What to do when development projects, such as HSR, encounter opposition from residents

This is a common story: a developer, community, or a set of politicians put forth plans for a new development. Some residents or citizens complain that the project will negatively affect them. What is to be done to balance out their concerns versus the plans that have been made? How do we balance the rights of the individual versus the needs of the community?

This is taking place currently in California as state officials continue to move forward with plans for high-speed rail (HSR). According to The Infrastructurist, there are several fronts for complaints: one community suggests the high-speed rail will alter the character of their community and farmers are unhappy that some of their land will split by the tracks.

Within this debate, several themes emerge:

1. A longer and/or bigger view helps provide perspective. In the California case, the start of HSR in the Central Valley looks like a boondoggle because it doesn’t yet connect the largest cities in the state. But it is the start of a network that will expand and eventually provide 2.5 hour travel from San Francisco to LA.

1a. This might help: show that the funding for the later stages in the project, where the Central Valley start is connected at both ends to larger cities, is guaranteed. Otherwise, there might be some worry that this first part will get built and the later funding will dry up or disappear.

2. The time for debate about whether HSR rail is good or appropriate for California is over – it is going forward, particularly since there are Federal dollars committed to this. Yes, these farmers and communities may be affected but they are not going to be able to stop the whole project (unless, perhaps, they get a whole lot more people on their side).

3. The key for those promoting HSR is that they need to continue to focus on the benefits that will come. Some of this is through city revitalization as the HSR serves as a new economic engine. More broadly, it will benefit the state in terms of reducing traffic, provide a quicker form of transportation that flying, and be greener. Yes, people will complain that these are just guesses but then the promoters need to follow through and ensure that HSR actually does benefit the state.

4. Change is not easy. Even if all Californians agreed that HSR was good and it should be pursued, there are always issues regarding making it happen. This is a long-term project that will affect a number of people. The hope is that in the end, it will lead to more good than harm.