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High Speed Rail -- Palo Alto Impacts -- Changing their mind?

Original post made by Morris Brown, Menlo Park: Park Forest, on Mar 8, 2009

Last fall the Palo Alto Council voted 9-0 to endorse Prop 1A with funding for the High Speed Rail project.

A few months later opinion in Palo Alto seems to be changing drastically. After a march on City Hall by some residents, followed by a hearing on the project and staff report to the council has resulting in changing opinions in their council and the voters of Palo Alto.

The meeting can be viewed on the City's website at:

Web Link

(select the view icon at Item E on that page.)

There were many excellent points raised by the public during the public hearing. I found the comments by ex-Mayor Mike Cobb to be quite on target. (his comments are at 1 hr. 52 minutes into the file)

I have transcribed these comments and have copied them below.

All these kinds of impacts will be felt up and down the peninsula, and all the cites will be adversely affected by the above grade, 4 track system that the Authority is attempting to erect.

Make your voices heard. In particular, State Senator Joe Simitian has been chosen as the chairman of a key sub-committee, that will oversee funding for this project. The Senator has been a supporter of this HSR project. Please try to get him to change his position and protect the interests of the voters who elected him to office, by opposing this project as presently proposed.

(comments from Mike Cobb ex-Mayor Palo Alto)

Mike Cobb ex-Mayor Palo Alto 3/02/09 at City Council.

Honorable council members:

There are some questions I would like to ask you with respect to the bullet train with and I would hope they would be questions you would answer clearly and effectively. As this process moves forward. One of which is:

My first question is why was an endorsement given to this bullet train when we really had no concept what its impacts would be and we had done no discussion on that. That really does trouble me a great deal.

And with respect to Mr. Diridon comments, he talked about the 65% vote, do you think that would have been a 65% vote if the people had understood the impacts on this community? I would register that it would not be.

My second question. How many homes will be taken by eminent domain. We haven’t heard much talk about that; we heard that word slip in there briefly once. Well how many homes will be lost by eminent domain as the result of needing to expand these tracks.

What about other facilities in town, like the high school , the medical center and a lot of other that you can think of including the tree.

Another question, Get my notes clear here.

You talk, Mr. Espinosa talked about some alternatives, and yet what I am hearing from Mr. Diridon is that these alternatives really aren’t open to us. So that’s is kind of interesting, I’d like to if these can be pursued or not.

Will you folks join Menlo Park and the other Cities in the legal briefing that has been filed?

And a tough question, one more related question on values, you know if you take out houses along Park Blvd and some of the other streets out there , the houses across the street will also loose value . When are we going to find out this very real impact , on the very real homes, the very real people that live in this town?

Finally some very difficult question I think, questions that I feel need to be asked.. As you evaluate your own performance on this, are you guilty of putting regional interests ahead of those of the people in Palo Alto that you represent?

The bullet brain is going to cut through this town , cut a swath though it that will change it forever and will probably hasten the already almost out of control urbanization of Palo Alto.

So my final question is what will this Council be doing to stand up for the citizens of this community the people and their homes to make sure that this community can maintain some of the qualities of life we have come to cherish over the years

Thank you.

Comments (7)

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Posted by Morwenna
a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Mar 9, 2009 at 1:40 pm

Way to do your research, PA council members! Perhaps you could have thought about this before you voted to endorse Prop 1A?

Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 9, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Yes, a very small number of us knew the train was coming and were fully aware of the damage it would cause.

Most of us didn't. Most voters supported the train without any other information than that produced by the public relations machine of the rail authority, so full of empty promises.
It is not incorrect to state that the voters were misled. A few paranoids among us did a lot of homework, dug into the background of this project and discovered, to our horror, the monsters under the bed were real.

OK. Enough about that. Time to move on. We all have a huge problem on our hands and it's going to take all of us, working together, to resolve this in order to prevent the destruction to home and property that is looming before us, from Atherton through Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 9, 2009 at 3:49 pm

"Out of control urbanization"?

Menlo Park and Palo Alto are on the main transit corridors between two large cities, next to a large and prestigious university, and are close to major and growing employment centers in Silicon Valley.

Trying to prevent growth, and trying to block transit, may be possible -- but it is selfish. Palo Alto has long since ceased to be a quaint small town. It is a suburb, and it is gentrification, not urbanization, that is out of control.

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Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 9, 2009 at 4:29 pm

In that case, Frank, wouldn’t it be plausible to do with rail services what other major cities in the world have done, put them under the ground, like London, Boston, Manhattan, Paris, etc. Yes, Frank I agree that we are becoming urbanized and, via in-fill land development, more subject than ever to high density, high-rise housing and commercial development.

So, should a rail corridor expanded to four tracks with grade separations at every crossing intersection, 75 ft. wide, plow through the middle of such urban environments, or be out of the way, in tunnels? What do you suppose the Peninsula will look like in, say, 75 years? Should it be split by a rail embankment 21+ ft. high, dividing each and every city on the corridor in two, even as those cities blend and fuse more and more into one another to become one continuous city from San Francisco to San Jose?

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Posted by Frank
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 9, 2009 at 6:12 pm

I think it would be nice indeed if the train were underground. But my understanding -- I may be wrong -- is that the costs would be prohibitive. I do know that the Shinkansen goes aboveground into Tokyo, I believe the TGV goes aboveground into Paris, etc.

I am very much concerned about what the Peninsula will look like in 75 years. That is why I voted for 1A. I don't particularly mind the sight of a rail embankment. I respect that some people would, but it doesn't seem more distasteful than, say, a six-lane highway (El Camino) going through town, especially if it goes along an existing railroad right of way.

I hope that our civic leaders will support mass transit, the encouragement and creation of walkable neighborhoods, mixed use, mixed-income housing, and higher density close to downtowns and transit stops. This would get many people out of their cars which would be a huge boon in terms of both convenience and the environment. And, IMHO, the traffic on El Camino and elsewhere is just visually ugly -- much more so than I think an overhead train line would be.

Now I understand that there are some legitimate concerns -- in particular, HRSA is not being very forthcoming about what their actual plans are. I hope that our local governments work with them to correct this. But I think we in the Peninsula should still be enthusiastic about the project.

Like this comment
Posted by Morris Brown
a resident of Menlo Park: Park Forest
on Mar 9, 2009 at 8:06 pm

I have now posted the video of Mike Cobb's comments on YouTube. This might be a more convenient to these remarks.

Web Link

Morris Brown
Stone Pine Lane

Like this comment
Posted by wants information
a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Mar 11, 2009 at 8:49 am

Absent from the discussions about alternatives are facts - even estimates - of their total and net costs as well as who is expected to pay for what. We need to know the upfront costs of the tracks, land (including eminent domain), grade separations for all affected intersections (accommodating pedestrian and bike not just motor vehicles), new or modified stations, parking, tree removal, landscaping, new trains (caltrain and hsr), interim tracks and their construction, digging or tunneling costs, etc. Add in interim impacts on local businesses and residents whose physical locations are temporarily affected.
We need to know what the assumptions are about who pays for what.
We need to know the ongoing costs of operating and maintaining these. Include permanent reductions of property tax and sales tax revenue for those properties and businesses permanently affected.
We need to know the potential revenue that might offset the costs of the various alternatives. For example, tunneling might make a lot of surface land available for businesses that provide sales tax revenue or for housing; property taxes might be higher for both nearby businesses and housing properties because the visual and audible impacts of trains would be less than today. Would this offset the additional costs of tunneling? Who knows?
Surely some attempt could be made to evaluate the alternatives so we can have better informed discussions.

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