Caltrain has a list of demands before it will change pole design for Atherton

Atherton residents say they don't want 45-foot-tall poles spanning two sets of tracks in their Lloyden Park neighborhood, near the town's historic rail station (shown here) and close to where a new civic center will soon be built. (Photo by Michelle Le /The Almanac)

In the latest volley in the battle between Atherton and Caltrain over the height of the poles it plans to install as part of its project to electrify its trains, Caltrain has given the town until Feb. 28 to meet a list of demands if it wants shorter poles installed.

A Feb. 6 letter from Caltrain demands that Atherton pay it $200,000, get written consent of property owners whose trees will be affected by changed plans, and agree the town won't support or be a part of any lawsuit filed against the electrification project. In return, Caltrain would install 10 35-foot-tall poles with crossbeams spanning only one set of tracks, instead of the five 45-foot-tall poles that cantilever over two sets of tracks it had planned.

The shorter poles would be on both sides of the tracks, while the taller poles would have all been on one side.

Atherton's City Council members said they aren't willing to go along, however. At a Feb. 21 meeting, council members said they won't sign the legal release, and want proof of the actual cost of changing to shorter poles. A subcommittee made up of Mayor Cary Wiest and council member Rick DeGolia will negotiate with Caltrain, and the council will call a special meeting if it is needed to ratify the agreement.

As they have at two earlier meetings, dozens of residents of Lloyden Park showed up in force at the meeting. They asked the town to pay Caltrain what it wants but said they don't think the town should sign a legal release.

"We are very disappointed that Caltrain chose not to make a compromise," said Sharon Hume, president of the Lloyden Park homeowners' association. A letter signed by 68 neighborhood residents was sent to the town, urging that Caltrain be paid.

"An eyesore in one part of Atherton will sully the entire town," Ms. Hume said.

The neighbors' letter urges the town to pay Caltrain "in order to save the Lloyden Park neighborhood, approximately 90 homes, as well as other nearby neighborhoods, from a preventable aesthetic environmental blight."

Council members said Caltrain may be retaliating against the town for its opposition to the electrification project.

Council member Elizabeth Lewis said that she has had recent conversations with elected officials on the joint powers board that runs Caltrain. "Some members of the JPB, I believe, are just kind of gloating that they're putting it to us," she said.

"I believe Caltrain has not acted in good faith in dealing with Atherton," Ms. Lewis said. "There's no secret to the fact that Atherton has been a thorn in Caltrain's side for a long time because we've sued several times."

"I'm surprised with the demands and tone of the Caltrain letter," said council member Bill Widmer. "The poles, in fact, will be an eyesore."

"I think $200,000 is way too high," he said. "The other conditions in that letter were inappropriate."

Town officials said they first learned that Caltrain planned to put the tall two-track poles in place in November, at a meeting at which the town was scheduled to approve an agreement allowing Caltrain to get the permits needed to start working in Atherton.

Caltrain representatives said at that meeting that most of Atherton's new poles will be in the center of the tracks and 30 to 35 feet tall. But in places where there's not room for the center poles, some poles would be up to 45 feet tall.

That was news to town officials who had written in a staff report that the poles would be 25 to 30 feet.

Lloyden Park residents claim, however, that they had warned town officials about the pole heights months earlier.

"Because mistakes were made, and balls were dropped, we ask the town to pay the $200,000 fee," Lloyden Park resident and Rail Committee member Nerissa Dexter said.

Mr. DeGolia and Mayor Wiest said they see room to negotiate with Caltrain. "I believe there is an opportunity to come to a solution here," Mr. DeGolia said.

"I think we need a good relationship with Caltrain," he said. "That means working with them. That doesn't mean dictating."


4 people like this
Posted by been there
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:37 pm

been there is a registered user.

