Guest opinion: Menlo Park still lacks official position on high-speed rail


Editor's note: Steve Schmidt is a former member of the Menlo Park City Council.

By Steve Schmidt

As the saying goes: you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't.

The latest Menlo Park kerfuffle puts City Council member Kelly Fergusson in the cross-hairs again and this time the critics are making a variety of complaints. Her planned trip to Washington, D.C, to influence Congress members "on funding for high-speed rail" seems to be a problem due to a questionable need for the trip, the cost of the trip, and more recently, an alleged conflict of interest due to her employment at Siemens, a company that some say wants the contract to build high-speed rail.

The high-speed-rail issue in Menlo Park has become an animal of many colors and stripes. Ms. Fergusson was one of two council members who approved the city's joining Atherton in a lawsuit opposing the project two years ago. She has also approved the city's participation in two other lawsuits against the project and approved our city's membership in the Peninsula Cities Consortium, an organization that appears to oppose high-speed rail on the Peninsula. One might think that based on these bold acts, she would be appreciated for her devotion to the anti-HSR cause and her trip to D.C. applauded.

Applause is not what she's getting. Because of Ms. Fergusson's employment, she is presumed to be a high-speed-rail proponent. The often-used line, "Do it right or not at all," has left a void in both Ms. Fergusson's and the city's position regarding HSR. It is the kind of expression used by many who want to sound reasonable but also firm. The question that lingers is: What is "right"? Does it mean two, three, or four tracks, a tunnel, a trench, at-grade, on a viaduct, six trains a day, six trains an hour, or not on the Peninsula ever?

No one really knows where Menlo Park stands on any of these variables, as there has not been a full discussion by the council with high-speed rail on an agenda. Mayor Rich Cline has stated that the city "has been on this for two and a half years. It's been in every newspaper. (and) ... nothing has been outside the public light on our position on high-speed rail. ..." While this may be true, it is the council's job to adopt a policy regarding this state-wide project, a project that will bring both benefits and negative impacts to Menlo Park. There appears to be no policy.

This process is overdue and puts Ms. Fergusson in a tough position as she travels to Washington, D.C., carrying a message that may be only hers and has not been adopted in public by the city. If the council had a policy position, Ms. Fergusson's job of influencing key members of Congress would be much easier. It's no surprise she's getting flak from all quarters, most of it not based on substance.

As Mr. Cline asked last Tuesday night, "What's that (high-speed rail) policy going to be?" Apparently, no one knows. Yet we have a paid lobbyist and a council member going to Washington to say something to important people without our knowing what that something is.

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Posted by morris brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 10, 2011 at 4:52 pm

I posted the following in another thred, but it seems appropriate here also.

City council and Menlo Park residents:

At the end of the March 1 council meeting, Kelly Fergusson announced she was headed to Washington DC to express views on High Speed Rail and apparently on CalTrain electrification.

You can view this discussion on YouTube at:

Web Link

This trip was not previously disclosed and had not been approved by council.

Kelly Fergusson works for Siemens, which has been trying to become a vendor for the project. There is certainly now a question of whether she should recuse herself from any HSR discussions.

She talks about a two track option. Two tracks is not an option for HSR. How many times does vanArk have to say HSR demands two tracks for itself. Since UPRR and CalTrain currently use 2 tracks, four tracks in some configuration is gong to be needed.

The discussion indicates the City's lobbyist, Ravi Mehta, didn't even have a good plan for the visit.

Finally she mentions CalTrain electrification. Is there a City policy on CalTrain electrification? Kelly seems to think so, since she says she will be working to get the money for electrification.

The City's lobbyist Ravi Mehta is quoted

“The cities - not just the councils, but the community itself - supported high-speed rail, and they’re still supportive, but only if it’s done right.” Mehta told National Review Online. “What the initiative said, and how it was implemented, are two different things.”

Indeed, is this the City' position? It certainly should not be.

This project has ballooned from $32 billion to $65 billion in 2 years. The State is in dire financial shape and still we are supposed to be supportive?

