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Editorial: High-speed rail running off track

Original post made on Dec 29, 2009

Even if the state budget wasn't $20 billion or more in the hole, California has no business spending $10 billion now and much more later to fulfill the well-meaning but totally impractical ballot Proposition 1A to start building a high-speed rail link between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, December 30, 2009, 12:00 AM

Comments (25)

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Dec 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

Gibboney is right for a change.

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Posted by Steve
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Dec 29, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Much as I like the idea of HSR, this proposal has too many negatives for me to support it. Now that a more realistic business plan has been prepared, let's put this issue to the voters again to see if it still has the support it had a year ago.
Remember: $10 Billion in bonds turns into $20 Billion once interest payments are factored in. Not that anyone's buying California bonds these days anyway.

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Posted by arnold thackray
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 29, 2009 at 6:15 pm

It is a pleasure to see the Almanac telling it like it is. The continuous shrinkage in State funds for education and for the disabled is hard to stomach, while the Legislature tolerates the
start-up of yet another carelessly-costed, deficit-creating, deceitfully-presented construction mega-project, to benefit a small, affluent clientele. Improve mass transit: yes. HSR fantasies: no!

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Posted by Stu Soffer
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Dec 30, 2009 at 11:36 am

Well stated, Almanac. Cal HSR is a fiscally irresponsible and not ready for prime time.

Last Sunday '60 Minutes' had a detailed segment on the water problems facing California. Our water infrastructure is also a critical path resource.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 30, 2009 at 1:22 pm

We are well on our way to be the State with the high-speed train and the low-speed schools.

We make the same mistake, over and over, that other, especially oil-rich countries in the third and developing world make. We don't know what our most important natural resource is. So, we waste it and put our money into building things that transfer vast amounts of public funds into private hands. How does that help our economy?

Even with the endlessly reported increase in ridership on America's urban mass transit systems, those systems are profoundly underused in relation to their per capita operating costs.

When it comes to our highly touted high-speed train, what if we build it and they don't come? We're still stuck with the tab, aren't we?

About that natural resource we persist in wasting; it's our children. The greatest economic engine of any nation is its people. Educate them and they will produce. Instead we nickel and dime our schools and watch the drop-out rate surpass the graduation rate.
We are well on our way to become a nation of hamburger flippers at fast food franchises.

Is that stupid, or what?

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Posted by Lucky
a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Dec 30, 2009 at 2:24 pm

This editorial should be forwarded to every member of the State Legislature and published in communities throughout the state.

Californians need to speak up loudly about the bad HSR plan ASAP!

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Posted by R.godon
a resident of another community
on Dec 30, 2009 at 7:14 pm

You all are evading the truth.
Gibboney is also probably from MP like the rest of you.

Time to make a decision for all people.

The HSR is inevitable. So is the fact you all will never earn as much as you have...........except in govt......perhaps.
You are all older or too old and want to protect your savings.
Pay the DUI and put down our govt.
Your kids will still suffer and they will not be able to get into Stanford with the competition from foreign students and grades.

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Posted by Kathy Hamilton
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Dec 30, 2009 at 10:36 pm

Well said Tom and by the way, in addition to the peninsula cities,there are many cities in Southern Ca. and across the state that are awakening to the reality of a very poorly planning HSR system. Thank you for printing the truth.

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Posted by CaseInPoint
a resident of Menlo Park: The Willows
on Dec 31, 2009 at 12:04 am

I could not have made the case for improving our failing educational system any better.

-One of the younger MPers that voted against the HSR (and lives nowhere near the right of way)

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Posted by thank you Almanac
a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Dec 31, 2009 at 9:31 am

Thank you for pointing out that HSR makes little sense. The best investment in our future is an improved educational system in California.
The best investment in transit is in local and regional public transit.

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills
on Jan 1, 2010 at 8:26 pm

The brainless California voters have struck again with this winner - $40 billion we don't have borrowed from our future prosperity for a useless train. But it sounds cool and shiny, so who the hell cares how much it costs, or how worthless it is?

The best investment we could make would be firing half of all government workers - save taxes, and reduce their ability to interfere with our lives and happiness.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 2, 2010 at 3:28 pm

Right now, very few people give a damn about this train one way or the other. There are a few opponents, like us, and perhaps an equal number of people who still believe this will be the greatest thing since sliced bread. But most people -- even if they have heard about this train -- just don’t care. I predict that situation is going to remain this way for the next year.

And, by late 2011 or 2012, bulldozers will begin to show up in downtown Menlo Park, near the Atherton train station, and along Alma in Palo Alto. Chain link fencing will appear. Some people will be receiving eminent domain notices. Some streets may be closed. Traffic will be re-routed. A new, temporary pair of tracks will be laid outside of the current rail corridor, perhaps down Alma. Train traffic will change when more freights bring construction materials to newly enclosed construction easements along both sides of the rail corridor.

