Palo Alto Weekly

News - March 19, 2010

Palo Alto to fight high-speed-rail 'betrayal' bills

Proposed bills could allow controversial project to bypass environmental regulations

by Gennady Sheyner

Palo Alto is girding for battle against proposed legislation that could make the California high-speed-rail project exempt from environmental regulations.

"There is great concern that this is a real betrayal of the commitments made to this city and this council and the communities up and down the Peninsula," Mayor Pat Burt said during a City Council discussion Monday night.

He cited statements made by both state and rail-authority officials even as the authority was quietly working on legislation to nullify the review requirements.

The city has hired consultants and a lobbyist to help it obtain and analyze information relating to the project, currently estimated at $43 billion. The initial line would stretch from San Francisco to Los Angeles and pass through Palo Alto along the Caltrain tracks, prompting creation of a five-city Peninsula Cities Consortium.

One of the city's goals would be to oppose a series of state bills that exempt the project from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA), city officials said at a Monday night discussion of the project.

Several council members said they were concerned about the prospect of the controversial rail project being exempted from CEQA, which mandates detailed environmental reviews and public hearings for major projects. Over the past year, Palo Alto and other Peninsula cities used the CEQA process to send comments to the rail authority and challenge the agency's decisions.

Burt, who represents the city on the consortium, said the CEQA review is the cities' primary avenue for communicating with the rail authority. Burt said a number of state officials have referred to CEQA as the "principal way in which our concerns will be protected."

The proposed bills would exempt "critical infrastructure projects" from review. The bills would enable the state Business, Transportation and Housing Agency to select projects to be exempted from environmental review.

Burt said that would undermine the few legal protections communities currently have against the rail authority.

Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa said the new CEQA exemption bills are the most interesting new development pertaining to the rail project.

Palo Alto recently hired Ravi Mehta of Capitol Advocates to lobby for the city on high-speed-rail issues in Sacramento. City staff is working with Mehta to "oppose any legislation which would diminish or circumvent the current protection or in any way create exemptions from CEQA and court review for major infrastructure projects each year, including but not limited to the California High-Speed Rail Authority," according to a city staff report.

Palo Alto and its neighbors on the Peninsula have aggressively used the environmental-review process to challenge the authority's plans and assumptions. City officials have been reviewing recent reports from the authority and attending public hearings on the project.

The authority recently revised its program Environmental Impact Report a comprehensive, 1,200-plus-page analysis mandated by CEQA because of a lawsuit from Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of nonprofit groups. The authority completed the report in July 2008, but had to decertify it last year after a Sacramento County Superior Court judge ruled that there are flaws in the analysis.

On Monday, Palo Alto officials said they intend to send the authority a fresh list of concerns about the environmental review, including criticism of the agency's recently released ridership and revenue projections, which showed sharply lower ridership estimates and substantially higher fares than earlier reports.

Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie said the EIR for the project "is not based on sound financial analysis and therefore makes it difficult to ascertain what the options are." Emslie is scheduled to bring the list of comments back to the council April 12. The comment period for the revised EIR ends April 26.

Nadia Naik, co-founder of the local rail-watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD), urged local residents to comment on the revised EIR. She said the entire document, not just the revised sections, is subject to public comments. Naik also pointed out that some of the rail authority's most controversial decisions, including its choice of the Pacheco Pass over the Altamont Pass as its preferred Peninsula route, were based on the program EIR.

"Now is your chance to get in there and make comments that you would've made back in the day if you had awareness of it," Naik said.

The city also plans to submit a separate list of comments on the "alternatives analysis" that the authority is scheduled to release next month. The analysis evaluates various design options for the Peninsula segment, including at-grade tracks, elevated tracks, trenched tracks and deep tunneling.

But even though the analysis won't be out for at least three weeks, several council members said the city should lobby the authority for underground tunnels. Council members Greg Scharff and Nancy Shepherd both said the city should firmly oppose any plan to build an elevated rail line and demand tunnels. Councilwoman Karen Holman urged her colleagues to avoid committing to any design options until a fuller analysis is available.

"It's premature because we don't have the EIR," Holman said. "We don't know what any of the impacts are."

Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be e-mailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.

Comments

Posted by musical, a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 16, 2010 at 6:39 am

Anyone else see this going all the way to the Supreme Court?


