News

Atherton unhappy about Caltrain electrification project

Council to discuss at Wednesday meeting

Caltrain's governing board has approved the environmental report needed to go ahead with electrification of the rail service it runs between San Francisco and San Jose, and Atherton isn't happy about it.

A draft of a letter from Atherton Mayor Rick DeGolia to Caltrain says the town considers the approval of the environmental documents as putting "high speed rail one step closer to reality in Atherton."

Regarding the electrification project itself, Atherton "continues to have concerns related to noise, project timing, tree removal and pruning, (and) locations of wires and poles," the letter says. The town has also asked Caltrain to help pay for safer gates at Atherton crossings and to give more specifics about its promise to reopen the Atherton train station, including train schedules.

Atherton's City Council meets Wednesday, Jan. 21, starting at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at 94 Ashfield Road. On the agenda is discussion of the town's response to the Jan. 8 approval by the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board of the environmental review and the electrification project.

A report to the council from Town Planner Lisa Costa Sanders and Community Services Director Michael Kashiwagi says the town staff will work with Caltrain as the electrification project is completed to make sure the issues in the mayor's letter are worked out.

However, the report says, "with respect to high-speed rail, our position remains immutable. The impacts in Atherton are significant and we will stand in front of that train until our concerns are addressed."

Atherton had argued that the environmental report on the electrification project was not adequate because it did not address the environmental effects of high-speed rail, which the town says is inextricably tied to the electrification project.

The report from Ms. Costa Sanders and Mr. Kashiwagi says "the electrification project is dependent on the high speed rail project for funding" and the project is also designed to be compatible with high-speed rail.

Several of the concerns Atherton had with the draft environmental document were addressed in the final version approved by the Caltrain board, including an agreement to place poles for the electric wires in a way to require removal or pruning of the fewest number of trees. Caltrain also agreed to plant three new trees for each heritage tree it removes from outside of its right-of-way and one new tree for every other tree removed.

Also on the council's Wednesday agenda:

● Consideration of spending $8,000 to subscribe to Open Town Hall, an online tool currently used by Menlo Park and Palo Alto to get the opinion of residents on various issues.

● Final approval of regulations on cellphone towers and other telecommunication facilities. The proposed law requires companies to pay the town to place equipment in the town's right-of-way, to hold public meetings to discuss new facilities or major modifications to existing facilities, and to design and site equipment to minimize the impact on neighbors.

● Presentation of reports on the Peninsula Humane Society, from the town's community services department; and on the San Mateo County Mosquito and Vector Control District by Atherton's representative on the district's board, Mason Brutschy.

Comments

7 people like this
Posted by Atherton Shall Overcome
a resident of Atherton: other
on Jan 20, 2015 at 8:24 pm

Wow, it takes real leadership, in this day and age of climate change, car congestion, and economic inequality, for Athertonians to say.... "waaaaaah!!!"

We'll really look back on this as a watershed moment. Rick DeGolia, we know how to "thank" you when the time comes. Bravo.


8 people like this
Posted by Sean
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 21, 2015 at 9:11 am

NIMBYism at its best. Way to go, Atherton, for taking leadership and looking out for some very narrow interests at the expense of much, much greater benefits for the rest of the region and state.


6 people like this
Posted by Appalled
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Jan 21, 2015 at 12:20 pm

I can not fathom the amount of NIMBYism around. Because we live one of the most affluent areas in California, the baby boomer generation needs to get over their high horses and accept the fact that public transit is taken by many, and not only the poor and homeless. That is more of the hidden agenda than your "environmental concerns" you won't even stick around when it happens.


6 people like this
Posted by Maximus
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm

Classic Atherton NIMBY.

Effective advocacy and leadership here should look like "Yes, but...." not "we'll stand in front of the trains", which I can only imagine on the 11:00 news and The Daily Show.

Atherton residents want the property appreciation and prestige that comes with being the elite haven for the successful on the Peninsula, but then seek to obstruct the infrastructure necessary to maintain the growth and prosperity of the region.

Think people, who is going to buy your houses if your obstructionism strangles the growth of Silicon Valley and tech companies decide to grow elsewhere. Or, perhaps, in a selfish way it is good for Atherton because residents will be able to commute more easily on 101 and 280 because the commuter car and bus traffic will move to the faster, more frequent, less polluting, higher-capacity trains.

