High-speed rail meeting fails to sway crowd


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 hand-outs, 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 affects 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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Like this comment
Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2010 at 5:37 pm

"Menlo Park residents are a cynical bunch when it comes to the California High Speed Rail Authority. "

I'm sure The Almanac has surveyed all 30,000 residents of Menlo Park. What we do know is how the vote on Prop 1A went down, and it handily passed in the Bay Area and on the Peninsula. Anybody who took five minutes to research the route knew it was going up the Caltrain right of way.

I'm sure many Menlo Park residents are cynical about the project, many in favor. The vast majority of people in the state, the country and the world, however, simply don't care.

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Posted by R. gibson
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 26, 2010 at 9:10 pm

I'm sure they would all care if it was going to cut right thru their neighborhood!

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Posted by Ted Crocker
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2010 at 12:32 am

When the people of the Peninsula voted, even if they knew it was going to be built up the Peninsula, which most emphatically did not, they didn't necessarily know it would be built up the Caltrain Corridor, they definitely didn't know there wouldn't be enough money to build it in a way sensitive to the communities, and they had no idea of the scale or the true cost.

A lot has changed in the numbers for the worse since the vote. Mr. Spokker would love it if the 30,000 residents were surveyed because the HSR "outreach" program has been so ineffective most people still don't have a clue about the realities of this project. He's counting on that, which is why the cities have to do a better job at outreach themselves. Unfortunately, they counted on the CHSRA's massive outreach budget to do the right thing for too long. But that is slowly changing. What he would see in the numbers is a definite shift against this project as it stands compared to when it was "sold" to the voters.

The only way HSR can succeed now is if the Federal Government decides it is going to get serious and commit $40-70B, not the $2.25B plus some portion of $1B per year over the next five years split between 13 projects and 31 states. They will have to cover the private money as well until reimbursement near the end of the project (assuming that will happen).

The people at the meeting were angry with good reason. Due to the lack of forthcoming information regarding even the basics and the lack of accountability, the public frustration is definitely growing as evidenced by the recent turnout.

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Posted by NONIMBYS
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2010 at 7:10 am

THEY KNEW DAMM WELL what they voted on and were it was going!! THE NIMBYS next to the tracks voted No and are these whopping 100 people out of a city of 20,000+ that showed up

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Posted by wise too late
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Feb 27, 2010 at 9:24 am

I don't live near the train tracks and I voted against the proposition because I did the research ahead of time and learned what was written between the lines. As you may recall, there were many issues on that ballot -- a presidential election! -- and most people did not have the bandwidth to educate themselves on all of them.

Before the election I spoke to a number of friends about prop 1A. Everyone seemed to envision it the way the ads showed it, as a sleek train zipping through the middle of nowhere, sort of like highway 5. Once they heard the truth, they invariably said that it sounded like a terrible idea. Of course, the true financial implications of HSR were concealed from all of us, though anyone could have recognized that the preliminary numbers were simply fake.

If the peninsula voters had been aware of the intent of the CHSRA, I suspect that no more than 5% would have voted for it.

Like this comment
Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2010 at 4:16 pm

The train will not end in San Jose, because SF interests will not allow it, and Propo 1A specified it would terminate at the Transbay Terminal. The train will not be built in a tunnel, because the cost is beyond the resources of the city, county and state. Even if it were not, environmental justice lawsuits claiming subsidy to rich areas as the expense of poor would be filed, and tunnels would then be needed elsewhere, breaking the budget (as if it is not already broken). There is only one solution. Contact all parties throughout the state who oppose the plan of the high speed rail authority. Together raise the approximately two million dollars it will take to gather signatures for a citizens initiative to reverse Propo 1A, effectively defunding the authority and halting all the damaging sections of the poorly planned program. High speed rail is a good thing for California. The only way to get high speed rail is to kill the high speed rail authority. The alternative is years of cost overruns, lawsuits and promises of a never realized future. The king must die. Long live the king.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville

Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 27, 2010 at 5:43 pm

Jay Tulock is mostly correct in his assessment on the merits of this project and the controlling agency, the California High Speed Rail Authority. I would like to think that it would be possible to raise $2 million to force a re-vote, but that seems like a rather remote possibility. Then even after getting it on the ballot, there would be a battle that might well be won by the "big bucks", "deep pockets", groups, such as the "Alliance for Jobs" which essentially managed to get Prop 1A passed in 2008 with its $2 million radio ads at the last moment.