But, even then, most people not directly affected will dismiss all this as temporary, and they will continue to believe that after the work will be soon completed, we can all get back to normal. Well, the construction will only get more intrusive, not less, and continue over many years, five at the least.

And, over time, more people will finally become aware of what is being built, what it looks like, what the construction does to downtown businesses (shut them down) and what happens to traffic.

Then, we will hear many more complaints about how could we let Sacramento do this to us? Why didn’t we stop it? They will say that we don’t really need double the train capacity on the Peninsula. And so forth. By then, of course, it will be too late.

So, now is a good time to get concerned and to get involved in preventing this disaster in our three towns well before they have the funding and the environmental paperwork complete.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 3, 2010 at 9:41 am

Well said Martin. The evisceration of the Menlo Park community must be taken into account.

Also, there is the financial aspect. Three strikes and your out!

Strike One: Business plan does not pass muster. If that business plan were brought to VC on Sand Hill Road they would dismiss the proposal out of hand. HSR has nothing to back the numbers up. It is pure conjecture. No responsible Board of Directors anywhere in this country would approve such an inept and poorly drafted business plan.

Strike 2: When we prioritize all the State's needs this would rank well below education, regional transit, building out the electric grid, etc. Why are we putting HSR ahead of critically needed projects that are far more worthy than HSR?

Strike 3: The State is broke. California bonds have junk bond status. That means whenever the State issues a bond the taxpayers have to pay much higher interests rates to compensate for the increased risk. We are mortgaging the future of future generations of Californians if we proceed with HSR.

We really need a statewide initiative that will postpone HSR until California has balanced budget and has eliminated the budget deficit completely.

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Posted by go for it
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 3, 2010 at 12:25 pm

I totally agree with you Hank! Go for it.

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Posted by hank's buddy
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Jan 3, 2010 at 1:25 pm

"This is still the project I voted for," Mr. Boyle said. "I'm not suggesting that (the costs) don't matter; I'm disappointed. At some point, you say, 'This isn't what I supported, this isn't what I voted for.' But I think the changes to date are reasonable, and probably not outside the bounds" of what might have been expected.

Increase in projected train fares: $50 per person/$5B more to build
Local burden increase: $5B more
Total increased cost to a failing state economy: $12B

Seeing Hank's pretend that his favorite guy did not vote for the boondoggle: Priceless

Like this comment
Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 3, 2010 at 4:19 pm

Dear Hank's Buddy.

John Boyle and I have always disagreed on HSR. There was never any pretension by either of us that we agreed on this issue. What you allege is a bald face lie plain and simple.

Even your heroine, Gail Slocum, did not agree with everyone on the far left on every issue.

That being said on almost every other transportation issue and the majority of city council issues I agree with John. Overall he is much better that Heyward and Rich and is the only sitting City Council member who has the respect of the San Mateo County Council of Cities.

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Posted by cite your evidence
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 4, 2010 at 11:45 am

So, Hank, what evidence can you cite that Boyle is "the only sitting City Council member who has the respect of the San Mateo County Council of Cities"? You try to turn even this discussion -- on an issue you and Boyle disagree on, and you and Robinson and Cline agree on -- into a political attack on Robinson and Cline. Do you know where that leaves you on the credibility scale?

But back to my first question: what evidence can you cite that Boyle is "the only sitting City Council member who has the respect of the San Mateo County Council of Cities"? We're waiting.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 4, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Dear Cite your evidence,

When Menlo Park decided to enter into a law suit against HSR rather than work out its differences it gave our majority council the reputation of being petulant and inflexible. I don't want the HSR but to antagonize the Board that we have to deal with rather than trying to work out our differences in a civilized manner is proof enough that the majority 4 are out of synch with most of the communities in San Mateo County. In fact Atherton is the only town that agrees with the "sue rather than reconcile" approach.

These "no-win" lawsuits may massage the egos of Cline, Robinson, Fergusson, and Cohen but they are costing our residents a lot of money. Not only Cline, Robinson, Fergusson, and Cohen are squandering our financial capital, they are squandering our political capital as well. Their approach to problem solving is puerile and we should take the opportunity to replace Cline and Robinson with people with more mature judgment and the November election.

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Posted by cite your evidence
a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Jan 4, 2010 at 1:49 pm

Well, Hank offers speculation that the majority of council earned "the reputation of being petulant and inflexible," with no evidence that the County Council of Cities finds them petulant and inflexible, and therefore respects only John Boyle. And with no citation, even, of who or which group of people has deemed the council majority "petulant and inflexible."

Then Hank opines that not joining other jurisdictions in suing the HSR agency would have been the proper, "civilized" manner of dealing with the agency, even when the basis for the lawsuit was -- how should I put this? -- a LEGAL matter. If your neighbor were disking up your front lawn to put his vegetable garden there, and refused to stop his cultivation activities after you said "pretty please," would you continue "civilized" exchanges to stop him, or would you take legal action?