Given the conservative politics of Atherton, is our mayor a job creator or a job obstructor? More construction and operation jobs at stake here than in the silly Keystone pipeline.


2 people like this
Posted by Sheldon Kay
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 21, 2015 at 12:53 pm

SO replacing polluting noisy diesels with clean quieter electric will invite high speed trains is like saying replacing horse and buggies with automobiles will need wider streets. DOESN'T MAKE ANY SENSE.


3 people like this
Posted by MP and PA Should Align With Atherton
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 21, 2015 at 1:05 pm

I applaud Atherton's proactive stance, and hope that other Peninsula cities follow suit. HSR is driving and subsidizing Caltrain electrification, so for the EIR to not address HSR is ludicrous. With gas around $2, the economics around HSR are even more outrageous, as are the greenhouse gas reduction arguments, since construction is so dirty. Caltrain electrification is a Trojan Horse for HSR. It is intentionally naive to look at one without the other.


Like this comment
Posted by Alan
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 21, 2015 at 1:23 pm

Alan is a registered user.

The "trojan horse" argument loses sight of the fact that Caltrain electrification may justify the cost, while high speed rail all of the way to LA may not. Yes, it's coming from that pool of money, but if they kill the HSR project, we would still be left with something useful. Everything should be justified on its own grounds; a project shouldn't be killed merely because it makes something else more viable.


2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2015 at 2:18 pm

> Yes, it's coming from that pool of money

It's a violation of Prop 1A to use "that pool of money" for anything other than HSR.

If CalTrain wants to build an electrified rail line, they should start by doing it legally.


1 person likes this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2015 at 2:29 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If HSR is not put totally underground on the Peninsula it will fundamentally change the character of every community which it goes through. If HSR is placed at grade level most of the current crossings will have to be abandoned and the rest separated vertically from the HSR grade. If HSR is elevated it will create a huge wall between the portions of each community on either side of the right of way.


2 people like this
Posted by Al
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Jan 21, 2015 at 5:03 pm

In my opinion, grade separation is the best thing that happened in San Carlos and Belmont. Quieter, better traffic, etc.. Drives me crazy when I forget and take Whipple instead of Brittain; invariably I get stuck in the traffic that is created at the Whipple crossing, whereas if I went Brittain, I sail under the tracks. When I spend time in SC, the only trains I hear are the ones down south blowing horns when they cross Whipple; further north - nada.

I've heard similar things about further up in San Bruno, but have less experience in those neighborhoods.

In Lindenwood and Lloyden - nothing but train horns and crossing gate bells. All day and most of the night.

Build HSR. Electrify Caltrain.


3 people like this
Posted by Todd
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2015 at 5:24 pm

What I find greatest about the Caltrain electrification project, is its inevitability; its needed, both cities and major companies are behind it, and its not going to be stopped by a small yet loud contingency in the mid peninsula. This makes for an intresting situation where that loud group is going to have to either put up or shut up, i.e. figure out grade separations or don't; you're the ones who are going to be stuck behind the gates with the increase in rail traffic.


3 people like this
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2015 at 7:10 pm

I took Bart/Caltrain back from SF this evening. Bart was busy but not completely full. Caltrain had every seat full, every aisle packed the length of every car, every stairwell full and all the spaces by the doors jammed full of people. We desperately need to expand the capacity, and the modernization project will do that.

As far as elevated tracks dividing our communities, the tracks do that already, and I can't see that elevating them will make that situation worse. In fact, if it allows for freer movement of cars, pedestrians and bicyclists, it will help bring the two sides of the tracks together.


1 person likes this
Posted by Ask Not What You Can Do For Your Country
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2015 at 7:36 pm

It probably speaks more to my naivete than anything, but I remain surprised by how selfish the most fortunate of our society are. [part removed] complaining about character on an existing rail line that already has limited crossings? Versus thinking about how we as a region get people to jobs that pay livable wages? Compared to addressing carbon pollution in a systematic and equitable way? In contrast to reducing particulates that cause cancer?

[part removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by maximus
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 21, 2015 at 7:40 pm

Atherton should accept the inevitability of higher-capacity, more-frequent, quieter trains down the Peninsula, which requires going through Atherton. Otherwise the local economic growth will be strangled by highway traffic and the quality of life threats (noise, cutting down trees, etc.) will be much more dramatic.