This is however, not the only solution. There will be a new Governor come next year. Steve Poizner has indicated he is against this project. We don't yet know Whitman's position, but for sure Jerry Brown will do anything he can to make this project happen.

If the new governor turns out to be opposed to the project, it will die, since he can appoint a majority of the Authority's board and thus kill it off. A just issued Republican party policy brief indicates that party wants to kill off this project.

So there is also a political possibility that would be a solution.

I agree 100% with Jay's last comment

"The alternative is years of cost overruns, lawsuits and promises of a never realized future." That is the very sad reality in a State which is struggling to provide basic social and education services, and will be throwing away billions on this boondoggle.

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Posted by NONIMBYS
a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Feb 27, 2010 at 9:55 pm

[Post removed; personal attacks violate terms of use]

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Posted by NONIMBYS
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 27, 2010 at 10:43 pm

And the lies above are not attacks??? you need to take a class in true and fair journalism...but of course the "owners" might spank you for having a mind

Like this comment
Posted by NONIMBYS
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 27, 2010 at 10:46 pm

THE best thing for this state will be the moving/death of all the old mean [portion deleted] "lords" that had a good life and raped this great land..IF your not native tribe your an invader

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Posted by Chris
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2010 at 2:36 pm

We've got the same kind of fruitcakes up here in Marin and Sonoma counties. They are true believers in rail. For what reason, I can't imagine.

Pure and simple, those on the penninsula are coming to learn that all is not well with Mssrs Diridon and Kopp. They are true believers that will stop at nothing to get their toy train up and running.

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Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Feb 28, 2010 at 2:52 pm


There was little opposition and little reality check when Propo 1A was passed. Now, the campaign to reverse 1A is already there in the media. Alliance for jobs has to pay. Let them. Only 2% need be turned to turn this around, the economy and all the bad press is all we need.

Political outcome is possible, but unlikely. The politicians may or may not want high speed rail, but they will keep the project going for decades to keep the federal dollars. You cannot reli on this. All must realize there is a single solution, cut the cash flow, cut the jugular.

Remember the formula of monster movies, you kill the monster three times before it is dead. A possible political solution is not even kill one.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville

Note to editor, how is it you have not removed the racist comment above? Are you of the belief racism directed at white people is not racism? Lumping all whites into the 'invader' catagory is racist, even with elements of truth present.

Like this comment
Posted by Jackie Broyles
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 28, 2010 at 4:18 pm

Teabaggers of Menlo Park

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 1, 2010 at 7:21 am

Am I an old mean Lord?

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Posted by wary traveler
a resident of another community
on Mar 1, 2010 at 4:22 pm

Spaethling's team brought the same miniscule, illegible slides to other cities up and down the Peninsula. Each city, on its own, has squinted at the slides and grumbled amongst themselves, allowing the HSR team to repeat their performance at the next city knowing full well that their slides were inadequate. Did it never occur to them to enlarge portions of the slides to a size large enough to offer meaningful information to the audience? Perhaps it did; certainly after doing a dozen of these performances they were well aware of the deficiencies of the presentation. Why didn’t they make attempts to provide more complete information, address complaints, and improve each performance?

The cities must coordinate with each other. They must share information and warn each other of what to expect so that corrections to these repeat presentations can be made in advance rather than leaving each city to grumble the same complaints afterwards. We’ve been duped again.

Like this comment
Posted by resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 2, 2010 at 12:00 pm

Please take a moment to read this article from the LA Times. It appears it's not just a few cities along the Peninsula that are concerned about this project.
Web Link

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Posted by wary traveler
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 1:10 pm

San Diego's not amused, either. This article Web Link suggests taking a revote.
"The question is whether Californians feel the system now planned is the one they voted to pay for and whether they still believe it's worthwhile after two years of budget problems like no American state has ever endured.

"The only way to answer that fairly is to stage another vote. But legislators usually frown on re-dos, so don't hold your breath waiting for one."

Like this comment
Posted by HSR
a resident of another community
on Mar 2, 2010 at 1:47 pm

The village of vacaville has lost its idiot!!!

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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