Town officials do have some bargaining power in the conflict, however. Atherton has not given final approval to an agreement allowing Caltrain to get the permits needed to start working in Atherton.
That agreement was pulled from the council's consent calendar in November for discussion, which is when Caltrain told council members about the 45-foot poles. The town has asked Caltrain to update the council about the pole heights at the Jan. 17 council meeting. City Manager George Rodericks said the agreement will be finalized once the dispute about the pole heights is worked out.
The 45-foot-high poles have cantilevered arms spanning two sets of tracks. Caltrain says it plans to place them along a stretch of rail that runs through the Lloyden Park neighborhood. The arms support the wires needed for Caltrain's conversion to electric locomotives.
A letter the town sent to Caltrain after the Dec. 20 meeting asks it not to place any two-track poles in the town. Instead, the town wants Caltrain to use twice as many 30- to 35-foot-high, one-track poles.
The change would mean only one additional tree, a silver dollar eucalyptus, would be removed and 11 other trees would need additional pruning of less than 25 percent of their canopies.
About 40 residents of the Lloyden Park neighborhood crammed the room at the Dec. 20 council meeting to make clear their displeasure.
Sharon Hume, the president of Lloyden Park's homeowners' association, said the taller poles create an unacceptable visual impact that "would be impossible to camouflage."
"We do realize it was Caltrain's goal to minimize the impact to trees," she said. But the trade-off to save only one additional tree, Ms. Hume said, is "senseless to us."
"It's going to compromise the quaint character of our neighborhood," she said.
Other speakers protested the aesthetic and safety impacts of the taller, heavier poles, saying they would also reduce property values.
Michael Burns, who is Caltrain's planning and modernization interim chief officer, sent a letter to the City Council on Dec. 19. He said the proposed pole height and placement "reflects the considered and reasonable judgment" of the project's design team.
The design, he said, was most influenced by requests "to minimize the impact on and preserve as much as possible the trees in the area that shield the right of way from adjacent landowners."
"If the design were to be changed in this area to Single Track Cantilever poles, then others in Atherton would be more affected by the reduced tree coverage. It is not wise or prudent to negotiate unnecessary changes that would potentially have ripple effects on other landowners in Town or the design in other cities," Mr. Burns wrote. "Consideration of costs and time also weigh against changing the design."
The taller poles "were entirely new information to us" when the council learned about them in November, Councilman Rick DeGolia said at the Dec. 20 meeting. Now, he said, "it's really obvious to me that the community has an opinion about it."
"I'd like to go forward with a collaborative effort" with Caltrain, he said. "We can't eliminate the tracks and they can't eliminate the town," he said. They need to work together, not against each other, he said.
But Councilman Mike Lempres said he was a little less sanguine. "We have a clear message to deliver" to Caltrain said Mr. Lempres. "The response we've gotten from you is you'll consider it," he said. "I'd like a little more than the consideration."
Atherton has in the past had a contentious relationship with Caltrain, suing it several times over the electrification project. Mr. Burns' letter mentions the lawsuit the town filed over Caltrain's environmental review, saying that successfully fighting the lawsuit cost Caltrain "$250,000 in project funds."
Paul Jones, a member of the town's Rail Committee, which earlier this month unanimously voted to suggest Caltrain put in the shorter poles, said he thinks that history explains why Caltrain won't change the pole design.
"It is my personal belief that Caltrain is trying to punish Atherton for their past activities," Mr. Jones said.
This story contains 758 words.
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