And one last thing, Hank: what evidence can you cite that Boyle is "the only sitting City Council member who has the respect of the San Mateo County Council of Cities"? We're waiting.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 4, 2010 at 2:49 pm

When the Menlo Park left leaning council loses another lawsuit, and we will, the residents can decide who is acting irresponsibly. And I am willing to bet $100 to your favorite charity that Menlo Park will, yet again lose another lawsuit, leaving the taxpayers to pick up the tab. [portion removed]

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Posted by truth
a resident of Menlo Park: Belle Haven
on Jan 4, 2010 at 3:34 pm

Hank, master of no answer. You should run for office, you are that good at saying nothing but using lots of air and words.

Hank does not know what the other cities think, he just assumes it is so just as he assumes he is part of a "silent majority"...

San Mateo County is a Dem county by far. It is not even close. For Hank to use left-leaning as a bad thing in such a district is laughable. This is a blue collar county. If anything, the actions of our city on HSR runs in contrary to the Democratic Party.

But Hank wants you to keep watching the hand he holds up and waves around. The other hand trying to hide all the facts.

Who was elected to the Samtrans? Omar, a left-leaning Dem.

Who was elected to oversee the council of cities? Terry Nagel, another "lefty"...

Can we move on now that the facts are on the table?

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 4, 2010 at 3:36 pm

Rod Diridon said to me the other day that the CHSRA Board is fully aware that we are all quarreling with one another about what Hank did or didn’t mean or say, what John Boyle did or didn’t do, what Heyward and Kelly and Rich did or didn’t support or agree with.

Rod also said that the Board is delighted that we, in Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto should spend so much time arguing and disagreeing with one another about what and what not to do. He said that although some of us were a great pain for them, they no longer feel that way since we are now all so pre-occupied with our confrontations with one another.

Rod pointed out that while we continue to play our local games, and hold our little meetings, and quibble about various alternatives, thereby keeping us all distracted, the Board, staff and contractors are busy designing the rail alignments through our cities in the least expensive way, just as they want it. He knows that it’s not what we want, but he said he didn’t care.

He said that there would be many elevated sections to the corridor and also many areas were the rails would remain at-grade. He pointed out that there will be no tunneling and there certainly will be no abandoning construction on the Caltrain corridor. He said that if it's ever completed, we would love the walls and all the snazzy trains going by each day.

His last words to me were, “Keep up the good work.”

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Posted by We Can't Afford CAHSR
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Jan 4, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Martin - please, please keep posting accounts of your direct encounters with the CAHSR. Because people need to hear the callous indifference that Ron Diridon and his henchmen show the people and taxpayers of California.

Poor Ron Diridon seems to believe that a train station with his name on it will be a fabulous legacy to leave with CA after his passing. What I see in the future, however, is that *if* Ron & the CAHSR crowd are able to ram a railroad up through CA , the only legacy left by them will be one of shame.

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Posted by Hank Lawrence
a resident of Menlo Park: Sharon Heights
on Jan 4, 2010 at 5:42 pm


If you want to promote a State-wide porposition to put the HSR on hold until California has both eliminated its budget deficit and passes balanced budgets I will help you. You are right. This issue is too important to argue about. We need to take action.

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Posted by Kathy Hamilton
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Jan 5, 2010 at 9:32 pm

And to top it off in the Post today was a quote that angered me. An attorney named Hal Michelson from Palo Alto, was walking into the Rose Bowl in Pasedena and he came upon Quentin Kopp, the former judge. Mickelson said, "Your high speed rail project may have problems on the Peninsula. Is it in trouble? Kopp replied, "It's a done deal" and without smiling he said "what are you going to do? Stand in front of it?"

Doesn't that say it all!! This should be a massive wake up call. Despite all the "outreach" and CEQA regulations, it doesn't matter, these activities are merely check marks, formalities, which must be done. The HSRA goal is just to barrel through either above or at grade, without concern for what we think, what we want. The HSRA is not going to consider tunneling though CEQA does not require the cheapest route to be used if it provides substantial relief to the communities. But the Authority does not care and just this week Diridon told his beloved San Jose that tunneling was too expensive parts of their project.

Let's show the High Speed Rail Authority that the people in the peninsula have the time, the intelligence and the money to pursue an investigation into the High Speed Rail project. We are doing the work for everyone state wide exposing issues with the project.

The bottom line is state cannot afford the project, the data is deceitful and full of omission, no P & L statement and a terribly poor ridership survey with inflated numbers.

The legislature has the authority to reject their funding, to agree to shelf the bonds, and/or to put this back on the ballot and give the citizens a better view of the condition of the state and the pro/con of the project. AB3034 required the High Speed Rail Authority to file a business plan before the vote and this was not done. This is a crucial violation. The High Speed Rail authority does not care about violations. Other than private lawsuits, it is only the legislature that controls the purse strings and can hold their feet to the fire.

Sen. Simitian, do the right thing- do not fund this project.

Let's tell him and Sen. Lowenthal at the Palo Alto City Hall at 7 pm. on Jan 21st.

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