, but because the environmental review is continuing,” she said. “We get feedback from communities and we continue to ramp back. We’ll be in the community more and more often.”

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