The town, again, is willing to spend $200,000 of taxpayer's money to lower electric poles 10 feet and double the amount. We know this will impact only the neighbors backing up to the tracks. Why not offer $100,000 to the effected residents to share for their inconvenience and same the $100,000. Or ask the neighbors to pony up the $200,000 themselves. Why should the town, taxpayers, pay for this. This is not a town issue.

11 people like this
Posted by Peter F Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2018 at 12:50 pm

Some members of the JPB, I believe, are just kind of gloating that they're putting it to us”

Dear Town Council - your Behavior does have consequences.

10 people like this
Posted by Conflicts
a resident of Atherton: other
on Feb 23, 2018 at 1:49 pm

Former Atherton mayor Jim Janz has such a home, that abuts the railroad, and has been on the various committees dealing with rail issues despite this conflict of interest. That's why our taxpayer money is going to improve the value of his home and other similar homes in Lloyden Park. Like been there said, this is NOT a town issue. Town taxpayer money should not be funding this. These people knew they were buying homes next to a railroad and this was built into the price they paid for these homes.

6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

If the Town had a collaborative relationship with Caltrain and had not been suing them for years then this desirable pole alignment would have been a simple matter of a handshake - no cash, no legal indemnification.

So sad that the Lloyden Park homeowners are being held hostage by the Town.

2 people like this
Posted by Robert Cronin
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Feb 23, 2018 at 5:42 pm

Maybe Atherton is just sore that Caltrain no longer serves the Atherton station.

9 people like this
Posted by Good one!
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 23, 2018 at 5:57 pm

"I believe Caltrain has not acted in good faith in dealing with Atherton," Ms. Lewis said. "There's no secret to the fact that Atherton has been a thorn in Caltrain's side for a long time because we've sued several times."

Cause, meet Effect. Funny that in a town as small as Atherton you've not met before!

2 people like this
Posted by Old Steve
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2018 at 6:40 pm

Mtn Vw Calling Atherton:

Caltrain wants their money (actually ours) because Atherton originally insisted that Caltrain remove or prune as few heritage trees as possible. Fewer poles, aligned away from most of the trees makes sense from that perspective. Seems like maybe the staff report did not stay current with the design?? Just like we should not "all" have to pay for Palo Alto's trench or tunnel, why should we "all" have to pay for Atherton to change your minds about tree preservation??

3 people like this
Posted by Stop it!
a resident of Atherton: West Atherton
on Feb 23, 2018 at 11:51 pm

Stop wasting the town's money on fighting special interest battles. Like Conflicts said, these home owners bought their homes knowing the railroad was a major part of their neighborhood. We should not be paying to fight their battles for them. If they want to fight Caltrain, they should raise the money to pay for it. If the council members approve this $200K waste of money, they'd better understand they are getting voted out in the next election. Wasn't the parcel tax fiasco enough of a wake up call?!? The town has $200K to fight the height of a pole for a few houses, but doesn't have enough money to run services without a special parcel tax??!? Nonsense!!!

6 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Feb 24, 2018 at 10:29 am

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

I worry that we have begun to normalize the Town Council's behavior in neglecting the affairs of the Town in order to instead spend their time and our tax dollars confronting other agencies like Caltrain, the Library JPA, the Fire District, etc.

A clue to this behavior is perhaps found in the current Mayor's leadership history. Weist served as the President of the Highlands Recreation District which is self described in the LAFCO March 13, 2013 Municipal Services Review by this quote "The District’s March 12, 2013 comments reiterate their perspective that community is isolated and that residents cherish and value this isolation."

The Town of Atherton is not isolated and it cannot afford to be driven by an isolationist mentality. We are part of a broader and vibrant community and we need to strengthen, not weaken, our partnerships with our neighbors and with our partner agencies.

3 people like this
Posted by Outsider
a resident of another community
on Feb 27, 2018 at 1:14 pm

As an outsider, this seems perfectly reasonable. They are willing to give you everything you what you want if you pay for it and stop asking for anything more. I can't see how you could argue with this, and the mere fact that there is eve a discussion means they were right to demand it.

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

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