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High-speed rail: Palo Alto residents join revolt

Original post made on Feb 22, 2009

It began with a series of casual chats between neighbors in the Southgate neighborhood before it spilled over to other parts of Palo Alto. Gradually, the rumors became more troubling.
[Web Link ¡ High-Speed-Rail Authority extends comment deadline]

Read the full story here Web Link posted Sunday, February 22, 2009, 9:48 AM

Comments (28)

Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Feb 22, 2009 at 10:34 am

It's time for residents of Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto to get involved and engaged. As we have pointed out in the past, the rail corridor is not the private possession of Caltrain, it is public property, owned by us and administered by the Joint Powers Board.

The debate is heating up. More residents and more cities are discovering, many to their horror, what is in store for them when construction begins on the rail corridor. The current “default” plans include a raised “retained fill” wall that is over 20 ft. high holding the four tracks, with catenary towers on top. It will be at least 75ft. wide, and probably wider. Street crossings will be cut through this barrier wall, perhaps dipping down enough to provide 17 ft. of overhead clearance. There are six of these crossings in Atherton/Menlo Park and four in Palo Alto.

The recent history of the CHSRA is somewhat less than sterling. We need to know who we are dealing with. The Lowenthal-headed Transportation and Housing Committee of the State Legislature issued a highly critical report last summer, chastising the rail authority for it’s insufficient and unreliable information as it packaged itself for the Proposition 1A bond issue ballot.

The authority was charged with issuing a valid and up to date business plan by September and failed to do so until four days after the election. The authorizing legislation also required the authority to establish a peer review panel to review the business plan and produce and analysis. The due date for that panel and its work has not been done and is way past due.

A CEQA lawsuit was filed prior to the elections last November with Atherton and Menlo Park, along with an environmental organization and two-rail advocacy organization as plaintiffs. The suit claims, correctly I believe, that the EIS/EIRS is fatally deficient in certifying the route from San Jose to Gilroy on the unavailable ROW belonging to Union Pacific. That suit will be heard in May.

Last October, the Reason Foundation published an enormous, highly technical and detailed report, “A Due Diligence Report,” challenging all of the rail authority’s claims, projections and promises. It confirmed what a very few of us have been saying for several years, that what the rail authority has been producing is information about as reliable as a late night TV infomercial.

Last month, the Legislative Analyst’s Office in Sacramento published a 2009-2010 Analysis, including that of the high-speed rail authority, with devastating criticism of their many failings and the need for extensive Legislative intervention to rectify those failings.

What’s my point? The high-speed rail authority has been less than honest or candid. So? There is as yet the unrecognized reality that the positions of the cities on the Peninsula, who are about to be adversely affected, have an inherent adversarial relationship with the high-speed rail authority. Their and our agendas diverge and conflict. That’s what all these blogs have been all about. The current lawsuit is one instantiation of this fact.

The purpose of the emerging coalition of cities, a process that has been admirably driven by Yoriko Kishimoto, is to have all of us who will be adversely affected, be able to speak to the rail authority with one voice and to have that voice heard, respected and responded to.

Rallies, marches and meetings are great for building the grass roots support that this emerging coalition will need. It should be clear that we must stand united, even if each town’s particular needs diverge with those of others, otherwise we will not be heard. The rail authority is not interested in our concerns, their rhetoric to the contrary notwithstanding.

We must make the effort to have them become interested. One way is for Palo Alto to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the current plaintiffs. That will strengthen the lawsuit and the hands of those in Palo Alto who share the same concerns as those of Menlo Park and Atherton. Ideally our neighboring cities would all do the same as active participation in “leveling the playing field.” I believe the lawsuit gives us leverage in our anticipated negotiations with the rail authority.

All this is, of course, up to you and your ability to persuade your elected officials.

I posted a similar comment in the Palo Alto Online version of this Almanac Town Square.

Posted by Jake Brake
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Feb 22, 2009 at 1:19 pm

We already voted in favor of HSR. HSR is good for California and will be good for us. Temporary inconveniences are necessary and worth it.

Posted by skeptic
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 22, 2009 at 2:07 pm

Those are pretty sweeping statements, Mr. Brake. Want to provide any substantiation? [portion deleted]

Posted by you all know better
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2009 at 5:27 pm

Trying again to stir up trouble?? deal with it you all moved next to a railroad.

