News

Tonight: Menlo Park may join lawsuit over Caltrain electrification EIR

Outdoor dining, hiring PR consultants also on council agenda

As with two neighboring cities, Menlo Park is considering whether to challenge the environmental impact report for Caltrain's plan to convert its diesel-powered commuter trains to ones that run on electricity along the Peninsula corridor.

Mayor Catherine Carlton scheduled a closed session for tonight (Jan. 27) to talk about whether to join a lawsuit. "I like the idea of improving our rail system, but it must be done with respect to our environment."

Attorney Michael Brady, who has worked on lawsuits challenging the high-speed rail, urged the city to decide before the Feb. 6 deadline passes to file a lawsuit against the electrification EIR. In an email sent to the City Council on Jan. 22, he described the EIR as "the entry path" for high-speed rail on the Peninsula.

"If you fail to file suit, all your objections and rights disappear. If you file, you have leverage for negotiation and for protecting the RESIDENTS of MP who will be gravely affected if the problems are not cured," he wrote.

He said he would get Stuart Flashman, the attorney representing the city on high-speed rail issues, to cap his fee at $15,000 to $20,000, split among the jurisdictions joining the electrification EIR lawsuit.

Atherton and Palo Alto have also scheduled closed sessions on the same topic.

After the draft EIR was released, the city wanted Caltrain to consider addressing the following points in the final report:

■ Non-electric alternatives, such as diesel.

■ Acknowledge the positive impacts of electrification on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions.

■ Consider alternate providers for power supply.

■ Whether electrification and high-speed rail should be analyzed as a single project.

■ Enhance pedestrian and bicycle access to the station.

■ Include grade separations to reduce traffic impacts and improve safety.

Tonight's closed session of the council starts at 5:30 p.m. followed by the regular meeting at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at the Civic Center at 701 Laurel St.

Click here to review the complete agenda and associated staff reports. Other topics scheduled for discussion include the police department's body-worn camera policy, expanding outdoor dining downtown and whether the council should have to approve the hiring of any public relations consultant by the city.

Comments

27 people like this
Posted by Clean Air Advocate!
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Hills
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:12 pm

It is time to get rid of the very old, very dirty diesel locomotives that spew toxic diesel particulate matter as well as smog forming air pollutants up and down the peninsula. I believe that eliminating the adverse impacts of these emissions on the environment and public health far outweigh the adverse impacts associated with tree removal/relocation needed to accommodate electric supply equipment.


25 people like this
Posted by no thanks
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2015 at 12:49 pm

Try to imaging life on the Peninsula without Caltrain. Now imagine how much better our quality of life will be with more clean electric trains, and grade seps so we can stop with the bells, horns and kids walking onto the tracks every other week. Please take this opportunity to show us that you have the courage to do the right thing.


3 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2015 at 1:20 pm

Babies and Bathwater seem to be appropriate metaphors in this situation. Let's all fight for something we want rather than fight against something we dislike. Menlo Park is an endless victim of that fight against things people dislike, only to find itself marginalized and not in a leadership position, and then singing the mantra of 'Where did THAT come from?'


10 people like this
Posted by MEMBERONE
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 1:33 pm

Dear Clean Air Advocate!
Couldn't agree more.

Now how about going after those leaf blowers (dirt blowers) that spew carcinogens.

I drove past MA yesterday morning 7:30. The worker was blowing dirt off the parking lot. Not a leaf to be found - only a cloud of dirt. Looked like a haboob. Same on ECR at Jeffries and at the MP Safeway.


14 people like this
Posted by parent
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:03 pm

The issues listed here seem petty or are issues that the city can work on themselves without stalling Caltrain electrification. Electrification is a huge step forward for improving Caltrain. Stalling just increases costs, which we all wind up paying.


4 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:24 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

What not see this as an opportunity rather than a problem?

One thought is the put the trains underground and the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and to use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital.

Why not take this as an opportunity to design a multi-dimensional, multi-purpose system that uses the existing right-of-way that includes CalTrain, HSR, utility conduits for telephone and internet cables, surface housing with high density housing around each station, etc.

