Editorial: Peninsula needs to reconsider high-speed rail | July 18, 2012 | Almanac | Almanac Online |



Viewpoint - July 18, 2012

Editorial: Peninsula needs to reconsider high-speed rail

Despite voting in favor of Proposition 1A in 2008, few Peninsula communities have been more staunchly opposed to the high-speed rail project than Menlo Park and Atherton. And at least in the minds of city council members Rich Cline of Menlo Park and Jerry Carlson of Atherton, the Legislature's recent authorization to begin construction on the first 130-mile segment in the Central Valley makes no difference in the pending lawsuit the two cities have filed against the project.

Both men see giant loopholes for the high-speed rail project to step around the two-track limit of the "blended" system on the Peninsula that Assembly members Jerry Hill and Rich Gordon, who both voted for the the project, say is plenty of protection against the dreaded four-tracks that is one of several key factors in the lawsuit.

But in the eyes of Mr. Hill and Mr. Gordon, all the worst case scenarios contained in the lawsuit have evaporated, at least for now. In addition to their belief that the rail authority will stick to an agreement to build only two tracks on the Peninsula that will not encroach on private property near the rail corridor, the legislators see a huge plus in Caltrain electrification, a major part of the package. They say the diesel noise and pollution will be gone, and speeds will increase enough so that bullet trains could stop at smaller depots like Atherton and still make the run between San Jose and San Francisco in an hour or so. There is no plan to run trains much faster than the top speeds seen now, they say.

In their lawsuit, Peninsula cities want to see the possibility of four tracks removed from the environmental impact report, which allows four tracks as an option. There are certain to be more challenges to the deal struck by a slim margin in the Legislature on July 6, which saw a rare split in the Peninsula delegation, with Mr. Hill and Mr. Gordon voting yes on SB 1029, and Sen. Joe Simitian, who is termed out but won a seat on the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors in June, voting no.

Assembly members Hill and Gordon view the legislation as a windfall for the Peninsula, especially the funds for Caltrain electrification. Both said they emphatically believe that passage of the bill does not commit the state to build the entire project, estimated to cost $68 billion.

But Sen. Simitian, who has often said that he is a supporter of high-speed rail done right, shocked his colleagues when he announced on the floor of the Senate that he could not bring himself to vote "aye" on the bill.

As one of three senators on the high-speed rail committee, Sen. Simitian had worked hard with local, state and federal officials to negotiate improvements to the plan and find a way to move forward that addressed both local objections and the flaws and uncertainties of the business plan. But in the end, he and his two colleagues on the committee, decided the risks of the overall project were just too great.

Sen. Simitian's worries were both immediate and long-term. He fears that Governor Brown's ballot initiative to raise income taxes on wealthy Californians and impose a small sales tax increase might not pass in November due to a backlash from voters angry that the Legislature voted to spend money on the high-speed rail project. Further, he still sees trouble in the project's business plans and has doubts about the rail authority's leadership, which has several major vacancies and a CEO who has been on the job less than a month.

Like Sen. Simitian, many critics of the high-speed rail project, including this newspaper, have said the project is a $68 billion commitment that the state cannot afford. But if Assembly members Gordon and Hill are correct, this vote does not commit the state to spend another dime of its own money beyond $2.7 billion in bond funds. Although it adds to an already massive state debt load, the amount is manageable, according to Assemblyman Gordon.

We continue to believe that build-out of high-speed rail is too costly for a state that is struggling mightily to pay for higher priorities, like education and health care. But passage of SB 1029 does not commit the state to go further, will pay for electrification of Caltrain, and funds only transit projects that will bring immediate utility without being attached to a high-speed train. The lawsuit against high-speed rail must play out, but if Assembly members Hill and Gordon are right, passage of SB 1029 is hardly the worst case scenario that many Peninsula residents feared.


Posted by Hank Lawrence, a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jul 17, 2012 at 1:58 pm

It is not very often that I agree with Tom Gibboney with regard to HSR; but in this instance he is spot on. However, SB 1029 is ill advised. HSR will be an albatross around our necks.

As aimless as a tainted ship upon a tainted ocean
Dollars Dollars nowhere and the Assembly did not think
And an HSR to nowhere that will bring our state to the brink.

