News

Atherton residents protest height of planned Caltrain poles

Topic on rail committee agenda Dec. 5

As Caltrain begins construction to electrify its train service, Atherton residents whose backyards are bordered by the railroad tracks are protesting plans to install nearly 46-foot-tall cantilevered poles near their homes for the electrical wires.

Resident of the Lloyden Park neighborhood wrote a letter to Caltrain's board of directors and Executive Director Jim Hartnett on Dec. 3 saying they "strongly object" to plans to put 45.5-foot-tall poles, with cantilevered arms that span two sets of tracks, "in the Lloyden Park neighborhood, a quaint residential area of Atherton."

By Dec. 5, the letter had been signed by 53 Lloyden Park residents.

They've also peppered Atherton officials with emails, urging them to refuse to sign the agreement that allows Caltrain to start working (and repays the town for any costs it has related to the agreement, starting off with a $25,000 deposit).

The issue will be discussed Dec. 5 at the Atherton Rail Committee meeting and Lloyden Park residents say they plan to also speak at the beginning of a Thursday meeting of Caltrain's governing board.

Atherton Rail Committee member Nerissa Dexter said residents "don't want to have our modest and quaint neighborhood destroyed" by the tall poles.

Atherton council members also expressed consternation when they heard about the planned height of the poles at a Nov. 15 City Council meeting, when the agreement to allow Caltrain to begin construction in Atherton was to be approved. Council members pulled the item from their consent calendar, where it could have been approved without any discussion, along with other routine business.

The town staff report about the agreement said the 19 poles Caltrain planned for Atherton would be "25 to 30 feet in height."

But Stacy Cocke, Caltrain's principal planner for the project, said that is not correct. "The poles in some instances are taller than that," she said. "We're seeing some 40-45 feet" in other areas where design has been completed, she said. The taller poles are designed to span two sets of train tracks, and also have larger foundations than poles that carry wires for only one track, she said.

"I'm actually shocked," Councilman Cary Wiest said when he heard the new height estimates, adding that the town should have been told about the taller poles much earlier.

"We've got a reputation for not necessarily being so friendly on this topic," Mr. Wiest said, alluding to the fact that Atherton has filed several legal actions against Caltrain over the electrification plans. "This is why we're not friendly."

Ms. Cocke said Caltrain was using the taller cantilevered poles to help preserve trees along the tracks. Caltrain officials say they don't know why the town thought the poles would be shorter. The environmental report on the project says the poles could be up to 50 feet tall.

Caltrain says that replacing the planned cantilever poles with 30- to 35-foot-tall poles on both sides of the tracks means more impact on trees. One more tree will have to be removed and 11 more trees will need moderate pruning (less than 25 percent). Caltrain would also have to pay for a redesign.

Caltrain is working with town officials on the pole height issue and it was to be discussed at a Dec. 5 Rail Committee meeting, starting at 6 p.m. in the town's Council Chambers, 94 Ashfield Road, and at the council's Dec. 20 meeting.

In the meantime, Lloyden Park residents plan to attend a Thursday, Dec. 7, meeting of the Caltrain board and share their concerns during the public comment portion of the 10 a.m. meeting, which will be held in the Bacciocco Auditorium, 2nd Floor, 1250 San Carlos Ave. in San Carlos.

Comments

19 people like this
Posted by Eugene
a resident of another community
on Dec 5, 2017 at 10:30 am

I guess I’m a little unclear on the concept. When a backyard is already adjacent to loud diesel-electric trains, it is already compromised. The fewer obstructions to electrification the better IMO. Also isn’t taller poles plus more trees better than shorter poles with fewer trees?


17 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 5, 2017 at 12:56 pm

These electrification poles can be spaced more than 200 feet apart on straight sections of track and will be virtually invisible from homes anywhere there is a screen of trees at last 30 feet high along the Caltrain riot-of-way.



16 people like this
Posted by Martin
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 6, 2017 at 11:59 am

I don't understand people's love for diesel exhaust vs a pole that is hardly different than a street light or power line. Or preference for cutting trees to a higher pole.


20 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 6, 2017 at 8:09 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"I don't understand people's love for diesel exhaust vs a pole that is hardly different than a street light or power line. Or preference for cutting trees to a higher pole"

Really? They object to anything that disturbs their fantasy that they live in the "country". Therefor, nothing like airplanes, trains, or whatever else they decide should not interfere with that fantasy.


