Menlo Park starts drafting response to Caltrain electrification report

Council subcommittee to seek input at public meeting

The Menlo Park City Council weighed in on the draft environmental impact report for Caltrain's electrification project, and decided to take a longer pause for thought before finalizing its comments.

The transit agency is backing a $1.5 billion plan to switch to electrified trains to benefit both the environment and Caltrain's financial state, as well as provide the capacity to share the tracks with high-speed rail, even as that project struggles to maintain momentum. Caltrain estimates the project would be completed in 2019, according to the staff report for the April 1 council meeting.

According to the draft EIR, however, electrification carries some disadvantages, such as the elimination of thousands of trees, and the construction of safety walls, substations and 50-foot-tall poles to carry power along the tracks. The Menlo Park Caltrain station has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, so the proposal to have poles sprouting around such a landmark is giving the city some pause.

Given the project's ties to high-speed rail, the council is taking pains to ensure that everyone remembers which controversial design features will not be welcome within Menlo Park.

"The City is only interested in a two-track blended system in Menlo Park within the existing Caltrain right-of-way or the system in an underground configuration. The City is not supportive of any system (that) is on an elevated structure, and any system which would allow track expansion for any phase of the project unless in an underground configuration," the council's latest comment letter states.

As for the draft EIR, it was found wanting on several fronts, including a mismatch between the way the report evaluates traffic impacts and the methodology used by the city, leading to "additional impacts that are not currently disclosed," according to the letter.

Commenting on an issue is one thing, solving it quite another, as Councilman Rich Cline noted during the meeting. "We have our way of studying these impacts that we have to use ... and it feels like an unresolved issue to put in the letter (that) we need to use our own measuring stick on that," he said. "How will Caltrain solve that when every city uses its own methodology?"

That also impacts the report's proposed mitigations, some of which, such as one proposed for El Camino Real at its intersections with Oak Grove and Glenwood avenues, the letter pronounces "unacceptable" for their failure to completely resolve traffic problems.

Other elements the council would like to see further explored include alternatives to running power poles alongside the tracks; it's been suggested that placing them in the center instead could spare some of the 629 Menlo Park trees that would otherwise be pruned or removed. The safety of the electric wires and poles powering the electric trains was not addressed in the DEIR despite the city's request early in the report process that it be studied.

The discussion did not, however, lead to a final draft of the city's letter to Caltrain. Instead, the council subcommittee, composed of Rich Cline and Kirsten Keith, will hold a public meeting and incorporate additional comments as needed.

Go to the city's website to review the proposed comment letter and associated staff report.


Like this comment
Posted by be strong council
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 11, 2014 at 4:58 pm

the state is starting to issue eminent domain notices! Protect our homes and neighborhoods. Be strong Council!

This is a story, Almanac!

Like this comment
Posted by old guy
a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Apr 11, 2014 at 5:13 pm

I fully support CalTrain & HSR. I've lived in Menlo Park for 25 years. The city has had, and failed to act, on track & road separation many times.

I am tired of the council wasting taxpayer money for the dozen or two property owners on the right of way. Work for a reasonable design and quit trying to Frak up the HSR. If you want an extra cost design, see if you can get the city's voters to pass a bond issue for the extra cost. When you can't, then get out of the way.

Like this comment
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Apr 13, 2014 at 6:36 pm

Old guy wrote:
> I am tired of the council wasting taxpayer money for the dozen or two property owners on the right of way

If you're actually opposed to "wasting taxpayer money", then you should be completely opposed to HSR.

And you are assuming that the only people against HSR are "the dozen or two property owners on the right of way". Anyone that has actually kept up on news, read their plans, understands Prop 1a or understands the California constitution should be opposed to HSR.

That said, I'd agree that there are people that are opposed to change just for the sake of change. Just like there are people that are in favor of change just for the sake of change (even if it doesn't address the actual problems that need addressing), such as yourself.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 14, 2014 at 2:49 am

HSR is a huge boondoggle that will far exceed the estimated cost projections, waste tax payer money, will take "forever" to be built, and have to be heavily subsidized by the state. Like Old Guy, I've lived in MP for 25 years but have no plans to use ever HSR.

Let's not create more of a mess in the rail crossings.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2014 at 1:15 pm

The electrification is about increasing Caltrain capacity specifically, as currently Caltrain is running over peak capacity. It really has nothing to do with HSR other than the fact that it will be compatible in the future and that some of the funding is coming from HSR. Caltrain will need to do this no matter what to match train demand, just that without HSR it would need to identify new funding sources, presumably coming from VTA/Muni/cities, etc.

Whether you are for or against HSR Caltrain demand continues to increase, and we should support increasing public transit capacity in systems that already exist.

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