A Sacramento Superior Court judge has – for the second time – ruled against three Peninsula cities who filed suit against the High-Speed Rail Authority under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto originally filed suit in 2008, claiming that HSR had not adequately analyzed the Altamont Pass alignment before choosing the Pacheco Pass alignment, which will require the rail line to traverse the Peninsula. After Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny ordered HSR to make some changes to the EIR, the three cities sued again, arguing this time that because HSR is now considering a "blended" project, the environmental analysis is no longer sufficient.
The "blended" project, which was approved by HSR in part because of pressure from the Peninsula cities, would be a two-track system in which the tracks are shared by HSR and the Caltrain commuter rail line. Previously, HSR had proposed a four-track system with HSR and Caltrain running on separate tracks.
Kenny ruled that HSR had "fully complied" with his prior rulings. He further concluded that HSR had considered the two-track alternative in the original EIR, even though the four-track alternative was the EIR's focus. He said parts of the EIR dealt with phasing and the possibility of a blended system. He said the EIR's discussion of a blended alternative was sufficient even though the blended system was not explicitly set forth as an alternative.
"Specifically, the discussion of the phased or blended system disclosed to the public, and to the decision-makers, what the changed effects of such a system would be," Kenny wrote. "That disclosure served the information purposes of CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) whether the blended system in the Caltrain corridor is an interim step toward final construction or whether, as petitioners contend, it may be the final end point for construction."
The judge said the EIR's discussion of a blended alternative was sufficient even though the blended system was not explicitly set forth as an alternative.
He also rejected the cities' contention that the new emphasis on the blended approach should require the rail authority to recirculate its EIR, triggering a fresh public-review process.
The environmental report's discussion of phasing and implementation of the blended system, Kenny wrote, "served the goal of meaningful public participation in the CEQA review process."
The rail authority, Kenny wrote, "adequately disclosed to the public how the project would be implemented and described in adequate detail what the environmental consequences of such implementation would be."
"Even if the process was not absolutely perfect, it was sufficient to comply with CEQA," Kenny wrote.