Posted by Make your comment count!, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2010 at 7:05 am

Here's the link for notes on how to make an effective EIR comment

Web Link

You must send a comment to the Authority directly - but consider sending a copy to your city. If you submit a copy of your comment via the Peak Democracy Website that PA uses - you can keep your comment anonymous, but others can see it. This helps share ideas and concerns and helps make sure the environmental review is very thorough this time around.

It also lets the City Council know what it's citizens want and are most concerned with as a result of this project. It will serve to inform their decisions.

Many people missed their opportunity to comment prior to the election of 2008. Now is your chance - don't miss it!


Posted by John McNary, a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2010 at 7:30 am

The kneejerk, picatune reaction of Palo Alto makes it very hard NOT to favor the exemption from environmental laws.

Thank you for the link. I am taking the opportunity to use it to demand that the rail tracks use the most cost-effective, straight route possible, right up Alma Street, and maybe ground level and really wide.


Posted by Toady, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2010 at 7:57 am

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


Posted by Lionel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 8:14 am

For years the environmental review process has been used as a tool of obstruction and delay, and it is high time to pare it back to make room for needed projects like HSR to proceed.


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2010 at 8:58 am

To John McNary: what it is that has made you so flippantly facetious about a project that, if unchanged, will so negatively affect the quality of life in this wonderful city for the next century, and that will severely harm the property values and everyday life of those who live along the tracks. Would you like to reside adjacent to or near the tracks with your family, or do you just like to provoke people from afar?

To Lionel from the Crescent Park neighborhood: you termed CAHSR a "needed project." Let me ask you a simple question: needed for what by whom?

Needed to cut about 5 minutes off the total time it will take to get from San Jose to San Francisco by the new "bullet train" that, although capable of 220 mph, is legally restricted to 125 mph on the Peninsula, which is not much more than an upgraded CalTrain Baby Bullet?

Needed to cut green house gas emissions or to get automobile traffic off the highways? Really? You should take a careful look at the superficial, non-peer-reviewed "studies" that came up with these fantasy projections. A professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at UC Berkeley has already shredded the categorical claims that there will be major savings in greenhouse gas emissions, pointing out that much will depend on two things: HSR's attracting a very high load factor for a long time AND on the results of a "total life-cycle analysis" of the energy used. He noted that one can't just compare the "tail-pipe" emissions of cars and the HSR. One has to also take into consideration the energy that will be used to manufacture, maintain, and operate the new train cars, most likely non-renewable in nature. Moreover, by the time the train is scheduled to go online, the air-pollution technology in automobiles will have improved, perhaps radically, even more than it has in recent years.

Or do you mean "needed" to permit cheap transportation between LA and SF? If so, sorry, that's not going to happen. The original projected price (used for the deceptive Proposition 1A campaign) was about $55. That has now been increased to about $110 (about 83% of an airplane ticket) and the projected cost of HSR has been increased from $32 billion to $45 billion, a figure I venture to predict will eventually reach around $100 billion, in other words a major incremental albatross around the already weighed down necks of the next few generations of Californians who have to pay for the bonds issued to cover budget deficits.

So, Lionel, in what sense is it that you believe that HSR -- barely passed in a deceptive campaign in which the decided-upon path up the spine of the Peninsula was not mentioned in the election handbook and kept below the public radar -- is a "needed project"?

I'll be interested to see whether there is any substance behind your claim. I won't hold my breath waiting for a detailed, reasoned response.








Posted by history lesson, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

Remember this come election time for the California Assembly. Yoriko Kishimoto who had the advantage of sitting on the Valley Transportation authority for years, and yet uncritically supported HSR. Why? It looked good from afar, and looked like another good thing to be attached to for future political points. Where is Kishimoto now that this thing has gone south? MIA. That's the kind of diligence and judgment that California DOESN'T need in the future.


Posted by Koa, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:34 am

The High Speed Rail project is not about Palo Alto. Palo Alto is an extremely small fraction of where any track will run. Accordingly, Palo Alto should have a proportionately small voice in the way this voter-approved project is carried out. This obstructionist, zero-sum, my way or the highway, child-like attitude really has to go if we want this project to have any chance of success.


Posted by Paul Losch, a resident of Community Center
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:55 am

This is another example of HSR proponents doing a bait and switch.