10 people like this
Posted by PV Res
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 7, 2017 at 9:27 am

Menlo Voter, please respect Atherton and their lifestyle. Just because Menlo Park is an overcrowded, palo-alto like city, doesn’t mean your neighbors should be. I for one enjoy the rural lifestyle and completely respect Atherton’s objections to the ugly eyesore that will be the power poles.


3 people like this
Posted by PV onlooker
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Dec 7, 2017 at 11:49 am

Find out where the poles are being installed. If you do no want to see it go buy a 15 gallon size rewood tree from your favorite nursery, plant between your house and pole. In 5 years with TLC it will block your view of the pole. In 10 years it will be taller than the pole. just remember within 20 years it will be 60 ft. tall.


15 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 7, 2017 at 12:16 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

PV Res:

Their "lifestyle" is a fantasy. They no more live a rural lifestyle than you do, unless you're way up in the hills. We are within 3 international airports and numerous smaller airports, there is a train running through the middle of their town, a major thoroughfare runs through the middle of their town and they want to pretend they live in the sticks. It's a fantasy.


12 people like this
Posted by Dana Hendrickson
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 11, 2017 at 11:10 am

The electrification poles are widely spaced (200-230 feet), slender, and neutral colored => less visible than the typical thick and dark brown, power and telephone poles that already number in the thousands throughout Atherton and Menlo Park neighborhoods. These fixtures are 40-foot high - or taller! The fear about electrification poles is a "red herring".


20 people like this
Posted by #WINNING
a resident of another community
on Dec 11, 2017 at 7:35 pm

If your life is so comfortable that possibly viewing a pole out your window gives you distress, I think youre doing OK.....


3 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 11, 2017 at 8:55 pm

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

"If your life is so comfortable that possibly viewing a pole out your window gives you distress, I think you're doing OK"

Ya think? Like I said, some of the residents of Atherton want to maintain the fantasy that they live in the countryside even though they live in an area with over 3 million people.


7 people like this
Posted by PV Res
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 11, 2017 at 10:30 pm

Menlo voter—please do not insult other towns. Just because Atherton has higher home values than Menlo Park shouldn’t be part of the argument. Also the country/rural lifestyle should be preserved, as there are few places left in the Bay Area that have such luxury.


2 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 12, 2017 at 6:56 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

PV Res:

There's nothing "country" or "rural" about Atherton.


2 people like this
Posted by PV Res
a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Dec 12, 2017 at 10:25 pm

Menlo Voter: Atherton's housing prices beg to speak differently. So do PV's, Woodside's, and Los Altos Hills. Clearly there is an advantage to maintaining a rural lifestyle.


15 people like this
Posted by Menlo Voter.
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 13, 2017 at 7:46 am

Menlo Voter. is a registered user.

PV Res:

Real estate prices don't determine if something is "rural" or not. Atherton is a bunch of 1 acre walled compounds that are surrounded by millions of people. It has a major highway running through the center of it. Like I said, there's nothing "rural" about Atherton.


6 people like this
Posted by Beth
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 13, 2017 at 6:52 pm

Maybe there's more to this. None of the cities around Silicon Valley have escaped necessary changes to accommodate more people as much as has Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside. All the towns need to consider those neighboring theirs as well.

While Atherton residents mention concern about the aesthetics, I'm guessing the focus is on money and property value.

Taking this further, it seems those living in wealthier areas feel they deserve privilege, and I doubt they consider nor care one whit for other nearby communities not so fortunate, who are likely unable to afford, financially or time-wise, taking a similar desired stance.




6 people like this
Posted by beavis
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2017 at 8:25 pm

I wish that one day I too can preoccupy my time and life with "protesting" any possible tiny change that will better society. It would be so nice to have such a wonderful and stress free life that I would actually manufacture lies in order to prevent progress. These residents have no conception of reality outside of their miserable meaningless existences.


2 people like this
Posted by BK
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 13, 2017 at 8:38 pm

Sounds like Atherton's Rail Committee should adopt the slogan MAGA: Make Atherton Great Again. Everything they're saying sounds eerily familiar...


9 people like this
Posted by Infrastructure Supporter
a resident of another community
on Dec 13, 2017 at 9:56 pm

I really can’t understand how a tall pole in exchange for QUIETER/LESS POLLUTING trains is something Atherton residents reject.

You must really hate minorities, people in other towns north and south of you and the environment. Truly and unequivocally.


5 people like this
Posted by Poles
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 13, 2017 at 10:47 pm

Atherton is just asking Caltrain to use the 30 foot poles. Electrification can go on just fine using the lower height poles.

