The California High-Speed Rail Authority will hold a town hall meeting in Gilroy on Aug. 8 to give the public, landowners, municipalities and community leaders an opportunity to talk to staff and learn more about plans for the proposed route from San Francisco through Gilroy, and through San Benito County over Pacheco Pass to Merced. The meeting is from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Portuguese Hall, 250 Old Gilroy Street.
In a July 1 press release, the High-Speed Rail Authority said it would reach out to the public in workshops and open houses to gather opinions concerning route recommendations, referred to as “preferred alternatives,” which they will submit to the Authority’s Board of Directors in September.
The meetings are required by the California Environmental Quality Act. Even though there have been similar meetings over the last three years, this will be only the second opportunity for San Benito County residents to participate.
Of particular interest to county residents and leaders will be the recommended San Jose to Merced section. Plans call for a blended configuration between San Jose and Gilroy, using the existing Union Pacific Railroad corridor before continuing on with new tracks through San Benito County over the Pacheco Pass along some 14 miles of tunnels and bridges.
“The identification of the preferred alternatives is an important step in defining the program and advancing the implementation of the Authority’s Silicon Valley to Central Valley Line that will ultimately bring high-speed rail to Northern California,” said regional director Boris Lipkin in the July 1 release. “In recommending preferred alternatives, we aim to find the right balance between system performance characteristics, environmental factors, and community factors.”
Lipkin told BenitoLink in April that the High-Speed Rail Authority was willing to come to San Benito County to present information to community organizations, but that no one had contacted the administration to set up a meeting.
Supervisor Mark Medina said he plans to attend the meeting, but doesn’t see much economic opportunity for San Benito County because there won’t be a station. Even though there are possible plans for a maintenance yard in the county, he said he would want to see a contract before he believed it.
“If we had a stop here it would be a big economic boon,” Medina said. “From what I understand the stops will be minimal. That’s the idea of high-speed rail. The more stops you have the slower it will be.”
Supervisor Jim Gillio said he hoped to attend the meeting, as did Hollister Councilwoman Honor Spencer.
“I have been fortunate to be a passenger on a high-speed rail and enjoyed the ride,” Spencer said. “I would like to know what the final cost to taxpayers will be.”
Supervisor Anthony Botelho said he could not comment because of a conflict of interest; the train’s route would pass through San Benito County in Botelho’s district, as well as a short distance from his farm. He said he couldn’t even participate in the meeting as a private citizen.
“Hate to say this, but I am not a private citizen,” Botelho said. “There are sacrifices a person has to have when elected to an office. I will not comment or influence my colleagues on this issue.”
Though Assemblyman Robert Rivas did not comment specifically on the project’s potential impact on San Benito County, he said, “It’s crucial that the High-Speed Rail Authority listens carefully to the needs and concerns of the residents of our communities. Transportation is deeply intertwined with other high priority issues, such as housing, jobs, and the environment. We need to continue to explore transportation options and improvements that will best serve our region in the future.”
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