All nine board members of the controversial California High-Speed Rail Authority may have to find new jobs if a bill introduced Friday by Senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach) is signed into law.
The bill, SB 517, would disband the beleaguered group and replace it with members who have specific expertise, and who agree to new ethical requirements and are subject to more administrative accountability.
“The high-speed rail project is the most complex transportation project ever undertaken by the state. As a supporter, I believe the project would be better served if the board members had specific expertise,” said Lowenthal.
The new board of directors would include a financial expert, an environmental specialist, an attorney familiar with construction law, an engineer with expertise with megaprojects, a business person, and representatives from local government and labor.
Lowenthal said that the backlash against the High-Speed Rail Authority began here in Palo Alto, where residents who had originally enthusiastically supported the project turned against it when they felt their voices were being ignored.
“It was really a disaster the way the way they came into tell Palo Alto and said they were going to build a 30-foot berm,” said Lowenthal, “and people said not in our community, and I think it really highlighted to me the need for the High-Speed Rail Authority to be responsive to the needs of the community.”
The new authority would be accountable to the secretary of the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency—an appointee of the governor.
Many Belmont residents have expressed both concern and curiosity about the impact of high-speed rail on the bedroom community, and some have even formed an ad hoc committee to keep others informed.
At a recent ad hoc committee meeting, former high-speed rail board member Rod Diridon told residents about the possibility of a two-track system in which Caltrain and the high-speed rail would run on the same tracks.
Lowenthal hopes that the bill, if passed, will help restore faith in the $43 billion project amongst Peninsula residents.
“Up until now, people on the Peninsula thought the High-Speed Rail Authority acted in an arrogant manner by coming in and telling people what was gonna happen,” he said. “Decisions were made to meet the needs of the high-speed rail decision makers.”