What residents are unhappy about is that Caltrain told the residents that only 30 foot poles would be used through the town. Later on, the town finds out on its own that Caltrain has switched to use 46 foot poles. What upsets the residents is that Caltrain switched plans on pole height without informing the town, especially when they knew the town was concerned with pole height.

The residents are asking that Caltrain switch back to the 30 foot pole design. Caltrain can do this without much trouble. The trade off, which Atherton is ok with, is that some additional changes to forestry management.


11 people like this
Posted by anonymous
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 14, 2017 at 1:14 pm

| I too can preoccupy my time and life with "protesting"

OK, this has gone pretty far afield of the the article. I feel compelled to correct a few things both in the article and comments.

1: 'protest' in my opinion is a very large overstatement. The town and interested residents were caught by surprise that electrical poles were to be installed in a small subsection of the right-of-way that were taller than shown in drawings submitted by Caltrain. Further, these poles would be relatively unique in their height and design compared to most of the rest of the right-of-way. There was no known reason to do this, and the reason wasn't communicated.

2: It turns out, the larger electrical poles allowed for slightly less pruning than the dual 30' poles...which are the structures used through most of the Caltrain right-of-way. So, 45' poles mean slightly less pruning but more aesthetic impact, and 30' poles require slightly more pruning but with less aesthetic impact.

In a nutshell, in my opinion CalTrain was trying to do the right thing, and respect Atherton's efforts to minimize tree impact, and took it upon itself to modify the electrification project by designing that section of right-of-way with taller poles. But as it turns out, the impact on trees is small enough that the tradeoff wasn't worth it to interested Atherton residents. The Town Council decided to request that the section of right-of-way in question use 30' poles just like the vast majority of the right-of-way.

While there are issues between Caltrain and Atherton, I regret to inform you drama-lovers out there that the pole height is not one of them.

'a tall pole in exchange for QUIETER/LESS POLLUTING trains'

False, pole height has no impact on pollution levels.
False, pole height has no impact on noise levels.

Regarding your ad hominem attack:
You don't support at-level boarding for Caltrain. Therefore, Infrastructure Supporter hates the handicapped.
You don't support local Caltrain service. Infrastructure Supporter hates workers.
You don't support fixing the very dangerous hold-out stations. Infrastructure Supporter hates commuters that use public transportation.


Like this comment
Posted by Barbara Wood
Almanac staff writer
on Dec 14, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Barbara Wood is a registered user.

I'd just like to clarify that the Atherton City Council has not yet addressed this issue. It is on the agenda for its Dec. 20 meeting, agenda item 18.

The staff report can be found here: Web Link


4 people like this
Posted by Yea right
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 15, 2017 at 9:53 am

Atherton does not care about their surrounding communities and it’s nonsense. They complained about high speed rail, they complained about electrification, they complained about electric poles, they complained about El Camino.

Seems they have their hand out for everything is my thoughts. How bout Atherton do the right thing and support public transit. Or installing signal lights at Alameda and Atherton Av. Or better yet stop making excuses and widen marsh rd like it’s neighbors. Ah and if Palo Alto Redwood City and Menlo are so bad open your own businesses and shop there.


8 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 15, 2017 at 11:22 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

i would note that there are many existing high tension PG&E poles in Atherton that are within ten feet of tree limbs and over 40 ft tall.

This is much ado about nothing except change - which some people resist on principle.


Like this comment
Posted by awatkins
a resident of Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Dec 15, 2017 at 1:20 pm

There is some really selective or uncomprehending reading going on in theses comments. The “protest”, according to the article, is a letter from 53 residents of Loyden Park, which hardly represents all of Atherton. So maybe don’t beat up all of Atherton because of this.

WIth respect to that group of residents, however, note the suggestion from Nerissa Dexter that the 45-poles will “destroy” neighborhood. Really? Destroy? Get a grip.

Also apparently missed by people panicking over the the poles is the fact that one 45-foot pole replaces two 30-foot poles.

And finally, those wanting to make sure that tree pruning is minimized might want to read the concurrent article on fire dangers associated with dense tree cover in parts of Atherton:

Web Link


3 people like this
Posted by really?
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 15, 2017 at 5:28 pm

I live in Gdansk and see a tall Pole out my window every day.....


2 people like this
Posted by Athertonian
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 16, 2017 at 9:50 pm

Tree care is definitely needed in Atherton along the railroad tracks. Today part of a tree consumed by ivy fell on the railroad tracks in Atherton, blocking trains in either direction. Near the Atherton train station you can clearly see a number of trees being consumed by ivy close to the railroad tracks. Some trees appear to be dead or just about there due to the affects of ivy consumption; while others are in very poor condition.