This one is "please don't ask us to conform to EIR's like other projects in the State are expected to,"

There is a litany of bad behavior by those who are part of the HSR advocacy leadership, starting with Quopp and Didiron. They play fast and loose with facts, with analysis, and numbers. When challenged, they are unable to come back with responses that are coherent or refute the questions with which they are confronted.

I am concerned about the impact this boondoggle could have on the Peninsula, but I think the entire concept North to South is a bad idea. This ill conceived notion is not just a matter of what happens between San Jose and San Francisco, it is a question of if it should happen at all in its entirety.


Posted by Resident, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:10 am

History Lesson says: "Yoriko Kishimoto...and yet uncritically supported HSR. Why?" I agree. Her now famous "Guest Opinion" in the Weekly only looked at the environmental issues of riding trains versus airplanes or driving cars because, in her opinion, this was less polluting. I can't possibly vote for an Assembly person who expresses such a narrow point of view, and did not think about the complexities of the project any further.

I voted against HSR for two reasons which were very evident at the time of the election. One the price tag even back then it was hugely expensive to build and operate. And two, I didn't want high speed trains hurtling through Palo Alto or any other community at 150 MPH.


Posted by Paul, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:23 am

Uh, Koa, don't look now, but the HSR route runs right through Mountain View on its way to Palo Alto. But don't get too worked up - you got only a proportionately small voice in the outcome after all.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:25 am

California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) is in place for good reasons. We should NOT let HSR to go around it.


Posted by Against HSR, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2010 at 10:38 am

I agree with History Lesson, and Resident- I will not vote for Yoriko Kishimoto. She encouraged our city to vote HSR in. And now we are in a mess. If we tried to put it on the ballot again it will cost millions to do it.
But- more important this article is stating that the HSRA have been coming to our communities and as they said LISTENING to our concerns and will take them into consideration. This statement BTW I never believed - but NOW they are trying to put through a bill that allows them to totally ignore our communities concerns!! Whether it passes or not, and it will be horrible if it passes-this shows that they are not concerned with our concerns and they do NOT want to listen. We should contact the politicians who will vote on this to let them know we do not want the HSRA to have full power over the HSR!


Posted by Koa, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 11:31 am

Yeah it will run through Mountain View, Sunnyvale, and 100 other communities. How many lawsuits has Mountain View filed about this?


Posted by Anne, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2010 at 11:41 am

Unfortunately, all three candidates for State Assembly Gordon, Kishimoto and Becker, have expressed support for HSR; don't expect too much help from our elected officials. Gordon has also supported the Cargill Development in Redwood City.


Posted by Lionel, a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 11:51 am

Response to Robert McGinn, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood:
HSR is needed by the citizens of California and the United States. It is shameful that the US is so far behind on modern rail travel. This project should have been done 40 years ago. And of course it should go from LA to SF, and the Caltrain right of way is the logical route. You can argue the economics and relative green advantage points till the cows come home, but you are flying in the face of decades of success in Europe and Japan. China will be added to the list soon. I'm sorry that Southgate will be adversely effected, but that is not a reason for the City Council or the rest of the city to be on the wrong side of this issue.


Posted by I support transit, but this is a bad plan, a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:00 pm

The most important comment in this whole thread was the one at the very top that encouraged people to comment on the EIR. I did it first round. Please don't wait! There is a deadline. The link at the comment up top gives great "how to" information.

Many people missed their opportunity to comment previously. Now is your moment. Democracy is not a spectator sport. Copy your Sacramento reps while you are at it. They are in the process of making some big decisions for this project. Let them know what you think!


Posted by neighbor, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Lionel, comparing the US to Europe and Japan is an apples-and-oranges thing. Gas prices in both areas are substantially higher than here and there is a completely different attitude about mass transportation outside of the US. For HSR to be a success they need riders. Looking at current figures -- ridership is down. This will not be a more affordable option than flying. It is also important to recognize that they are taxed like crazy and the rail systems are highly subsidized by government. Do you really think this is worth more debt and substantially higher taxes? I really don't. We have good reason to believe the figures used for ridership, building costs, and operating costs are being manipulated intentionally (kind of like the wording on the ballot) to sell the projet. Beware! the bill will be ours to pay.

