Almanac

News - February 24, 2010

Rail meeting fails to sway local crowd

by Andrea Gemmet

Menlo Park residents are a cynical bunch when it comes to the California High-Speed Rail Authority. While it didn't degenerate into a shouting match, there wasn't a lot of love either from the 100-plus people who showed up at the high-speed rail project meeting held Friday afternoon, Feb. 19, in the Menlo Park council chambers.

A panel of representatives of the project to bring high-speed trains from San Francisco to Los Angeles fielded — and deflected — questions for close to two hours. Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline acted as host, roaming the room with a microphone, Phil Donahue-style.

There was one piece of new information, an indecipherable projection that combined an aerial photo of a segment of the Caltrain tracks, and a couple of illegible graphs about track elevation and right-of-way widths. When the crowd protested that they couldn't read it and asked for handouts, they were told it is not currently available to the public yet, according to Tim Cobb, the project manager for the San Francisco to San Jose segment of the high-speed line.

This was met with groans and complaints from the crowd.

"I apologize that these are not the easiest to read things," said Dominic Spaethling, a regional manager for the rail authority. "The purpose of this meeting is to try to give you a preview of what is coming in the alternatives analysis."

The upcoming document analyzing various project alternatives is due March 4, and according to Mr. Spaethling, will help answer many of the questions that couldn't be answered at the meeting.

Most of the questions reflected concern about plans to use the Caltrain corridor for high-speed trains and the impact it would have on local residents. The effects of eminent domain on local property, the likelihood of putting the train underground rather than on raised berms, and the desire to end the high-speed line in San Jose were popular topics.

Despite assurances that community feedback is desired, most people who spoke at the meeting seemed deeply suspicious. Mr. Spaethling and consultant Bruce Fukuji were peppered with questions from people who wanted to know who they answered to, and if the public feedback they received would have any clout with the rail authority.

Menlo Park resident Alan Bushell asked if there was any point to spending time and energy suggesting changes to the design of the rail line through the Peninsula when it seemed to be a forgone conclusion. His remarks were met with applause from the audience.

"I get the feeling that this is just a charade to get cover for a resolution that has already been made," said Mr. Bushell.

"By being engaged, you'll have a better outcome than (you would) by not being engaged," countered Mr. Fukuji.

"You're being used as well, but you're getting a paycheck. We don't," Mr. Bushell shot back.

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