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Guest opinion: Another option for rail corridor

Original post made on Nov 17, 2009

Are there alternatives for bringing a high-speed rail connection from San Jose to San Francisco that won't involve a king's ransom or any major destruction and disruption of Peninsula cities?

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 18, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (25)

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 17, 2009 at 3:12 pm

Diesel trains and tunnels don't work well together without prohibitively expensive ventilation systems.

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 18, 2009 at 3:47 pm

freight needs to go electric.

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Posted by Ted Crocker
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2009 at 3:59 pm

I live in Burlingame and want to thank you for your article as it pertains to many of the towns up and down the Peninsula. I couldn't agree more and hope enough people will wake up in time to realize what is happening under their collective noses, before it is too late.

A tunnel would be for a fully electrified train system. Caltran has already joined CAHSRA to form the Peninsula Rail Group (PRG) so that they can take advantage of the federal funding for an electrification of their own system at the same time as HSR is being built. Southern Pacific RR is yet to be determined.

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Posted by Joan
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 19, 2009 at 7:38 am

I never expected such a radical departure from the favored (by officials) HSR plan to be so logical. But Ms. Hamilton's position makes so much sense I don't know why it hasn't gotten more attention in the general debate.

If the electrification of Caltrain, which I think is already planned, will allow the trains to move at high speed up the peninsula to San Francisco, and the difference in speed is only 10 mph, why on earth would we even be considering spending the billions of dollars on HSR on this route?

Thank you, Kathy Hamilton, for your illuminating column.

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Posted by Frank Thorne
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2009 at 12:41 pm

The "destruction of a whole swath of the Bay Area".

If someone would like to make an argument against HSR that does not resort to this sort of extreme hyperbole, then I would like to read it. I have been following this issue for the last year (I recently moved away from Menlo Park) and I keep reading that "our communities will be destroyed".

No they won't. Some people will be inconvenienced to be sure. But HSR is to be built on an existing rail corridor. The peninsula communities are already divided, and apparently the high-speed trains are to be quieter than the current Caltrain. It seems the one major drawback to the plan is that if an elevated platform is built then this will be visible from some parts of Menlo/PA/Atherton, and some people find this unattractive. A valid criticism to be sure, but it falls seriously short of "destruction".

And moreover, are you really saying that not building HSR would cut less than three minutes of commute time from Los Angeles to San Francisco?

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Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2009 at 12:44 pm

This is one of the best articles written to date. Those of you advocating a tunnel are not listening to what the Authority was saying at first, that the cities will have to pay for their own tunnels.

Take the number of miles the rail line passes through your city, add two miles for ramping down to that level, multiply by 1/2 billion per mile, divide by the number of residents, and multiply by four per household average. I estimated $200,000 per family for Palo Alto. The number should be similar for Menlo Park.

Anyone willing to pay that? Do you think the state will? Do you think the feds will? Do you think that will come out of your City budget? Out of a special tax district? Do you think anyone who lives more than a quarter mile from the tracks will have any willingness to pay $200,000 for their family share? Do you think the Authority will pay for that? Do you you believe money on the billion dollar level is limitless and comes from the Money Fairy (China)? What I am saying is those of you advocating for a tunnel are delusional and falling right into the High Speed Rail Authority trap.

Context Sensitive Solutions is a game invented by high priced consultants to make residents feel like they have a say in the project. In a couple of years, they will ignore your input and build what they, the politicians behind the project, want. Sacrificing the Peninsula for the benefit of San Jose and consulting firm bottom lines. By believing that a tunnel is possible, which it is not except in La-La Land, you believe you are advocating for a solution, which keeps you from fighting the villians. The Authority are the villians. Smarmy Peninsula politicians like Kishimoto in Palo Alto advocate for CSS. Any politician that advocates for CSS is a shill and must be crushed in the next election. Recognize your enemy. Your enemy may smile as they lie to you. I said crushed.

The ultimate irony here is that the Peninsula may be sacrificed for nothing. The project as a whole is entirely unfunded and the sub phases as proposed are entirely unnecessary. The first sub phases the Authority proposes to build are San Francsico to San Jose and Los Angeles to Anaheim. Both routes duplicate existing rail systems at a cost of billions of dollars, saving only a few minutes over existing travel times and saving almost no time over what could be acheieved with standard rail systems improved to run at higher speeds. Should all state bond money for the project be released and all federal money available and applied for is granted (niether of which is likely), it would all be blown through to complete the two initial sub phases, and the 400 mile gap from San Jose to Los Angeles would still need to be built! Very likely the lawsuits, cost overruns, bad publicity will see to it the project is never finished. The result is no high speed rail, and the Peninsula will forever be alterted by an un-needed, four track, raised platform, not unlike a freeway, through the heart of all Peninsula downtowns.