I would add a pedestrian path and a separate bicycle path on the surface along the entire right of way. And I would include 3 or 4 12" conduits for the technology of the future.

We should think of this right of way as an integrated multi-modal communications spine for the peninsula.

A piecemeal approach will be very expensive.

Do it once and do it right.

Let's take the big view and come up with a win-win solution.


7 people like this
Posted by JC
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:27 pm

I think this needs more public debate and focus on the upside, rather than closed sessions about lawsuits and consultant fees. Electric is greener (higher energy efficiency), cleaner (esp. if using alternative energy), quieter and better acceleration (so better service).


7 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Riddle me this: if Caltrain electrification is such a pro-environmental project, then why is Caltrain fighting CEQA compliance?

If it actually improves the environment, passing CEQA is a no-brainer.

I think those of you who are proponents of this project don't even know what CEQA is or even what the acronym stands for.


6 people like this
Posted by peninsula resident
a resident of Menlo-Atherton High School
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:03 pm

> I believe that eliminating the adverse
> impacts of these emissions on the
> environment and public health far
> outweigh the adverse impacts associated
> with tree removal/relocation needed to
> accommodate electric supply equipment.

If electrification "outweigh[s] the adverse impacts", then passing CEQA is a no-brainer. Yet Caltrain is fighting CEQA compliance.

To claim something is environmentally friendly yet fight complying with environmental law is a very odd and very hypocritical position for Caltrain and electrification proponents to take.


16 people like this
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Jan 27, 2015 at 7:58 pm

Caltrain has "passed" CEQA by preparing hundreds of pages of EIR documentation that disclose every last impact of the project, and by having its board certify compliance. That's not "fighting" CEQA, whatever that means. They will do everything by the book. The only right they reserve is to sidestep any injunctions that would delay the project as a result of frivolous CEQA lawsuits. That does not relieve them from complying with the mitigations to which they committed in the EIR. It's CEQA compliance all the way, unless a litigious party decides to abuse CEQA for the purpose of disruption and delay.


1 person likes this
Posted by Thanks alot, Ray
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 27, 2015 at 8:05 pm

Cat may have scheduled this but the impetus came from mayor-in-exile Ray Mueller, who can't stop agendizing things even though that's not his responsibility:

Web Link

[part removed.]


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jan 27, 2015 at 8:08 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.

Then "disrupt and delay" is the way to go. This is the camels nose under the tent for HSR. A total boondoggle for this state designed to do nothing more than line the pockets of contractors and unions. HSR will NEVER deliver what was promised.


2 people like this
Posted by Deja Vu All Over Again
a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jan 27, 2015 at 9:49 pm

It seems like many people pushing for electrification have forgotten that HSR was going to start here on the Peninsula. Local activists were among the first to reveal that Prop 1A (HSR) was more a pack of lies and half-truths than a legitimate plan to build a self-funding, green train. Once the train's first tracks were put in the middle of the State, it seems like many of us on the Peninsula developed amnesia about the project overall. It is important to remember that funding for electrification would come from HSR. Even though HSR and Jerry Brown would want us to believe that electrification is its own program, it is not. As others, who understand that HSR dollars are ultimately tied to HSR on the Peninsula have said, Caltrain electrification is a Trojan Horse, and from the State's perspective is all about laying the groundwork for HSR on the Caltrain line.

Additionally, to all those who want electrification, please offer your thoughts on how to deal with grade separations. Yes, there might be cleaner trains, but what about all of the east-west vehicular traffic, which carries so many more people each day than the trains? How do you suggest communities deal with the traffic and lost time spent waiting for trains to pass.

And to Peter, going underground would be grand from the perspective of noise and cross-town traffic, but please offer some ideas on where the state would find the money, especially within the confines of the HSR budget.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 28, 2015 at 10:20 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"And to Peter, going underground would be grand from the perspective of noise and cross-town traffic, but please offer some ideas on where the state would find the money, especially within the confines of the HSR budget."

Please read what I have already posted on using the land value as a source of funding:

"One thought is the put the trains underground and the surface rights above it for housing in the stretches between stations and to use the surface above the stations for transit connections and parking. The surface area of the current right of way is very valuable land - particularly in Atherton - and could generate a lot of the needed capital."