Posted by GOLLY, a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2012 at 2:02 pm

Give it UP! It is a done deal.
You people who oppose it do so for very different reasons than those who favor it.
Think beyond your lifespan and that of your kids who can maybe learn more than at dance class, voice lessons or community theater.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 17, 2012 at 3:45 pm

Golly, or should I say R Gordon:

those of us that oppose it are proabably the ones actually paying for it. Those that support it aren't.

Posted by Morris Brown, a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jul 17, 2012 at 3:55 pm

This editorial brings up several issues.

I take great issue with the statement in the Editorial:

“few Peninsula communities have been more staunchly opposed to the high-speed rail project than Menlo Park and Atherton.”

Atherton opposed,Yes for sure. Palo Alto opposed, Yes for sure. Belmont opposed, Yes for sure. Burlingame opposed, Yes for sure. Certainly not Menlo Park.

1. Menlo Park Council, although joining in the Lawsuit, has really hardly been interested in High Speed Rail. This is illustrated by not having a Rail Committee that meets regularly and which would have agendas and staff assistance. Menlo Park's rail committee meetings when they are held have no substance and they result in poor, if any reports back to Council, which results in poor actions by Council.

Allowing the City Attorney to recuse himself from High Speed Rail as well as the Downtown plan, because of the proximity of an office building in which he has a personal interest should be noted and is also of importance. Rather than insisting that Mr. McClure, divest himself of that interest so that he could carry on his duties on these issues, as the City Attorney, the City went outside for legal advice --- hardly a satisfactory solution.

All the Council HSR discussions are pushed back to the end of Council Agendas at which time the public has vacated the chambers or turned off their viewing from home. It has been a very sad state of affairs.

Yet today, the City's official position on High Speed Rail, is "we want High Speed Rail Done Right". Well there is no semblance now nor has there been any semblance for years that the Authority's plan is "High Speed Rail Done Right"

This description first used by Senator Simitian, has now been abandoned by him, as evidenced by his NO vote for appropriating the funds to continue.

Menlo Park sends different staff personal to various meetings, thus resulting in fragmented views and no consistency of where the project has been headed. Fergusson, the City's alternate on the PCC board, has hardly every attended PCC meetings, and when she has, she would leave after a couple of minutes. She was supposed to be the City's representative at the last PCC meeting since Cline was out of town, but she didn't even show to represent the City.

All and all a miserable track record on HSR. While Palo Alto and other cities have clearly stated they are against the HSR project, Menlo Park refuses to change its position of "High Speed Rail done right"

2. Let us not kid ourselves. Jerry Hill and Rich Gordon can say what they want, the truth of the matter is they did exactly what the Democratic leadership in the Assembly ordered them to do, and that was to vote YES to appropriate $8 billion for the Project. They passed on July 5th the authorization bill, which they had not seen until late on July 3rd, and on which no committee nor staff had done any real scrutiny. Hill had sent staff to many meetings on HSR and as an ex-business man he had been exposed to understanding the un-bearable debt service that was going to be created for the State with this project. A few months ago, he was certain to reject the project, but now claims it is wonderful, because it will bring funds to CalTrain. His vote is a perfect example of “give me the PORK”, you get my vote.

In any case, both Hill and Gordon have lost my trust and I certainly won't vote for either come November.

Posted by Michael G. Stogner, a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2012 at 4:54 pm

We all know how Hill and Gordon have voted, now its time for us to vote.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 17, 2012 at 7:13 pm

Gordon long ago lost my vote when it became quite clear he was nothing but a labor union lackey. His vote on this just proves it. I have zero use for him as a representative. Unfortunately, the electorate here have very short memories and they will forget by the time he comes up for reelection. I wouldn't vote for him, then again, I didn't before.

Posted by Donald, a resident of another community
on Jul 17, 2012 at 9:44 pm

Don't you care who is running against Gordon? What if that person is worse? I am not a fan of Gordon, but the fact is that you don't get to vote against a candidate, you can only vote for someone else. If the alternative is worse, what will you do?

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 18, 2012 at 10:29 am

I don't think anyone could be much worse than Gordon. He is clearly in teh union's pockets and I will not vote for him or anyone else beholden to labor unions. They are a major cause of the problems of this state.

