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.