Posted by Andrew Bogan
a resident of another community
on Feb 22, 2009 at 7:41 pm

Obstructionist NIMBYism is most unhelpful at this point in HSR's long history. California needs high speed rail to remain competitive (Taiwan, Korea, China, Japan, much of the European Union, and the Boston to DC corridor on the East Coast already have high speed rail). California voted for High Speed Rail and the Peninsula voted >60% in favor of it, despite the cost. We should all stop whinging and try to use our collective voices to explore the best available options for HSR along the Caltrain right of way. For example:

Is it possible to raise enough money to pay for extensive tunneling underground through Peninsula cities? It might be, but tunnels are typically 3-5 times more expensive than above ground rail construction and our communities may not be able to raise the necessary funds.

What is the best alternative if tunneling is impractical due to funding limitations or engineering challenges?

How can we get the project completed as quickly as possible to minimize the disruptions to neighbors as well as to and Caltrain service? Nobody wants 30 years of construction and massive cost overruns.

What is the best location for a mid-Peninsula station? Palo Alto is an obvious choice with its university, tech businesses & venture capitalists, and shopping centers, but Redwood City is lobbying hard since they recognize the huge economic benefits of having a HSR station in their city.

Let's move this conversation in a productive direction to help design the best possible High Speed rail network for California. This project is more important than anyone's backyard. (And, yes, I live a few blocks from the tracks, too, in Palo Alto.)

Posted by Michael
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2009 at 7:38 am


Thank you for you comments. I agree. If NIYBYism kills HSR on the Peninsula, it will choke us in more traffic.

Unfortunately, my city of Burlingame is joining the NIYBY group of cities.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Menlo Park: South of Seminary/Vintage Oaks
on Feb 23, 2009 at 8:34 am

HSR will add to traffic on the peninsula! We need to create local transit systems first or we will have the world's worst traffic snarls. If you look at other areas with high-speed rail, you will realize that all have solid local transit. It's an essential component for success.

However, given that HSR is about political jockeying for power and not about helping alleviate traffic problems for the common folk, it's no surprise that they have chosen to ignore the obvious. We, the voters and residents, need to make sure their political greed does not destroy the peninsula.

It's not about NIMBYism. It's about holding our public servants accountable for spending our money properly. We already have trains running up and down the peninsula. Adding more trains to that same route isn't going to help us at all.

Posted by All for HSR
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2009 at 12:49 pm

I agree with Jake Brake and Michael.

On another note, adding more trains (cal train and HSR) along the caltrain corridor will help increase train ridership. I've often considered taking Caltrain to an evening SF event, but decided to drive since Caltrain service is so infrequent in the late evenings.

Belmont and San Carlos elevated their tracks. The construction process was difficult, but not the end of the world. And no one here is saying, aw, gee, we shouldn't have done it, what a horrible thing. The reality is the crossings are safer for cars, kids, the elderly, and those of us distracted by cell phones.

The process might not be perfect, but investing in this HSR infrastructure is much needed.

Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Feb 23, 2009 at 1:27 pm

Why does this exchange always go down the same path? Two extreme positions without any room for dialogue.

Stop the train is a bad plan. HSR up your kaboose is equally lame.

How about a discussion about bringing HSR but with communities in mind? That is what Yoriko and folks have been saying.

Black and white arguments are just so "society 1.0" stuff...evolve people...

Posted by common sense
a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Feb 23, 2009 at 1:34 pm

When the residents of other communities start weighing in, it's a sign that the thread has been hijacked by HSR backers. I've seen it over and over again on this board. Since HSR isn't going to stop in Menlo Park or Atherton, it's not going to make local travel easier for residents. But if there truly is demand for late trains to and from San Francisco, then Caltrain is already operating -- why not work through them to add capacity?

In Belmont and San Carlos, the areas east of the tracks are almost 100% commercial/industrial. The train tracks do not run through residential areas. That's a huge difference, and if you "other community" posters had ever been to this area, you might understand that. And those track elevations are hideous. They're okay, just okay, for industrial areas, but not for a downtown or residential neighborhood.

Posted by NOCommonsense
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm

No everyone moved next to these tracks..ITS was clear when you bought your property...and in any other area this would no BIG DEAL.

Posted by sally
a resident of another community
on Feb 23, 2009 at 1:59 pm

I think I just want to oppose the rail because the supporters like the one above seem like such jerks. I just read this article and you guys seem so arrogant and mean in your comments.

