News


Diridon could be on track back to rail-authority board -- with a big IF

Longtime ties to Governor Jerry Brown and a possible rail-board vacancy could put longtime member Rod Diridon back in his seat

Rod Diridon is taking his recent dismissal from the California High Speed Rail Authority board of directors with a philosophic generosity toward former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who failed to reappoint him in a last-minute round of appointments.

But Diridon acknowledged this week that he has "hope" that he might be reappointed in the near future by new Governor Jerry Brown.

That appointment would hinge on two things: a vacancy occurring on the board in one of the five seats reserved for a governor appointment, and Brown choosing Diridon to fill it.

Given a longtime caveat that in politics nothing is real until it is done, there is both a longtime friendship between Brown and Diridon and -- perhaps a deciding factor -- Diridon was co-chair of Brown's initial campaign for governor in 1974.

The vacancy on the authority board could occur because board member David Crane was appointed Dec. 30 to an opening on the University of California Board of Regents, a 12-year appointment also made in the closing days of Schwarzenegger's governorship. There has been growing attention to "incompatible" appointments on the authority board, and if this is deemed one of those Crane almost certainly would opt for the regents.

Diridon, 71, describes himself as a "staunch Democrat," and points to a record of chairing or serving on environmental bodies. But he is best known for decades of advocacy for public transit, and during 20 years on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors (1975-1995) became known as "the father of light rail" in the county.

He currently is head of the Norman I. Mineta Transportation Institute under San Jose State University, an organization that sponsors nearly 200 Ph.D.-level transportation researchers spotted around the world.

As a rail authority board member, Diridon is a lightning rod for controversy largely due to his being seen by Peninsula city officials as a do-or-die advocate of high-speed rail along the Caltrain right of way, through a number of residential areas, despite a growing list of serious impacts on the communities.

But his own words have also contributed to the sturm und drang, notably when he publicly referred to opponents of a rail line up the Peninsula as "rotten apples." He later qualified his reference to mean about a score of individuals who had opposed high-speed rail, as far back as Proposition 1A on the 2008 state ballot that approved the concept and provided $9.95 billion in bonds as a down payment.

At one point, Diridon announced that he and another board member, Quentin Kopp, had been asked by staff to avoid speaking on the Peninsula because their appearances would be attended or disrupted by opponents interpreted as a "gag rule." But Kopp called the Weekly to protest that he was a state Senate appointee to the board and "no one is going to gag Quentin Kopp."

The overall system is estimated to cost more than $43 billion a figure being eyed with increasing skepticism even by supporters of a high-speed rail system.

A number of supporters, such as state Sen. Joe Simitian, have added a condition to their support: "... if done right."

But Diridon told the Voice's sister paper the Palo Alto Weekly this week that he remains positive that the 800-plus mile system will do great things for the state and be a key in helping save the Caltrain local commute system that historically has served communities from Gilroy to San Francisco. Diridon said he loves Caltrain but that it is currently "near bankruptcy" and the high-speed rail system sharing the Caltrain right-of-way could save and upgrade the system at the same time.

He said he feels the authority has failed in some areas, such as spending greater effort to get the word out about its benefits.

He said the December decision by the authority board to start the system in the Central Valley, currently between Corcoran and Bakersfield, was in large part because local officials in that area or their state representatives want the system, and there would be less chance of legal action against it.

But for the Peninsula, Diridon said it buys time for both the authority and the local cities opposing the line to try again to find a way to move forward. His suggestion is that engineers determine the cost of a raised structure then subtract the estimated cost of a trench, then local communities could pay the difference.

He said a model for that would be Berkeley when the BART system was being built in the East Bay in the 1960s: The community passed a bond measure to bury the tracks.

That would assure that the wealthier Peninsula communities aren't getting special treatment compared to valley communities that could not afford to trench the tracks.

Comments

Posted by dfb, a resident of another community
on Jan 11, 2011 at 1:49 am

From the article: "The vacancy on the authority board could occur because board member David Crane was appointed Dec. 30 to an opening on the University of California Board of Regents, a 12-year appointment also made in the closing days of Schwarzenegger's governorship. There has been growing attention to "incompatible" appointments on the authority board, and if this is deemed one of those Crane almost certainly would opt for the regents."

It is unlikely Crane holds incompatible offices. The thing to look at is whether the UC Regents and High Speed Rail Authority will ever need to negotiate with each other (such as if the trains will go through one of its campuses or other property). I do not see that happening, nor do I think there is much chance the UC controls that much property along the route or have some sort of conflicting interests. In contrast, Richard Katz and Kurt Pringle represented local agencies directly affected by the high speed rail project and were clearly forced to choose which agency to give priority in conflicts. For example, Mr. Katz is on the boards for L.A. County's transit agency and for their version of Caltrain, called Metrolink. The high speed rail project plans to use Metrolink's right of way. It also will go through communities in the county and interfere with other local transit projects. Those conflicts made the offices incompatible. It does not seem like the UC and high speed rail authority will ever have conflicts near the same level or that cannot be rectified by Mr. Crane recusing himself from a particular discussion/decision.


If you were a member and logged in you could track comments from this story.

Post a comment

Posting an item on Town Square is simple and requires no registration. Just complete this form and hit "submit" and your topic will appear online. Please be respectful and truthful in your postings so Town Square will continue to be a thoughtful gathering place for sharing community information and opinion. All postings are subject to our TERMS OF USE, and may be deleted if deemed inappropriate by our staff.

We prefer that you use your real name, but you may use any "member" name you wish.

Name: *

Select your neighborhood or school community: * Not sure?

Comment: *

Verification code: *
Enter the verification code exactly as shown, using capital and lowercase letters, in the multi-colored box.

*Required Fields

Palo Alto quietly gets new evening food truck market
By Elena Kadvany | 3 comments | 3,236 views

On Tour - The Highly Selective Liberal Arts Colleges: Occidental, Pitzer, and Scripps
By John Raftrey and Lori McCormick | 1 comment | 1,934 views

See Me. Hear Me. Donít Fix Me.
By Chandrama Anderson | 2 comments | 1,652 views

Questions for Council Candidates--Housing
By Steve Levy | 24 comments | 1,356 views

Rock N Roll Green Beans
By Laura Stec | 0 comments | 991 views