California

Merced council to discuss high-speed rail, ballot measure flier

California high-speed rail and an educational effort related to the city’s district ballot measure will be on the agenda for the Merced City Council on Monday.

The council will look at contributing $200,000 in matching funds toward the 2013 High-Speed Rail Planning Grant, which will begin plans for the stop near downtown Merced.

The council will also decide whether to approve the fliers meant to educate voters on Measure T, the ballot measure in town that would split the city into districts for local elections.

The council is set to meet at 7 p.m. in City Hall, 678 W. 18th St.

City staff will ask the council to match a $600,000 grant to create studies and plans regarding transportation, financial and land-use issues that come with Merced’s proposed downtown station. Originally, the city’s matching funds were going to come from the Merced Redevelopment Agency, but the state disbanded redevelopment agencies in 2012.

The city’s $200,000 in matching funds would come instead from the Airport Industrial Park capital improvement fund.

The first part of the high-speed rail project would connect Merced to the San Fernando Valley. It would be about 300 miles long and operational by 2022.

By 2029, the rail system is supposed to run from San Francisco to the Los Angeles basin in less than three hours at speeds faster than 200 miles per hour. The system will eventually extend to Sacramento and San Diego, totaling 800 miles with up to 24 stations.

The statewide rail modernization plan could invest billions of dollars in local and regional rail lines to meet the state’s transportation plans.

The City Council will also weigh in during the meeting on the educational flier related to Measure T.

The City Council voted unanimously in April to put a measure on the November ballot to move to districts from the city’s at-large system, in which each member of the council is elected by all the voters regardless of where the voter lives.

Two weeks ago, the council decided to spend as much as $11,000 on the printing and mailing of a flier that would explain what’s at stake before voters cast their ballots on Measure T. Three councilmen were charged with designing the flier, which the council could approve Monday.

According to an estimate from city staff, the cost of developing districts through a dozen meetings, including the work of interpreters, a demographer and other expenses, is estimated at $72,000 to $145,000.

If the measure does not pass, the city could be sued by a civil rights group alleging that the citywide voting system infringes on the California Voting Rights Act. Several other cities in the state have faced court battles, including Modesto, which ran up a bill of $3 million for attorneys fees.

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