I blogged last year about the state’s High-Speed Rail Authority butting heads with a group of mayors on the San Francisco Peninsula about right-of-way, costs and basic planning. Well, the two groups are at it again and it’s getting very snippy.

The five cities belonging to the Peninsula Cities Consortium (Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame) are asking the authority to “take a step back and resolve troublesome issues with high-speed rail before proceeding with the project.

According to a PCC statement, “High-speed rail should be built right or not at all. By ‘right,’ we mean that the rail line should integrate into our communities without harming their current livability. The best design and community values, rather than finances, should determine the alignment.”

This resistance throws a wrench into the authority’s plan to release its EIR in December, get construction going by September 2012 and finish by September 2017 in order for California to qualify for a $2.25 billion federal grant.

PCC Chair Richard Cline, mayor of Menlo Park, explained that the five cities are concerned that key problems with the project may not be resolved because of the intense pressure being exerted by the authority’s desire to qualify for federal stimulus funding. 

“The project is suffering from an enormous credibility problem, due to its widely criticized business plan, faulty ridership numbers and the absence of funding to carry out the project statewide – let alone offer realistic alternatives for the section planned on the peninsula,” says Cline. “There also is no stated plan for paying to operate high speed rail once it is built, and we fear local taxpayers may be left holding the bag.”

The PCC cities say high-speed rail should be part of a comprehensive regional public transit plan and that the California High Speed Rail Authority should satisfy the requirements of the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, demonstrate to state leaders that the plan will not require operating subsidies from local taxpayers in the future, provide ridership studies to support the project that are validated by an independent peer review body that is responsible to the state legislature and increase and enhance local Caltrain service and improve Caltrain infrastructure as a condition of using the Caltrain corridor.

That got Jim Wunderman, president and CEO of the Bay Area Council, mega-riled up. (The council is a
business-sponsored, public-policy advocacy organization for the nine-county Bay Area that “proactively advocates for a strong economy, a vital business environment and a better quality of life for everyone who lives here,” according to its mission statement; it’s been around since 1945.)

Wunderman fired off a “
sharply-worded” letter to the PCC complaining about its “obstructionist and dangerous” policies towards California high-speed rail.

“In characterizing your cities’ policies as obstructionist and dangerous, I do not mean to impugn your motives, which I am entirely confident are only to best serve the interests of your local residents,” he writes. “Yet the fact remains that the policies and actions that your cities are pursuing are serving to obstruct and undermine a project that is quite literally of historic importance to the residents of the Bay Area and California. To say that ‘high speed rail should be built right or not at all,’ and that cost analysis should play no role in determining alignment, is to say that the project need not, should not, and will not be built.”

Wunderman goes over the peninsula voters’ support for 2008’s Proposition 1A high-speed rail bond and pokes at the PCC’s “under-appreciation” of “staggering toll of unemployment and economic distress on millions of California families of modest means.”

“Though your communities, like other high-wealth communities in the state, have escaped the brunt of the Great Recession, 2.3 million unemployed Californians are not as fortunate. For these struggling Californians, $4 billion of near-term high speed rail construction expenditure would be lifesaving.”

He maintains that there was a period in American history in which government infrastructure planners ran roughshod over the interests and welfare of residents and communities, but this era is behind us now and “has been replaced with a time in which too many public officials believe that no project can or should be built unless there is universal approval of the public.” 

“Overwhelming public support with large and widespread public benefits is somehow offset by the vocal opposition of a single individual,” he writes. “In the case of high-speed rail, a small handful of individuals in a small handful of neighborhoods in a small handful of communities raise a seemingly endless series of complaints and objections and threaten to halt the construction of a project of generational significance, and immediate economic survival, for this state and its residents.”

Whew! We’ll see how this plays out…