Posted by registered user, Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton: Lindenwood
on Jul 18, 2012 at 10:33 am

It is time to think outside the box on the Caltrans corridor. Why not
1 - purchase an 200 wide right of way along the entire corridor
2 - bury the entire line with enough room for 4 tracks
3 - sell the air rights above the buried tracks for commercial, housing and other uses appropriate to the immediate environment of each individual parcel. Near stations the air rights would be zoned for commercial and high density housing and in the areas adjacent to residential parcels the air rights would be zoned for similar units (either multi-family or duplex or single family) as presently exist on either side of the corridor.

The costs of 1 and 2 would be partially offset by the revenues from 3, there would be no grade crossings, there would be (with good design) minimal sound impact and our communities would not be permanently torn apart.

Posted by Steve Taffee, a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Jul 18, 2012 at 2:17 pm

I realize that I am in the minority of people who are posting on this topic, but I support high speed rail. Yes, the proposal is flawed, but let's fix it rather than completely throw it out. If we don't start high speed rail now, then when? If we don't work to fix it, who will? Mr. Carpenter's ideas are a start. What other ideas are out there to make the project not just palatable, but really exciting?

Posted by Harry Turner, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 18, 2012 at 3:26 pm

High Speed Rail in California-
Let's kill the baby in the crib!

Posted by start over, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 18, 2012 at 3:36 pm

I like HSR, too, but we simply cannot afford it right now and there are much higher and more critical priorities like education and local/regional transit.
It's better to start over than try to fix this awful proposal. The design is horrid. In Europe, HSR goes underground through communities. Peter Carpenter has the right idea to underground it and make the most of the air rights. It just won't happen unless this project starts over. It should be back on the ballot as what has been approved has little resemblance to what voters thought they were getting and paying. Some of us never thought the business case made sense and it still doesn't. It is folly to proceed.

Posted by Let's be Realistic, a resident of Menlo Park: Felton Gables
on Jul 18, 2012 at 5:01 pm

Your editorial reads: "But passage of SB 1029 does not commit the state to go further, will pay for electrification of Caltrain, and funds only transit projects that will bring immediate utility without being attached to a high-speed train." This is a short-term, self-centered, and unrealistic view.

Prop 1A -- which SB1029 was written to kick-start with the initial sale of bonds -- does indeed commit the state to a four-track system on the Peninsula. We are putting our heads in the sand if we think that starting the HSR system in the Central Valley won't ultimately lead to plans to build out the system throughout the line (read: the Peninsula) in order to meet Prop1A's aggressive travel time requirements. CHSRA refuses to change its program EIR to reflect the blended plan because there is no feasible alternative that meets the time requirement. While the absence of Federal funds will likely push the full implementation of CHSR far, far into the future, passage of SB 1029, coupled with the refusal of the Authority to commit to an alternate plan, means that a four-track system will hang like giant cloud of catenary wires over Peninsula communities forever.

Realistically, if the State believed that the electrification of Caltrain was so important, it would have funded it in a separate initiative. The bundling of Caltrain electrification to CSHR was a purely political play to garner the votes of politically malleable players, like Assemblymen Gordon and Hill. They can spin their votes any way they want, but knowing the realities of Prop 1A, their votes in favor of SB1029 cannot be read in any way other than as a betrayal of their constituents.

Watching how Gordon and Hill's votes were seemingly bought off with dollars for Caltrain electrification shows how -- for these two Assemblymen-- political expediency trumps principles.

Now seeing the Almanac, which has been a strong voice against the ill-advised plans of the CHSRA, condone the issuance of CSHR bonds in order to secure money to electrify Caltrain makes me want to cancel my subscription.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 19, 2012 at 8:34 am

I think you are wrong about Menlo Park.

1) Menlo Park voted FOR hsr
2) There is a very vocal minority that opposes it (geniuses who bought or inherited near the tracks)

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 19, 2012 at 1:27 pm


yes, Menlo Park did vote for HSR. They voted for it based upon a pack of lies which they bought. The surveys now show 60% of the voters want their vote back or a revote. They realize what a scam HSR was and is.

