The California High-Speed Rail Authority's stated desire to use Caltrain's existing tracks, versus building two of its own next to Caltrain's tracks, was called into question yesterday when a board member refused to approve an agreement with the Peninsula commuter rail line.
Board member Lynn Schenk delayed an agreement between the authority and Caltrain because she felt the $68 billion project's pre- ferred two-track plan wasn't, in fact, high-speed.
"I have to vote my conscience," said Schenk, the board's most senior member, completely surprising her fellow board members.
The board met yesterday to renew an agreement between it and the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain and other commuter agencies.
Routine vote goes awry What was expected to be a routine vote, caught the authority off guard when Schenk refused to approve the agreement.
Before Schenk had a chance to speak, other board members had praised the agreement as a historical moment. Schenk, a former Democratic congresswoman from San Diego, said the blended-track approach is not true highspeed rail and that she couldn't support it. The agreement would have given Caltrain a portion of the high-speed rail funds for electrification. Mike Brady, a Redwood City attorney who is attempting to stop the project once and for all, told the Post he thinks Schenk's vote "is very revealing."
"I think it means she knows it's illegal to use Prop. 1A funds for non-high-speed rail purposes," Brady said. "Maybe she's courageous enough to do something about it."
Brady, who lives in Menlo Park and is an attorney for the Redwood City-based law firm Ropers, Majeski, Kohn and Bentley, has filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court alleging misuse of Prop. 1A funds — a bond measure passed by voters in 2008 that allocated funds for the California High-Speed Rail Authority.
Brady said state law prevents Prop. 1A funds from being used for anything except high-speed rail.
The blended two-track option, which has been trumpeted by the likes of Joe Simitian, Rich Gordon and Anna Eshoo, means Caltrain and high-speed rail would share the same tracks.
Schenk argued that funding a shared-track option would violate state law.
"I owe the people of California nothing else than voting my conscience," she said at yesterday's meeting.
Brady said board Chair Dan Richard has been handing out funds to local rail agencies all over the state. Caltrain was set to receive $705 million.
Not Enough Votes
The board needed five votes to renew the agreement with Caltrain, and with three vacancies and one board member absent, Schenk's vote was needed.
When it became clear she would not vote for the agreement, Richard, the board's chair, asked Schenk for a "courtesy vote" because he said it would have passed if board member Michael Rossi had been there.
When she refused, Richard decided to delay the vote until next month's meeting, where he said it would pass.
Schenk said that while she thought the Caltrain electrification was a worthwhile project, she was unsure of the expenditure because it does not operate at high speed. She said she is questioning the limitation in Prop. 1A and what its funds could be used for. Schenk did not return the Post's calls for comment. Rob Wilcox, the deputy director of communication for the authority, told the Post that he expects the agreement to be approved next month.
He said the four-track option that was originally proposed is "completely dead" and that high-speed rail will operate on the Caltrain tracks.
Brady believes that is in violation of Prop. 1A and he hopes his lawsuit will prove that, and put an end to the project, he said.
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