Tunnel believers, you are saps. You are allowing yourselves to sew the seeds of the Peninsula's destruction. I have no horse in the NIMBY game, as I do not live near your city. I do however know these [portion removed]. They must be stopped. You cannot participate in their games. Reject Context Sensitive Solutions. Know your enemy. Pull the plug.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville

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Posted by Dave Montague
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 19, 2009 at 2:00 pm

Kathy Hamilton is exactly right. Using Caltrain bullet trains synchronized to connect to HSR at Diridon Station is a win win solution all around. The fact is that the time to transfer by crossing a platform to make the connection plus the realistic speeds that any train can move safely in the heavily populated Peninsula corridor would add less than 15 minutes to the trip between SF and LA. This approach works fine between Long Island and NYC. There is also room within the existing right of way for a third passing track.

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Posted by reality check
a resident of Menlo Park: Stanford Weekend Acres
on Nov 19, 2009 at 3:25 pm

Caltrain's need to electrify, to eliminate diesel, increase safety and service requires the very overhead wires (catenaries), overpass or overpass grade separation of traffic and trains and elimination of trees (many diseased and/or illegally planted on the r.o.w.) rejected by some.
There is an old video of the electrification going through Atherton.
The only differnce with high speed rail trains will be the addition
of tracks in a few areas outside of the present right of way. Ask Hamilton, et al whether they will accept the catenaries, removal of trees and grade separations just to send many more Caltrains through the corridor without complaint.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2009 at 4:58 pm

> the difference in speed is only 10 mph,

No it isn't. An all-stops local averages about 35 mph. A non-stop SF-SJ express would average about 100 mph. The difference is about 65 mph. You would still need extra tracks to allow overtaking.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2009 at 6:04 pm

... and I forgot to mention, the California Public Utilities Commission will not allow grade crossings with 4 tracks. So you're back to where you started, which is a four-track (or mostly four-track) grade-separated corridor.

The stop-it-in-SJ crowd misses an important fact: Caltrain cannot absorb the extra ridership and simply does not have the available throughput capacity.

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Posted by trainfan
a resident of Portola Valley: other
on Nov 19, 2009 at 6:19 pm

Do not know where her data for 110mph Caltrain comes from but the premise of NOT running HSR from San Jose to SF is excellent. We would need an electrified fully grade separated Caltrain with a 3 track right of way. If HSR terminates at San Jose it might facilitate the completion of the route to LA within available funding.

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Posted by Video Fan
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2009 at 10:52 pm

Two must see videos from the Authority:

this shows what the intersection of Alma and Churchill in Palo Alto might look like:

Web Link

Note - it is only conceptual and doesn't show what happens to the homes.

Second is a video called Business Plan - which really doesn't talk a bit about what a real business plan is all about. This is a marketing video - plain and simple:

Web Link

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Posted by wary traveler
a resident of another community
on Nov 19, 2009 at 11:35 pm

Correction for Clem: the difference in speed is actually 15 mph. The distance between SF and SJ is approximately 50 miles. Therefore the difference in travel time is about 3 minutes. If you want to get more technical, the difference is less because of similar acceleration and deceleration speeds both at the stations and around tight curves. Quentin Kopp recently estimated that both services would make the trip in around 30 minutes. Calculations bear that out.

Trainfan asked where the data comes from. Try the Caltrain 2025 Plan – it’s in there.

Reality Check claims that Caltrain’s upgrades would be essentially the same as HSR, therefore why not add another parallel service? They aren’t the same at all. Caltrain and HSR cars will be different dimensions and therefore will have different platform height and width requirements. They’d have to keep to their own tracks when passing through stations, effectively reducing Caltrain’s ability to pass local trains. If Caltrain were upgraded to handle the HSR traffic, it could use any track and/or platform available. In fact, it wouldn’t need 4 tracks for the entire length; it could make do with fewer tracks where there’s insufficient right-of-way.

Caltrain is less invasive and could offer the Peninsula better service, allowing easy access to HSR for the entire Peninsula, not merely a chosen station or two.

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Posted by Kathy Hamilton
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Nov 20, 2009 at 12:28 am

A couple of comments to readers’ questions.

Speed and MPH were provided by California Rail Foundation and here's my opinion on electrification.