Posted by NOSAlly
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2009 at 2:15 pm

Try and think...Why would someone buy a house next to busy railroad tracks and then scream about how there being abused? Thats what wrong with this ..AND dont call people are the rude one.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda
on Feb 23, 2009 at 3:15 pm

I don't live anywhere near the tracks, but it's still MY money the government is wasting. It's real easy to throw around the NIMBY label, especially when it means that the perpetrators of this boondoggle can ignore serious questions. Frankly, I don't think high speed rail should be in ANYONE's backyard, but should be routed along 5.

Posted by mymoneyto
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Feb 23, 2009 at 3:55 pm

ITS MY Money too!! And if you think it a boodoggle so be it..It was passed by the voters that are forward thinking..if the Neo-cons would
be upset by its passage all the better

Posted by Dan Connelly
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2009 at 5:30 am

Transportation infrastructure is alway balances local good to global good. Look at the masssive would on the land, on communities, on people's daily lives which are 280 and 101. It's hard to imagine anything uglier, fouler, or more destructive. Or look at airports. Planes scream overhead, breaking the peace. The roads for miles around become clogged with airport traffic. Thousands of acres of land are destroyed to make room for runways, terminals, and parking lots. And this analysis hasn't even addressed other environmental impacts.

Investment in rail is far preferable. There will always be property owners who suffer in any community development decision. That's true for everything, even something as benign as a park or a library or a school. But we are not a unbound community of individual domains. We are a balance between the rights of individuals and the needs of the community as a whole. Along the way, we all sacrifice our individual desires for the good of the group in many ways, none of which on its own appears fair.

I love a quote that a transfer to local rail will cost "only 40 minutes". Imagine holding up car traffic on 101 in San Jose for 40 minutes, and see if people don't mind.

High Speed rail is one step in breaking the broken paradigm of one car, one person. It's time we got our heads out of the caccoon woven by profit-driven Detroit in the last century. Apologies to those who have to listen to trains pass by. I listen to cars on 101 every second from my home in San Francisco.

Posted by common sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Feb 25, 2009 at 9:29 am

Anyone else tired of these "residents of other communities" telling us that we're wrong?

Here's an excellent post from the PA Townforum, a different perspective from anything I've seen on this board.

Posted by PokerDad, a resident of the Community Center neighborhood, 33 minutes ago

I love the idea of high speed trains, and I would probably use it.

But voted against this thing. It was an obvious boondoggle, well-underfunded. At the time it never seemed imaginable that someone would actually put a 130Mph train through neighborhoods, next to parks and schools. Had that been on the bond measure, it would have died a horrible death. The high speed trains in France and Japan operate at LOW speed in populated areas. They know these things are LOUD. I have been on the Shinkansen and high speed trains in Europe. There is a BIG difference between living next to a 50Mph commuter train on the Caltrain corridor vs. one of these monsters. They look cool, sleek, modern, and move fast. Fast == LOUD. Nobody should have to be subjected to this. I suggest you listen to one yourself.

As for the comments that the Majority benefit should outweigh the losses of a minority, I think that concept disappeard in the 60's. If the high speed train destroys property value, the HSR should pay for it. NOT just the eminant domain property taken for space usage, but the degradation of neighboring properties as well.

I have no problem with the majority will, but the majority must compensate the people affected. Period.

Money is the problem. The state doesn't want to pay the real impact.

The real issue here is that the HSR is trying to cut corners on this project to control budget, and push the environmental costs onto local governments, communities, and individual homeowners. That is not fair. If they really want a high speed train, then the state should pay to do this in a low impact way. Any other proposal is simply theft and destruction.

Other questions:

6.5M voters said yes. Ridership estimates: 117M. How does this work? I suspect the ridership is estimated by the same crooks who estimated the SJ Light-Rail fiasco.

Finally, what is wrong with running this along the bay from SF to SJ. The ACE train does this, and it is a straight, clean shot, you can run 200mph out there and nobody will care. Land is cheap, and I doubt the salt marsh will care at all. Why was this shot down?

Posted by common sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Feb 25, 2009 at 9:38 am

>>>Transportation infrastructure is alway balances local good to global good. <<<
19th century thinking. Our future will not focus on heavy vehicles that travel on permanent tracks but rather on modular, energy efficient vehicles with flexible routing.