I am one of those "geniuses" that lives near the tracks. My opposition has nothing to do with its proximity to my home. My opposition is all about how it was sold and what it's going to cost. WE CANNOT AFFORD IT. Niether can our children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, etc. That's who will be paying through nose for this boondoggle. At the expense of every other service in the state. Either that or there will be a big fat tax increase to pay for the construction and the subsidies which will be forever required to keep it running. That in a state that is already taxed more than any other. There's no private interest in the thing because they know there's no money in it. There isn't an unsubsidized HSR system in the world.

Posted by Elle, a resident of Woodside School
on Jul 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm


Did you really mean to put down people who live near the train tracks? Every person's opinion is equal - regardless of your self-perceived superiority.

Posted by Bob, a resident of Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Jul 19, 2012 at 5:32 pm

For those who lamented that their representatives voted for the HSR bill, there is an alternative this Fall: Sally Lieber is running for the State Senate against Jerry Hill. Both are Democrats, but Lieber is the Independent Democrat. She ran the numbers and although she is not opposed to the concept of HSR, she opposes THIS bill as wasteful and flawed. That is the type of representative that puts the public's interest before Party loyalty. She's got my vote in November.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 19, 2012 at 6:09 pm


Absolutely not. My intention was not to insult anyone. Thanks.

Posted by GOLLY, a resident of another community
on Jul 19, 2012 at 7:43 pm

The problem is that none of you have ANY intentions just a PILE of motives for opposition in such a childish rejection of what is really going on.It adds up to a lot of lame thinking beyond the election results.....kids in Congress with wrinkles.

Posted by start over, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 20, 2012 at 3:38 pm

Since the election, a lot of new information has become available, both about the state's financial situation and the HSR business case with its unrealistic assumptions. It would be entirely appropriate to have another vote of the people who would be provided with this new information that is vastly different from what we were told when we voted before. That is fair and democratic. Thank you, Almanac editor, for pointing out that the emperor really does have no clothes.

Posted by just tired, a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Jul 20, 2012 at 5:00 pm

It is a done deal and I am tired of hearing the gripes of the disaffected after the fact. Other then enriching a few lawyers on the peninsula who must need the business lawsuits are not going to stop HSR just slow it down so that anyone over 50 will probably not live to ride it.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 20, 2012 at 5:29 pm

Just tired:

you are probably one of those that don't actually pay any taxes. You sound like you're young. Wait until you're older. You won't be so happy about having your pocket picked.

Posted by Joanna, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jul 20, 2012 at 7:12 pm

Ok. This is what I don't get.

Some claim to oppose HSR because of the waste of money.

What about the waste that is going on IN OUR OWN backyard?

Public city managers pulling in more than a quarter million a year... too many public employees making six figures... lavish, unrealistic and unsustainable pensions...

If the same people who have those boondoggle lawn signs (near the tracks) devoted a fraction of their efforts on real waste that is going on RIGHT NOW in our own city... then...

Posted by Middle-aged man, a resident of Portola Valley: Central Portola Valley
on Jul 21, 2012 at 9:21 am

I'm also a huge supporter of HSR and Jerry Brown. I view most of the opposition as emblematic of the "I've got mine" mentality that is way too common in this country. We continue to screw over the younger generation for the benefit of the old, via zoning & immigration restrictions & rent control, driving up costs & unemployment for the young. This area is the most dynamic economic growth engine in the world, and it's really crazy how hard it is to either add new housing for new employees nearby or quick transportation from farther out areas. People here have figured out that the harder they make it to get to the Silicon Valley jobs (via zoning restrictions & opposing transit improvements) the higher their property values go and the fewer growth issues like traffic they have to deal with. I think this is a self-interested, parochial and short-sighted perspective.

Most of the local opponents of HSR (typically concentrated among homeowners near the tracks) have enjoyed huge runups in property values over their period of ownership relative to the homeowners in the rest of the state and the country in spite of the CAHSRA. Once HSR is built, proximity to good transit will probably drive up values for those close to the stations, even if a transfer from a local train is required. It also seems like electrification & grade separations are also beneficial for residents near the tracks. Of course that requires a longer-term perspective until the construction is done.

