The California High-Speed Rail Authority did not actually vote, however, to develop the Los Angeles- to-San Francisco part of the $40 billion system via the Pacheco Pass, near state Highway 152 and making its first Bay Area stop in Gilroy.
Rather, it cited an opinion by former Oakland mayor, now state Attorney General Jerry Brown, that it need not vote to affirm its preference for the Pacheco route.
By not voting, it allowed its staff to continue working to approve a federal environmental impact study citing Pacheco as its preference.
The board expects to vote on the full study in March, after it is vetted by the Federal Railroad Administration and other regulatory agencies.
"Finally, there's closure," said Rod Diridon, authority board member and outspoken proponent of the Pacheco option.
A $10 billion bond measure to get the project started is set for a statewide vote on the November 2008 ballot.
High-speed rail proponents said throughout Wednesday's board meeting in the Capitol that continuing the battle over the two routes will endanger a program that is already on life support, its needed funding slashed this year by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the legislature.
The move Wednesday means that Oakland is effectively eliminated from the authority's plans for a 200-mph train connecting the Bay Area with Southern California.
Instead, the authority's executive director suggested forming a panel made up of local governments and transportation agencies to study alternatives to high-speed rail in the East Bay.
"It won't go to Oakland in the first phase, but it will go to Oakland in an early extension, I assume," Diridon said after the meeting.
Alameda County Supervisor Scott Haggerty urged the panel to include in its program an additional high-speed connection between the San Joaquin Valley and Livermore in exchange for East Bay officials willingness to sacrifice a high-speed rail stop in Oakland.
That addition could be connected to the rest of the area by a BART or other rapid transit extension, according to a plan Haggerty formulated.
That plan was endorsed by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
The authority staff's recommendation, however, only included a suggestion of improving transit through the Tri-Valley and Altamont Pass apart from the high-speed program.
Haggerty said that falls short of what the East Bay deserves for going along with the Pacheco route.
That's clearly not the olive branch that I'm looking for, and it's not something I could support, Haggerty said as he left before the meeting's conclusion.
The non-vote appeared to have settled a decade-long battle between the chosen route and one through the more populous Tri-Valley area and the Altamont Pass, then crossing the Bay near the Dumbarton Bridge on its way to San Francisco.
Authority Executive Director Mehdi Morshed said the point of the system is to get people quickly from southern to northern California, not provide expedited commuter service, as many Altamont supporters favor.
The system's first segment would begin in Anaheim, make stops in Los Angeles and head north into the Antelope and San Joaquin valleys.
Following the alignment chosen Wednesday, the high-speed line would head west across the northern edge of Madera County. Then it will stop at Gilroy, where it turns north to stop in San Jose, then in Silicon Valley at either Palo Alto or Redwood and on to stops at San Francisco International Airport and San Francisco's future Transbay Terminal.
Rail advocates argued the line should make the Altamont crossing because it is closer to San Joaquin County and Tri-Valley commuters and would provide a quicker link between Sacramento and the Bay Area.
Environmentalists, including the statewide Sierra Club, argued that the Pacheco route would put increased development pressure in rural areas and would harm the Grasslands Ecological Area near Los Banos.
San Joaquin Valley officials worried that the dual plan with an unspecified Altamont rail connection might never materialize, especially after Moreshed urged board members to clearly separate the Altamont idea from the rest of the program.
"I think what they're saying is, don't screw me on Altamont," said board member R. Kirk Lindsey, who hails from Modesto.
Although he said he didn't oppose the Pacheco route, he worried that voters in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys might not vote for the 2008 bond measure.
Bay Area officials overwhelmingly favor the Pacheco route, which was consistently supported by San Jose and San Francisco officials, who were joined by Livermore Valley officials who feared the rail system would need to take large swaths of land and require noisy aerial structures.
Proponents of the Pacheco Pass route say that continued fighting over the route could endanger the entire system, which is seen as extravagant when the state's resources are stretched thin.
San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, who appeared at the meeting with San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed to support Pacheco, said that he "wouldn't even give it 50-50 right now," especially with state leaders wrestling with a $14 billion budget shortfall, creating a state healthcare system and fixing Californian's water supply system.
"There'll never be a right time to argue for this," he said outside the meeting, but to cut back on pollution from aircraft and ground vehicles as well as deal with the state's predicted population growth, the system needs to be built now. The authority's financial consultants reported on just how complicated and difficult it will be to get private partners to help finance the project, something the governor has said is needed for the project to receive substantial additional state funding.
Bullet train backers fear that the bond measure might be removed from the November 2008 ballot so state leaders can more easily ask voters for borrowing authority for more pressing needs.
Board chairman Quentin Kopp, a retired San Mateo Superior Court judge, said the bullet train program couldn't survive such a move against the bond measure.
"If it is postponed, it is finished," Kopp said.
On the other hand, he said that he's not heard of any active effort to get the legislature to take the bond measure off the ballot and that legislative support for high-speed rail is growing.