Surface and air rights are commonly monetized elsewhere , why not in Silicon Valley?


2 people like this
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:24 am

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

The land on the ROW is very valuable, but not enough. The amount of money generated by developing housing over the Caltrain tracks would generate only a fraction of the enormous expense of putting Caltrain underground. Here are some examples of the cost of underground rail tunnels around the world: Web Link The cheap ones come out at $40,000,000 per kilometer (not mile!) and most are well over $100 million per kilometer.

I don't know what kind of development rights would generate enough revenue to pay for tunneling, but I would imagine that whatever it is would not be well received by the gentle residents of Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto. How tall would those apartment blocks have to be? Twenty stories? Fifty stories? It doesn't pencil out.


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 28, 2015 at 11:35 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.


Note - doing nothing has real costs, doing a surface project is very expensive, doing an elevated project is even more expensive, doing a trench and cover is even more expensive and doing tunneling is the most expensive. This issue is what are the comparative costs and what are the potential revenues from the land "created" by trench and cover or tunnelling?

Well I guess that since everything is expensive that the best answer is to do nothing.

Where are all the people who used to be interested in solving problems rather than just saying no,no,no?


4 people like this
Posted by Robert Neff
a resident of another community
on Jan 29, 2015 at 9:55 am

Robert Neff is a registered user.

Of the issues listed, the only ones that really seem pertinent to Electrification are tree cutting along the right of way, and Atherton getting a better commitment for improved service after electrification. Do those issues need a lawsuit? The others -- new diesel technology ??!! The whole point of electrification is to put the drive wheels under the passenger cars, and avoid moving the heavy diesel locomotive! Grade separations? Bike access to stations? These can be solved / improved, but they are not electrification issues. I'm in favor of moving forward on Electrification, without requiring a solution to Caltrain expansion. Expansion of service due to demand is happening with or without electrification.


Like this comment
Posted by Gern
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 29, 2015 at 12:59 pm

Gern is a registered user.

I have long daydreamed about undergrounding Caltrain or BART below the current Caltrain/UP ROW from San Francisco to San Jose (and perhaps points further south), as well as connecting the line to the East Bay via the Dumbarton ROW. Then, as others have suggested, create an uninterrupted greenbelt stretching from San Francisco to San Jose (perhaps all the way to Monterey), with retail and residential development dotting but not overcrowding the entire line.

Fifty to one hundred years hence, when the population of the Bay Area has doubled, tripled or more, it is the creation of such a greenbelt people will be most thankful for, when recreational space is at an absolute premium. The irony is that HSR proponents insist a bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco (not San Jose, must be San Francisco) is the most forward-looking use of that ROW, but I can't help but believe that a greenbelt above and transportation underground is far the better long-term option for those who will live and work in the Bay Area in the decades to come.

One sticking point in all this is that you can't move freight on rails below-ground, so there's the small matter of Union Pacific's use of it's former ROW and the interests of its current customers. Still, as more and more industry on the peninsula is lost to housing and office space this issue may resolve itself over time.

Gern


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 2:05 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"One sticking point in all this is that you can't move freight on rails below-ground"

The UK-France channel tunnel carries freight on rails every day - it can be done.

And for once I agree with Gern - lets use these incredibly valuable right of way as a three dimensional space with trains and utilities underground and the surface used for a greenbelt and housing - particularly high density housing as a precondition for having a train stop.


Like this comment
Posted by Tunbridge Wells
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:09 pm

Tunbridge Wells is a registered user.

The areas around train stations are a very logical place to have high density housing. I'm not disagreeing, but I have a hard time imagining Atherton accepting high density housing as the quid pro quo for a train stop.


Like this comment
Posted by SteveC
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:13 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Atherton doesn't know what is wants, just sue the B-------s


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jan 29, 2015 at 6:14 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

"a hard time imagining Atherton accepting high density housing as the quid pro quo for a train stop."

Well Atherton also needs to find a way to meet its low income housing requirements so this would both do that and justify a train stop.

Without more users Atherton is a money losing train stop.


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

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