More than 500 attend 'high speed boondoggle' rally

Rain failes to dampen anger at plans for possible elevated railway through Peninsula

By Gennady Sheyner

Embarcadero Media

Hundreds of critics of California's proposed high-speed rail project packed into Burlingame's Caltrain station Sunday afternoon to wave protest signs, chant "Boondoggle!" and vent their anger about the increasingly controversial project.

More than 500 people, including elected officials from most Midpeninsula cities, braved the rain and showed up at the rally to vent their rail frustrations and discuss strategies for protecting the region against aerial viaducts -- one of the designs the California High-Speed Rail Authority is considering for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the line.

Audience members carried signs saying, "Here comes high-speed rail. There goes the neighborhood," and "There goes $$ for schools." Rally organizers wore yellow shirts with the group's logo a crossed-out train on the front and "High Speed Boondoggle" on the back.

Many members of the crowd initially supported the rail project in concept but became alarmed when they learned the details. Residents and officials from several cities, including Burlingame, Belmont, Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto, have called on the authority to reconsider putting the trains into tunnels -- a popular option that the authority discarded earlier this year, citing high costs.

Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt, Menlo Park Councilwoman Kelly Ferguson and Atherton Councilman Jerry Carlsen all attended the rally, as did attorney Gary Patton, who has joined the three cities in a lawsuit against the authority.

"This is a boondoggle, and if they can't do it right don't do it at all," Patton told the crowd.

Patton, a former Santa Cruz County Supervisor, asked members of the audience to lobby their state legislators to oppose elevated tracks. He also called on local elected officials to agree on a set of principles regarding the rail project -- most notably opposition to any overhead design.

The authority decided last week that the construction of the voter-approved San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line will begin in the Central Valley. The decision means it'll be years before Midpeninsula sees any rail construction.

Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock said the decision gives the Peninsula some breathing room, but Patton warned members of the audience not to let their guard down.

"The fact that somebody told you that they're going to spend all the money in the Central Valley doesn't mean the San Francisco Peninsula won't be in the cross-hairs of a boondoggle project," Patton said.

Baylock welcomed the audience to her city's historic Caltrain station and warned them about the potential dangers of an aerial viaduct slicing through what she called the "heart of Burlingame."

"There is no wrong side of the trains in Burlingame and we intend to keep it that way," Baylock said. "An elevated structure is the equivalent of a seven-lane freeway through our Caltrain corridor.

"Some people say we should just sit down and let it happen," she continued, prompting jeers of agreement.

The event was organized by High Speed Boondoggle, one of several grassroots organizations that have popped up on the Peninsula to keep track of the project.

Russ Cohen, one of the members of the group, said the strong showing at the rally proves that it's not just a small vocal community that sees problems with the project, which has an estimated price tag of $43 billion.

"There is discontent throughout California, not just Burlingame," Cohen said.

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Like this comment
Posted by Maybe YES/Maybe NO
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Nov 8, 2010 at 12:24 pm

I have two questions I would like to submit.

1) What is the relative cost of a National High-speed Rail system to our GDP and how does it compare to the relative cost of the Interstate Highway system built by Eisenhower that is now such a vital part of our country's economy?

2) How does a technically advanced and densely populated country, such as Germany, handle entry into its population centers, particularly the older previously developed cities?

Thanks for any fact-based info on these topics.

Like this comment
Posted by interested observer
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Nov 8, 2010 at 8:28 pm

maybe yes/maybe no has a point. If the Almanac writers were not so t overwhelming in their negativity on HSR maybe they could do a little research and answer your question or maybe their editor will not let them.

Like this comment
Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Nov 8, 2010 at 8:58 pm

Maybe YES/Maybe NO asks "What is the relative cost of a National High-speed Rail system to our GDP and how does it compare to the relative cost of the Interstate Highway system built by Eisenhower that is now such a vital part of our country's economy?"

I don't have that "fact-based" answer you requested but I do have another point or two that may be relevant.

If I recall my 8th grade history lessons accurately, when Ike ordered the construction of the interstate highway system, it had two principal purposes. The first purpose, was to provide quick egress from major US cities as part of our civil defense network. The Cold War was starting to percolate (sorry...) and the existing roads in and out of cities was simply insufficient to allow people to evacuate. I also recall that the interstate highway had to have enough "straight highway" segments to allow airplanes to land on it in case of emergency. Seems kind of silly now!

The second reason was the increasing popularity of the automobile and the need for more efficient roadways. The interstate system had limited access (ramps), smooth surfaces and no traffic lights. It obviously ended up being one of America's best ideas.

I don't believe the need to construct high speed rail is nearly as compelling. I have previously pointed out that anyone can currently fly from any of about 4 or 5 Northern California airports to any of about 8 or 9 Southern California airports in just about one hour at almost anytime of day or night for as little as $39. Being able to fly non-stop from Oakland to Ontario can be far more convenient than being required to take a single train from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles. That train trip will take at least 2.5 hours (probably longer), the current projected cost is about $200 one-way and they will, at full operational capacity, run only a few times a day.

So you have an extremely efficient, competitive system that is cheap, fast and convenient. Why in the world should taxpayers spend $100 billion (that we don't have!) for a new system that offers so much less?

Like this comment
Posted by alice Hansen
a resident of another community
on Nov 9, 2010 at 10:22 am

The transportation systems that President Lincoln and President Eisenhower supported serves the entire country while high speed rail does not.

Like this comment
Posted by Nimby
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 9, 2010 at 9:13 pm

[Post removed; incivility toward other posters violates terms of use.]

Like this comment
Posted by Kristine
a resident of another community
on Nov 11, 2010 at 3:34 pm

How about the fact that adding transportation capacity equivalent of adding more airports and highways is several times more expensive and would require razing entire towns in the bay area. Plus I think a California wide system is ambitious enough. California, which by the way currently has a larger population than America did when Lincoln was around.

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

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