I believe the electrification EIR/EIS was done in 2003 with probably a very different program description than the project has today. I question its validity. Second, initially I thought perhaps rather than cantilevers, electric from the tracks, a third rail solution, might work especially if it was tunneled. My bubble burst when I was told by experts that it's an older technology. But basically my answer is "No, we don't want thousands of trees, many heritage, destroyed and ugly wires hanging all over our towns.” Why don't we look at alternatives to electrification in the form of trains. See the quote below from Calfornia Rail foundation.

"Lightweight diesel multiple units are nearly as efficient as electric trains for commuter rail. Additionally, the Hitachi hybrid technology showcased on Page 7 of the October California Rail News is making it hard to justify new electrification in Japan because it provides the efficiency and acceleration benefits at a fraction of the cost."

If we are supposed to be building a world class HSR network, why not look at cutting edge rail products that work more in concert with man and nature? The answer is because we don't have technical people with the right background and true objectivity working on this board. Instead we have political appointees with perhaps other agendas, not looking at the state's interest first. My opinion, it's a crime.
Read Paradise Lost by Richard Trainor, on Amazon, a real look at Sacramento and Washington politics. At least half of the people on the current board have an honorable mention. It illustrates how deals are made with land and stock involving contracts for fast trains and bridges.

One comment about tunneling, I am very much in favor of tunneling if it can be achieved. There are many questions that have arisen lately that make me question whether it will ever happen. As one reader said, we have the cost element, though CEQA does not require the least expensive route to be used, certainly our cities may have to make a contribution. But as Martin Engel has said, analyze it with a net cost accounting method, that is, deduct what we wouldn't have to pay for such as extensive grade separations, possibly more eminent domain in the tighter areas and temporary tracks. It's not going to be as expensive as people think.

Next, there is great skepticism about whether it is possible to build a tunnel under a ROW for miles and miles. I've had a couple of engineers question whether or not this is plausible. I understand that some European rail counterparts laughed when they heard of our cities plan to build under a ROW. The question is out there. Then there are the political questions- could be an even bigger barrier. Who decides? Who do we have to get to say yes? Does UP have some stake in this if it disrupts the freight service? What about the JPB and the cities that have contributed to buying that ROW? What do they say about developing parks, bike trails and possibly building some income producing structures on that land?

Bottom line, any of these key groups could merely stall decision making and it could kill the deal. I can see it now, HSRA says to us, "Look guys, we tried to give you your dream, but we can't take this kind of hold up, it's costing us stimulus money." What are we left with? An above ground solution, exactly what HSRA wanted from the beginning-totally unacceptable- period. Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket, please. Let’s get some answers first.

Instead we should be looking at many options since we are in the Alternative Analysis process now including outsourcing an electrified Caltrain perhaps even tunneled or Altamont, the very close runner up to the Caltrain route. To date, it's been an Alternatives Study with no alternatives being studied which I have discussed with the HSRA in person and in writing. How can you have a preferred route if there are no other routes up for serious consideration? Sounds like a sure thing to me! We are supposed to have a discussion of project alternatives and design options. All they offered us at the San Carlos open house in September 30th, was possible designs options of the vertical positioning of the tracks, up, at grade or under. Nothing else.

In regard to the thrashing CSS took from one reader. I agree that Context Sensitive Solutions is starting late, after the HSRA has chosen a preferred route and more importantly when all is said and done, the Authority has no obligation to go along with what solutions they arrive at. But wait, CSS just might be able to serve a really important role. Let them study alternatives in the light of day to see what could make this rail project work for the peninsula.

Bottom line as one reader said, we don't have the money for the project, our segment was estimated at $8 billion alone by pro-rail sources out of a $9 billion pot. We are anxiously awaiting the new business plan due out in Mid December. We will closely analyze report and pay very close attention to the ridership numbers. These numbers in the 2008 business plan have been brought into question last week by the learned Berkeley Transportation group and many others. Why would they estimate ridership numbers 5X of what the busiest Amtrak in the Northeast produces.- one of my neighbors Marty Mazner investigated this statistic. The answer is simple, they are backing into profitability numbers. Profitability is a requirement of AB3034.

The famous quote by the HSRA is that the voters of California voted for this train and the people should not be denied. I agree but not by a huge margin and if all the facts were out, like what the preferred routes were, we might not be having this conversation. The voters of California did not vote for the bonds without strings. The Legislature must hold the HSRA's feet to the fire on all the financial requirements, including profitability which without incredibly inflated ridership numbers and incredibly underestimated costs, it's not going to happen.