>>>Planes scream overhead, breaking the peace. The roads for miles around become clogged with airport traffic.<<<
Such drama! Fact is that HSR, even at the inflated ridership numbers they project, would barely make a dent in air traffic. There would still be plenty of demand for SF-LA flights, and flights elsewhere would be unaffected.

>>> Along the way, we all sacrifice our individual desires for the good of the group in many ways, none of which on its own appears fair.<<<
Read Poker Dad's post. Some people are being asked to sacrifice way more than others. Everyone who is adversely affected by this boondoggle needs to be compensated, and there is simply no money for that. Stealing from people is theft, public good or no public good.

>>>It's time we got our heads out of the caccoon woven by profit-driven Detroit in the last century<<<
And instead allow decisions to be driven by politicians like Diridon, Kopp, and Newsom? No thanks, I prefer the free market process. And the free market says thumbs down to this one.

Posted by more sense
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Feb 25, 2009 at 6:10 pm

I don't live near the tracks, either, and I oppose hsr now because it is not at all the most needed transit solution for the problems we have in the bay area.
As Common Sense pointed out, we have rail already. We don't have an effective public transit system to get around to places the rail line doesn't take us. Sorry folks, but claims of NIMBYism are just convenient for you to denigrate the opinions of others. HSR is far down the list of solutions we need, and we DO need to set priorities when money is as tight as it is.

Posted by palo alto voted YES
a resident of another community
on Feb 25, 2009 at 9:10 pm

And we that voted Yes are tired of you people acting like your the only opinion thats right for this area.Its time for HSR in this nation and California is to lead ..if you want to stay in 1960 or are 70years old and dont care about the future your wrong.

Posted by 2MuchMoney
a resident of Portola Valley: Ladera
on Feb 26, 2009 at 5:39 am

Mr. Brake of P.V.:
I intend to build a "Hooters" restaurant in the area of Alpine and Portola Road. I am sure that I won't have to deal with your "NIMBY
attitude" on this great addition to your town.

Posted by Another pissed off bay arean
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2009 at 9:59 am

Hey SPOCK, or whatever moniker you are using now, quit trolling on every anti-HSR bay area block and acting like you are an actual RESIDENT of PA, Menlo, Atherton etc. that supports this claptrap. We will shut this train down unless they put it underground, relocate to 101 or move it to altamont. Period.

Posted by WillowGlen resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2009 at 10:02 am

The san jose airport is barely hanging on right now and this train threatens it even more. We would all prefer an airport to this train. If this train takes any ridership from airports and SJ airport is threatened, Silicon Valley companies will file a petition and kill this train.

Posted by WillowGlen resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2009 at 10:05 am

common sense, HSR does run through Willow Glen residential which is the best part of San Jose, so there are other residential areas this is plowing through besides Palo Alto and Menlo Park.

Also Burlingame is "commercial", but the train goes right through the TOWN where all the 4 star restaurants are. This thing will ruin the town of Burlingame with a 15 ft concrete wall right through the center of it. Not to mention the leveling of the historic train station.

Posted by WillowGlen resident
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2009 at 10:11 am

This "deal with it you live next to a railroad" is the favorite byline of HSR supporters who obviously come from LOS ANGELES and have no idea that the old slow Caltrain goes straight through every quaint small town on the peninsula.

My guess as to how this happened: the San Jose chamber of commerce lobbied the bought and paid for Kopp and Diridon, and they folded, and the HSR commission has NO IDEA that the pacheco route plows through expensive bedroom community central. these LA residents assume that every house next to train tracks is a 200K shack, they missed the fact that Atherton houses "on the tracks" are $6 million dollar abodes for the Venture Capital community.

HSR BSers: how about DRIVING AROUND the caltrain tracks and seeing for yourself what you are displacing. If you think the wealthiest residents of the bay area are going to allow this to destroy their quality of life you are sadly mistaken.

Additionally, San Jose has some historic districts (designated historic) like Palm Haven which can sue for environmental impact.

Posted by Glen
a resident of another community
on Feb 26, 2009 at 12:50 pm

NO we live here just like you and I live in Millbrae so stop speading
false statements and personal opinions..No one is LA cares about what is going here with HSR..AND I know what Menlo Park..PA look like

Posted by Caballo de Ferro
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Feb 27, 2009 at 3:47 pm

So nice of PA residents to finally wake up and smell the diesel fumes.

Posted by Name hidden
a resident of Atherton: West of Alameda

on Sep 24, 2017 at 10:10 pm

Due to repeated violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are automatically removed. Why?

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