Of course homeowners near the tracks are entitled to their own voices & votes for their own perceived self-interest, but I have little sympathy for them if they are outvoted by the rest of the state. I think the "you sound like you're young" comment is very telling.

Posted by start over, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 21, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Current opposition to HSR is not unique to those who live near the tracks. There are many of us who thought the original plan didn't make sense (even though we like HSR elsewhere), and even more who are disgusted with the lack of credible costs, ridership, funding estimates.
If we really want to invest in the future, first we would fix regional transit and ensure our young people can easily get an outstanding and affordable education. California used to be a leader in education but is no longer. Jobs will drift away.
Resources are limited, and we have to pick priorities. I am truly hopeful that HSR makes sense in the future but there are more important areas needing public investment, and the HSR folks have yet to show a believable business plan or to show there is funding.

PS I don't live near the train tracks. I really like Jerry Brown but not on this. Simitian and the Almanac got it right this time.

Posted by GOLLY, a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2012 at 4:34 pm

FINALLY............the last three posts make sense with a lot of drama.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 21, 2012 at 4:49 pm

Middle age man:

sorry, you've got it wrong. My objection has everything to do with not mortgaging our younger genreations' futures which is EXACTLY what HSR does. The future generations will be forever paying for this boondoggle. Not just for construction of it, but to support and supplement it as it will NEVER be self supporting. The actual cost of constructing it will be far in excess of the nonsense figures that have been put forward. The cost of a ticket will be far in excess of what has been put forward unless the coming generations of Californians support it. There's nothing NIMBY going on here. We are worried about future generations of our young having to pay for this mess.

I live near the tracks. The trains run past here every day. I don't care. It doesn't bother me. It never has. I bought my home knowing the trains ran past here. If anything, I should celebrate the decision to electrifiy Catrain. It will mean less noise and polution. Yet, I don't, because it is a terrible expenditure that only means the youth of Californis will be forever indebted.

Posted by GOLLY, a resident of another community
on Jul 21, 2012 at 7:19 pm

You certainly sounds like you look to the future more than anyone here.
You also spend more time than anyone here, so you must have a lot on your mind although it usually boils down to a couple of things in which you are adamant.
Do you get along and agree with your progeny? Ask them (if you DO have a relationship) just how much their peers want the HSR and hate plane travel and waiting and missing flights, and being on the runway for hours, and then being with their parents through the ordeal..unless they are adults and then they just hate the airlines.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 21, 2012 at 10:29 pm

Well Golly, or should I say R Gordon:

My son and my grand daughter have no problem with flying. They do so regularly. Neither of them has any interest in riding trains when they can get in a plane and fly to the same location in less time and for less money. HSR isn't going to change that, especially in its most recent incarnation with its "blended" program. As it is currently to be constructed, it will take four hours or more to travel from SF to LA. Even if you figure time for getting through security at the airport, flying is still faster. Sorry, the HSR dog "still don't hunt."

Posted by GOLLY, a resident of another community
on Jul 22, 2012 at 12:21 pm

You ARE of the old school!
I suggest you take one last trip to the Orient, to Europe or to any countries where growth and expansion/progress are directly the result of the bullet train and mass transportation outside of their local billionaire villages or towns.
You want to see America come back to life? EXPANSION and not reclusivity in some older person's community where Wall St. has had a flat tire.

Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Jul 22, 2012 at 1:50 pm


all of those trains of which you speak are heavily subsidized. We don't have the money. They only make sense in europe due to the population densities. California doesn't have those population densities and so HSR makes no sense here.

Posted by start over, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jul 22, 2012 at 3:46 pm

The bullet trains in Europe go underground in communities like ours! There is good local transit, too, all the result of comprehensive planning and huge subsidies.

We can't have a productive conversation about HSR in isolation of other demands for limited funds. The discussion cannot be just about whether HSR is "nice to have", it must be about what then doesn't get funded and are we OK with that. I'm not OK with current levels of funding for education and regional transit, among other things. so HSR falls out eve if its proposed design made sense (which it doesn't).

Posted by Michaeltug, a resident of Menlo Park: Suburban Park/Lorelei Manor/Flood Park Triangle
on Jun 3, 2017 at 12:17 am

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