We need all local, state and national elected officials to represent us because this current solution doesn't work for the peninsula cities. It's not too late to change this. Pressure by the people applied just right- will bring positive results.

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Posted by Casey J.
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 20, 2009 at 10:59 am

Jay Tulock has the best analysis of HSR I've ever seen in a post. I think he's absolutely right: the tunnel may be the best of a bad situation, but it's never going to happen.

The real question is whether the HSR project will ever completed, and why the initial focus is on LA-Anaheim and SF-SJ, areas already served by rail, when there's an unfunded 400-mile stretch in between.

Common sense would dictate that you connect LA to SJ first, linking in to existing rail and then, if there's funding, deal with expanding HSR all the way from SF to Anaheim and beyond.

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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2009 at 11:13 am

> Correction for Clem: the difference in speed is actually 15 mph.

@wary: sorry I didn't make myself clear. You can compare top speeds all you want, but they don't mean a thing in practice. For example, driving a 200 mph Lamborghini on the 101 commute won't get you there any faster than the prevailing flow of traffic. On the peninsula, the prevailing flow of traffic is Caltrain commuter service. The locals average around 30 to 35 mph, and will still average about 35-40 mph even with electrification and fancy new trains. That's because they spend a lot of time *stopped* at stations. There simply isn't the room to add any expresses-- even with the existing Baby Bullets, the traffic capacity of the two tracks is basically maxed out. There is nowhere for extra express trains to interleave into this traffic.

For this terminate-in-SJ idea to work, trains must be capable of overtaking each other. For overtaking to work, you need at least 3 and probably 4 tracks along most of the peninsula. For that to work, you need to grade separate all the road crossings because new >2 track grade crossings are strictly verboten by the CPUC. Grade seps are causing all the hoopla about "Berlin Walls". You're back to where you started.

> They’d have to keep to their own tracks when passing through stations

Wrong. The concept is that Caltrain or HSR could use any track through any station. The question of platform interface compatibility only arises if a train needs to stop at that station, in which case all ADA requirements must be met.


> a third rail solution, might work

It won't. Third rail requires low voltage DC. Low voltage DC cannot provide the juice (many megawatts) to make trains perform at high acceleration and high speeds. 25 kV overhead is the only reasonable solution.

> What about the JPB and the cities that have contributed to buying that ROW?

Most of the ROW was purchased with state money. The same state as the 'C' in CHSRA, by the way.

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Posted by Resident
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Nov 20, 2009 at 1:41 pm

The issues are NOT the choice between electrified and diesel or the choice between HSR and the CalTrans running through our towns. The issues are SPEED and SAFETY. We have to either accept that the trip from San Jose to SF will take as long as the express train takes today OR find some way to create safer crossings which probably means grade separations of some sort.

I would rather that we put our efforts into making CalTrans safer and quieter, perhaps through electrification, but not try to increase the speed dramatically.

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Posted by Just Build It
a resident of Atherton: Lloyden Park
on Nov 20, 2009 at 2:26 pm

Before they waste tons of money on the Peninsula, BUILD the San Jose to L.A portion of the system. Without that, this is all a joke. By the time they get that done, maybe we can answer the questions about the last 40 miles. How many passengers actually want to do that last leg? San Jose is the larger city is it not? Granted many will want to continue on to San Francisco, and San Francisco wants that business. Well, then perhaps San Francisco should pay for that portion. Aren't we all going to help San Francisco with it's need for water from Hetch Hetchy? Certainly our beautiful city at the tip of the Peninsula can figure out how to help with our little rail problem. When the huge numbers of folks needing to make the connection from San Jose to San Francisco are actually able to show themselves, THEN we can worry about how to get them the last 40 miles of their 350 mile trip. Or... perhaps we should build Super Commuter lanes to get us to the airports faster!! Without that... what use is the airport?? I guess they are totally useless!

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 20, 2009 at 2:50 pm

You still have the problem with freight trains. Electic freight train locomotives are experimental. Last month Norfolk Southern unveiled an all-electric locomotive which was a joint venture between the US Department of Energy (who reportedly provided $1.3 million in funding for the project), Norfolk Southern, Penn State, and Brookville Equipment Company.

The Electric Locomotive used 1080 Lead Acid batteries. Think about all the toxi landfill for just one electric locomotive.

We are probably 20 years away from having practical Electric Locomotives. In the mean time Diesel locomotives and tunnels do not work well together without prohibitively expensive exhaust systems.