That said, it is reasonable for Atherton to challenge the engineering plans. Does the right of way need to be widened as much as proposed? Can number of grade crossings be reduced or underpasses/overpasses replace some of the grade crossings?

These issues are reasonable to explore.

The HSR complaint is a red-herring. We need electrification and passing tracks for SF-SJ transport capacity. The fact that HSR uses the same right of way IF it ever gets connected up seems incidental. Starting in Metro SF and Metro LA with projects that benefit local transit is exactly the right way to initiate the building of HSR. Laying track between Fresno and Bakersfield as the first leg, in an area with little congestion, seems ill advised.


6 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2015 at 9:14 pm

Caltrain's plans do little to address both the intermediate and long term transportation issues on the peninsula. THAT is my big issue with the project.

There is a limited carrying capacity to the existing 2 tracks that electrification can't address. And keep in mind Caltrain is not the only trains on the route; Union Pacific is also on the tracks, with HSR potentially on the horizon. Electrification is an expensive approach that provides an incremental increase in carrying capacity that can be better solved in other ways. And it screws all other transportation (private AND public) that needs to go East<->West due to the increase in gate downtimes.

Electrification is a classic cart-before-the-horse. It's massively short-sighted to build electrification without trenching (to ensure E<->W transportation flows without the Caltrain+HSR+UP bottlenecks) and adding a 3rd track (which adds capacity, allows easier passing of other trains).

Think about this people; with 3 trenched tracks, Caltrain can run more bullet trains (which allows SJ<->SF under-1-hour travel, which is a huge goal for Caltrain and psychologically important to passengers) while still supporting local Caltrain stops. You DON'T get all that with Electrification.

And using Prop 1a funding for local transportation projects is a violation of Prop 1a. That's a fact.

You people that are proponents of the current Caltrain solution are ignorant. That's a very fair word to describe your understanding of transportation on the peninsula.


2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2015 at 9:36 pm

> The HSR complaint is a red-herring.

Wrong, Caltrain wants to say the project is unrelated to HSR, but this project hypocritically requires TAKING money as part of the HSR project. Taking the money MAKES it a part of the HSR project, and the issues surrounding HSR.

Also, keep in mind Caltrain is saying it's not bound by CEQA, but is hypocritically wrapping the project as an environmental solution. If it's an environmental solution, passing CEQA is a no brainier...right?


1 person likes this
Posted by Donald
a resident of another community
on Jan 21, 2015 at 9:52 pm

@peninsula resident, how would Caltrain build 3 trenched tracks? What would be the cost to purchase the extra right-of-way and perform the trenching? The chances of all the cities along the route agreeing to this are zero. Call me ignorant or call me realistic, but the proposed Caltrain modernization program (which is more than just electrification) is the best we can hope for at this time. I would love to see more, but there are too many cities like Atherton that will fight any major changes.


2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2015 at 9:55 pm

Al wrote:
> the only trains I hear are the ones down south blowing
> horns when they cross Whipple; further north - nada.

You don't need to build a berm to reduce the horn noise, you just need quad gates.

(and "nada" is definitely impossible. Caltrain blows the horn at stations to alert passengers on the platforms that a train is passing-through, which is common for the bullet trains. Caltrain blows the horn at the San Carlos and Belmont stations. Guaranteed).


2 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 21, 2015 at 10:17 pm

Donald wrote:
> @peninsula resident, how would Caltrain build 3 trenched tracks?


The right-of-way is wider than you suspect; enough to support a shoo fly track and expansion of their footprint from Electrification without any additional land purchases.

> What would be the cost to purchase the extra
> right-of-way and perform the trenching? The
> chances of all the cities along the route
> agreeing to this are zero.

Keep in mind that SF will not spend a DIME to have HSR (and caltrain) tunnels dug under that metropolis. I'm not buying that it's reasonable for SF to get a free ride for digging that's WAY more expensive than the trench needed in Silicon Valley, while Silicon Valley residents have to pay for their own trenching.

Your approach is a defeatist attitude. Most of the jobs are here. THIS is the center of commerce in the Bay Area. Free tunneling for SF but Silicon Valley residents paying their own way for trenching is backwards.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 24, 2015 at 2:32 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Why has the Editor removed two whole days of very productive comments?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 24, 2015 at 2:34 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I found this "missing comments" - they were posted on the quasi duplicate thread.


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

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