Guest Opinion: Council needs to set aside agenda for downtown Menlo visioning project
Original post made on Jul 10, 2008
Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, July 9, 2008, 12:00 AM
on Jul 10, 2008 at 12:15 pm
The thoughtful points in this piece provide further information for the City Council that they don't need to pay for. The central issues facing the Council, in my opinion, are future stability of city finances without additional undue burden on the residents (the recent utility tax comes to mind!), continuing intelligent development of the city in the face of external fiscal and other constraints, and preservation and enhancements of the city's desirability as a place to live.
I think the City Council hasn't done very well with these so far, but everything is a work in progress. A lot more attention is being paid to development, at the expense of the other two issues. The reason, of course, is that development is seen as the way to get the resources to achieve some of the other goals. This is the same affliction that San Francisco is currently experiencing, as they authorize the increase of heights along the Central Subway to try to bolster ridership projections to justify a ridiculously expensive white elephant. The same principles have been applied South of Market, with many new high-rises, but total dithering on transportation improvements to serve them. Bringing CalTrain underground to the planned TransBay Terminal is a daunting and also hideously expensive task, unlikely to be completed on any rational timescale/budget.
Now, the City Council faces the onrushing HSR bond, with its terrible potential for impact on the city. As a person who walks to the train every day to commute to work, I'm sensitive to the issues with El Camino traffic. It's clear that the Ravenswood crossing, with its fast traffic light cycle, is already a bottleneck that will only be made worse by a huge and steep rail underpass that will likely encroach on all surrounding properties. It is rearrangement of the deck chairs on the Titanic to pursue things like the visioning process without taking some of these factors into account.
I believe that this is forcing transportation as the city's major pressing problem, and I am a firm advocate of intelligent mass transportation solutions and development. In spite of the city's Transportation Commission, the City Council appears distracted by other issues. These challenges can only be met with leadership, and the Council needs to be encouraged to lead. It is quite proper to survey the electorate to gather information, but the decisions have to be made by the members of the Council. No survey will provide more than general guidance, and the Transportation Commission was formed to provide more specific advice that can be confidently used to form the necessary decisions. The Council should get on with it. In this environment, they first need to take a strong stand against HSR through the city until and unless the HSR technology decisions are revised by the Authority.
There are technology solutions to the HSR concerns. It is a singular irony that individuals' vanity, cynical perpetuation of employment, and nostalgia for trains should foist such expensive and damaging projects on a nonunderstanding and financially stressed public. The media bears some responsibility for this as well, uncritically printing HSR articles provided by interest groups that contain many inaccuracies. Only the City Council can cut through this, by rejecting the current HSR project.
on Jul 11, 2008 at 1:52 am
Mr Wilson accurately paints the local disaster if HSR with its 4 tracks and iron curtain wall is allowed to pass through here. Our council should quit wavering and do what Atherton has already done, namely write a letter of opposition to the project.
The time element is short. The 10 billion bond measure, Prop 1, is set for this fall's Nov 4th election. Menlo Park must act now.
City council members, get this on the agenda right now and take a stand of NO to HSR.
on Jul 11, 2008 at 2:36 pm
John Wilson, your thoughtful speculations about the city council, the commissions and the HSR are much appreciated. Indeed, I urge you to resubmit your comment to the Almanac as a possible guest editorial.
First, a disclaimer: As a member of the Transportation Commission I need to make it clear that I am here writing as a private citizen and do not speak for the Commission.
There are really several issues intertwined here. 1. Is the current conception of the California High Speed Train a good idea or a bad one? 2. Since the bond issue for the train is on the November ballot (and in my mind will probably be supported by our easily seduced voters) we can expect the Caltrain corridor to undergo the largest changes since its original construction over 150 years ago. I have described these changes in the Almanac, and in emails to the city council in the past.
Let us skip past the first point about the high-speed train and its impact on the state, to the second. According to our city administration, we have no contingency plans in anticipation of the major construction that will take place in Menlo Park. The city is not at this time prepared to cope with the massive disruptions that will ensue once the first bulldozers show up. No one in the city is doing any due diligence, research, or investigating the impact of such rail corridor construction and transformations in other cities. " Oh, well. We have lots of time. It will be years until . . .."
Most people don't know about the train. Those that do, and don't live within earshot of the Caltrain corridor, believe that this is none of their business. There are even a few in Menlo Park (some of whom neither live nor work here) who would argue that whatever happens will be good for the city; the HS train will be good for us; the changed rail corridor will be good for us, and an expanded Caltrain will be good for us.
I can only disagree in the strongest possible terms. And, about point #1, I think the HS train will be a financial, environmental, political and transportation disaster. Yes, I know that runs counter to all the spin generated by the train promoters. But if anyone wishes to really do some homework on this project, they will discover that nothing is like what is being presented. Remember, anything that sounds too good to be true, usually is.