You can have HSR underground but freight trains will still run above ground.

The most common sense solution is to delay HSR funding until CA has a balanced budget and no deficit. We can't afford to do this.

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Posted by James Madison
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Nov 20, 2009 at 3:15 pm

A cross-platform transfer from HSR to Cal Trains in San Jose with an East Bay routing of HSR to another cross-platform transfer point in Oakland may not make the most political sense, but it definitely makes the most economic and transportation traffic sense.

An East Bay routing will not present the land acquisition and construction issues posed by the Peninsula.

An Oakland destination will facilitate connections North and East.

HSR trains may travel faster along the Peninsula than Cal Trains, provided they are on separate tracks, but the speed advantage is minimized if, as proposed, HSR trains make intermediate stops in PA and Millbrae, as proposed, to say nothing of Mtn View, RWCity and SMateo

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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Nov 20, 2009 at 8:19 pm

> We are probably 20 years away from having practical Electric Locomotives.

In the technological backwater that is the US rail industry, maybe this ignorant statement has a tiny tinge of truth. Elsewhere, you can buy one today: Web Link

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Nov 21, 2009 at 8:44 am

Economics will drive the reality of electric locomotives. If there is money to be had, stimulus to be used, and a chance to save costs, they will be here soon enough.

To cast off markets as old and tired or technology as not ready for prime time is missing the point. This is all about money, not ideology or ability.

Same goes for tunnels and rail alternatives.

In fact, the same goes for the entire HSR proposal. That is why you all should be focusing your time on the ridership assumptions and the economic planning or lack thereof behind this program.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Nov 24, 2009 at 8:25 am

You have to love these SFB liberals. They are so myopic in their thinking that they truly can not see the forest through the trees.

It takes more than an electric locomotive. We need to completely upgrade our electrical grid and bring more electical power on line through nuclear reactors, wind, solar, geothermal, hydro, clean burning coal, natural gas and perhaps a few others I haven't thought of.

Then we need to invest more in Lithium Ion technology. Lithium is the lightest metal and is # 3 on the periodic chart. We have to address the heavy metal concerns associated with Pb. If we want to wean ourselves from foreign oil dependence we must invest heavily in alternative forms of energy production and distribution.

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Posted by Karl
a resident of another community
on Nov 28, 2009 at 9:05 pm

I'm for HSR though I agree that its design has the potential to harm as much, if not more, than it helps local cities. Knowing that the Bay Area is out of land, is reluctant to increase density and needs more workers, the only solution is to bring in those workers from lower cost areas such as the Central Valley. With HSR, the Central Valley will become the bedroom community for both the Bay Area and Los Angeles creating a dynamic and unique mega metropolis.

I think that we are missing the plot on the Peninsula. Why not eliminate CalTrain and run BART lines with two tracks for HSR? BART can run over the HSR tracks where space is at a premium and alongside the HSR tracks where the existing Union Pacific ROW exists. Furthermore, with BART we wouldn't be limited to the existing ROW and would be able to, for example, weave the system through existing commercial and industrial areas to spur private redevelopment w/ no negative effects on existing residential communities; places such as Foster City, Redwood Shores, Googleplex, Great America, NASA Ames, etc would be linked by BART along with most of the existing Peninsula stops.

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Posted by R.GORDON
a resident of another community
on Nov 30, 2009 at 6:21 pm

R.GORDON is a registered user.

Is it possible that most of you really think of the plans for an HSR is actually designed for transportation between San Francisco, and Silicon Valley?
Evelyn Waugh, if he were alive, could update VILE BODIES and the thinking of the upper classes (in this version, the richest and most unsophisticated)to speak Woodside as Kensington, and San Francisco as a getaway to the Grange House in York.
Wake up and smell the future. This is a chance for survival of the U.S. and cross country rail with California as a place where the wealth from the project could alter our downward slide.
Mostly, it is embarrassing that more of the wives and educated women have sold out and do not contradict their husbands and remain tight lipped about the tragedy of California. Those underground segments of HSP AND regular Caltrain, could very well serve as places to hold people in case of a major catastrophe. Think WWII England and the underground....if not, just do any kind of thinking other than having the architecture have codes which coincide with "Mansard roofs" or dignified architecture while going to womens' clubs all reeking of the most current scent to discuss the Winter Follies.
This area is increasingly becoming medieval......which sounds like a grand idea for the fund raiser theme for the spring flower festival.
All of you are a breed unto your own.

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

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