Again form your own opinions: Look at:

Web Link

Morris Brown
Stone Pine Lane

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 10, 2011 at 10:27 pm

Although, as far as I can remember, while I have never agreed with Steve Schmidt about anything, I do agree with him here.

As someone with considerable interest in high-speed rail as well as Caltrain, I have hoped for well on seven years for the City of Menlo Park to formulate a position, policy and strategy regarding high-speed rail and Caltrain.

Despite persistent efforts on the part of numerous of my colleagues and myself, that has never materialized.

There are many residents and businesses in Menlo Park that have great anxiety about possible developments on the Caltrain corridor, remain fearful because they have no information and no voice in the matter, and have no representation from their local government.

These issues have been treated/managed off line, out of sight and behind the scenes by Council and Administration.

They do stuff, probably with Staff, but we don’t know what that is.

Sometimes, we become pleasantly surprised, as when they participated as plaintiffs in lawsuits that challenged the misrepresentations by the CHSRA in their CEQA filings: EIR/EIR.

At other times Council member public behaviors related to HSR or Caltrain, such as their participation at the PCC meetings, reveal a far more accommodating approach to the CHSRA shenanigans.

All this would appear uninformed, unplanned, idiosyncratic and improvisatory. It also suggests that the business of High-Speed Rail and Caltrain are a low priority for our Administration and Council.

In short, there are many of us, residents and businesses of Menlo Park, who feel ourselves unrepresented and even mis-represented.

I really don’t know what to do about that until November, 2012.

[Written as a private citizen]

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Posted by Edward Moritz
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Mar 11, 2011 at 1:00 pm

Mr. Schmidt covers two topics in his guest editorial. The first topic (not listed in the headline) is about the propriety of Ms. Fergusson's involvement in advocating as a member of the City council on the topic of HSR or CalTrain electrification. The second topic (the headline) is about the lack of a clear city policy on either HSR or CalTrain Electrification.

My comments will focus on the first topic..... Should Ms. Fergusson be speaking / advocating as a public official on either of these topics? And the key issue is Ms.. Fergusson's employment situation. I certainly wasn't aware she worked for Siemens. The first I knew she worked for Siemens was when "The Daily Post" revealed it in their reports on Ms. Fergusson's urgent desire to travel to Washington on the City's ..... no.... the people's tab. I'm sure the majority of Menlo PArk residents didn't know this. And as it turns out, her employment with Siemens IS CRITICAL, and there are government rules and regulations that make this clear.

I'm sure, as a previous member of the City Council, Mr. Schmidt must remember the counseling and training government officials receive regarding their personal conduct as they carry out the people's business. I would like to refer Mr. Schmidt, the current members of the City Council, and the citizens of Menlo Park to one particular document. It's published by the California Fair Political Practices Commission. It's issued by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) and is entitled “A GUIDE TO THE POLITICAL REFORM ACT OF 1974, CALIFORNIA'S CONFLICT OF INTEREST LAW FOR PUBLIC OFFICIALS”.

Further, I would encourage everyone to read the whole section entitled “Forseeability". . It says the circumstance of “conflict of interest” includes the future. If it is likely that Siemens will bid on the HSR project or the Electrification of CalTrain, then a potential conflict exists as long as Ms. Fergusson is “employed” by Siemens. End of story.

Ignorance or contempt for the regulations??? Whatever! The repeated behavior by this member of the City Council is troubling.

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Posted by sadfsf
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Mar 12, 2011 at 10:01 am

its much cheaper to have a new superhighway from SF to LA with no speed limit so all the menlo park residents with their expensive sports cars can drive them like they are meant to be driven.

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Posted by POGO
a resident of Woodside: other
on Mar 12, 2011 at 10:29 am

It's even cheaper to fly there for $39.

Nothing to tax or build or obtain a right of way. Just go any of three local airports and you can fly to any of about 10 Southern California airports that will likely be far closer to your destination than a train station in downtown LA. It takes about an hour and my guess is that a plane is leaving within 15 minutes.

Private industry is already providing this service more efficiently, more conveniently and faster than HSR contemplates on even its most optimistic projections.

Of course, if our government is so flush with cash that it has an extra $100 billion laying around, they can always start building train tracks and performing EIRs.

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

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