To sum up, the tree or trees in question may already be in state warranting removal or trimming. It's not exactly clear why there are no additional details available on the tree or trees in question.


Like this comment
Posted by Tree Care
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 17, 2017 at 2:49 am

@Athertonian

Tree care along the rail right of way is Caltrain's responsibility. It can even prune or remove trees that are not on their property if it senses a hazard.

I would recommend bringing your concerns about specific trees to a Caltrain arborist. They can professionally evaluate them and recommend appropriate action.


2 people like this
Posted by Athertonian
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 17, 2017 at 10:27 am

@Tree Care

I agree and have contacted Caltrain. I'm wondering why tree care is not at the forefront of this discussion given Ms. Cocke's comment:

"Ms. Cocke said Caltrain was using the taller cantilevered poles to help preserve trees along the tracks. Caltrain officials say they don't know why the town thought the poles would be shorter. The environmental report on the project says the poles could be up to 50 feet tall."

I'm not sure Ms. Cocke's comments account for the ivy consumed trees along the railroad tracks as they clearing do not look healthy. In any case, I'm interested to learn more about the trees that Caltrain is looking to preserve along the railroad tracks with the taller cantilevered poles.


3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 17, 2017 at 10:35 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The Town of Atherton's approved method for removing a valuable tree is to allow the ivy to kill it and then the Town Arborist can issue a permit to take the dead tree down.

Heritage tree ordinances which do not require a minimum of care for a heritage tree ensure that the "death by ivy" route will be the chosen instrument for removing a heritage tree.


4 people like this
Posted by Athertonian
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 17, 2017 at 12:03 pm

@Peter Carpenter

Well said. The height of the taller cantilevered poles remains in question. It does not appear possible to have smaller cantilevered poles, while retaining the tree or trees in question.

Home owners also responsible for tree care on their property. If home owners near the railroad tracks do not want to have taller cantilevered poles--which can up to 50 feet in height--then they should work with the town to manage the trees on their property.


6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Dec 17, 2017 at 12:21 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

Focusing on these few trees adjacent to the train tracks is the ultimate of not seeing the forest because of the trees.

The risk of fires from CalTrain electrification with its wide right of way would be significantly less than the existing risk from PG&E’s high voltage distribution lines which are surrounded by a heavy tree canopies throughout the Town. The high voltage line that bifurcates Lindenwood is a perfect example of such a high risk situation.

When PG&E is forced to comply with the new State standards on separation distances of vegetation/trees from high tension lines hundreds of trees in Atherton will be cut back, if not removed, and the Town will have no say in the matter.

"When performing our vegetation management duties as required by law, we do our best to preserve the trees on your property. In some cases, however, problem trees or improperly planted trees pose too high a risk to public safety and electric system reliability and must be removed. If we don’t comply with regulations, we put the public at risk, increase the possibility of outages and face hefty fines."

"In 2018, PG&E’s expanded fuel management work within designated high-fire risk areas will include: reducing vegetation near electric distribution lines; providing access space for emergency responders; maintaining existing fuel breaks and connecting new fuel breaks to existing ones created by other private or public entities; and performing long-term fuel management. This work may also be conducted in areas previously cleared or impacted by wildfires and is above and beyond state and federal mandated vegetation clearance requirements."


Like this comment
Posted by Tree Care
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 17, 2017 at 10:59 pm

@Athertonian

From the Lloyden Park HOA letter, there's disagreement whether the taller poles actually save any trees.

Web Link

The letter states that the trees were going to be saved anyway from removal and pruning due to standardization of a shorter pole safety zone distance than they had earlier. With the shorter safety zone, there is no longer a need for a tall pole.

At a minimum, there needs to be clarification on how many trees are saved from removal and pruning between the longer and shorter poles. Then, Atherton can make a judgement which its citizens prefer if it's all the same to Caltrain.

I presume that the shorter poles are cheaper for Caltrain since that is the primary pole design they are using throughout the corridor.


Like this comment
Posted by Athertonian
a resident of Atherton: other
on Dec 18, 2017 at 8:03 pm

@Peter Carpenter

Thanks for sharing the details on PG&E's 2018 plans and the new State standards on separation distances of vegetation/trees from high tension lines.

@Tree Care

I'm interested in learning how the issue is addressed with the differing views weighing in.


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