And to those numbskulls who think it's ok because it won't run through their communities -- can you really not imagine it running right next to your house, or, worse yet, your house being taken by eminent domain -- would you not object to that? Really? Perhaps some work on your empathy quotient is in order.


Posted by John, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Palo Alto is likely to have the most important effect of HSR if they take an attitude of supporting it and minimizing its environmental disadvantages.


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:17 pm

@Robert McGinn,

"although capable of 220 mph, is legally restricted to 125 mph on the Peninsula, which is not much more than an upgraded CalTrain Baby Bullet"

That's quite the upgrade in speed. Nice attempt to suggest otherwise.

"The original projected price (used for the deceptive Proposition 1A campaign) was about $55. That has now been increased to about $110 (about 83% of an airplane ticket)"

Maybe if you purchase your ticket 2 weeks in advance, maybe. Other flights to the L.A. area are WAY more expensive than that, but I expect you know that already. There seems to be a 'if I can afford it, so can everyone else!' type of attitude in these threads.

You also say the prop was deceptive, but deceptive to who?

"HSR -- barely passed in a deceptive campaign in which the decided-upon path up the spine of the Peninsula was not mentioned in the election handbook and kept below the public radar."

So it's deceptive because they didn't print out the fact that the train would pass through the peninsula on a small little brief description of the proposition? You know the entire state votes on those propositions, and not just the peninsula right? You call it deceptive, but it sounds like you were just unaware. There is a difference.

I see all of this Palo Alto lawsuit nonsense as nothing more than obstructionism plain and simple. It actually reminds me of the Tea Party crowd quite honestly. Just look at the second comment here on this page, marching orders and advice on how to make an "effective comment". Are you opposers simply sharing your opinion, or are you influencing others to adopt your opinion?


Posted by Jay Tulock, a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:26 pm

"several council members said the city should lobby the authority for underground tunnels."

REALly?!?

Everyone needs to get it through their heads: There will NEVER be tunnels through Palo Alto. I have built light rail lines in the US and engineered and constructed heavy rail lines overseas. The enormity of the challenges (read: billions in extra dollars) precludes tunneling. Tunneling only exists as an option put forward by the Authority (read: liars Kopp and Diridon) to divert the attention of naive Peninsula residents to convince them there is an acceptable option long enough to ram through an elevated four track platform. For a reality check of what is really proposed, review the budget for the Peninisula section. It includes no money for extra tunnels, because even preliminary tunneling numbers would break the bank. The budget is reality. Not what Diridon tells you. Are we clear?

The real crime here is that billions of dollars may be spent on the Peninsula to build this four track platform and electrification, only to have the project end forever at San Jose. The engineering challenges to ram the project south of San Jose Caltrain station are catastrophially expensive. Similarly, design to run through Morgan Hill and Gilroy without completely destroying the structure of those towns makes the challenges on the Peninsula mundane. California could spend these billions and end up with a four track, 125 m.p.h. electrified Caltrain system. Not that that is a bad thing, but it is when it could have been done for a couple of hundred million dollars and without eminent domain. The cost overruns will doom any chance of a real high speed rail system ever being completed in the state.

You are all fools. Commenting on the EIR will give you comments back from the Authority followed by their will shoved down your throats. There are no comment police to take your sane comments and rule the Authority as lunatics. Those who will comment on your comments are your foes. You may get some delay if you sue, but whatever decision is made will be by a judge who must follow law and probably does not understand high speed rail planning concepts any better than most of you and your representatives do. Meanwhile Kopp, a saavy judge, will find ways to manipulate the law so that all challenges are moot.

There is only one way to stop this madness. Cease your local bickering, your calls for remediation, your fantasy of a tunnel. Join all others up and down the state who are similary being bombasted by the Authority. Raise $3 million, hire signature gatherers, and place an anti Propo 1A measure on the ballot. The 52 percent do not exist anymore, despite what pro high speed rail people say, due to the economy, public project detail awareness, and skepticism of the integrity of the Authority. None of this existed before the 2008 vote. The Authority will lose their bond money, they will lose their public mandate, you will regain a bright future for your towns. With Kopp and Diridon finally smashed, hope for a real high speed rail system may come to pass.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:29 pm

Lionel,

You're completely offbase with your argument. First of all, the idea of aping or catching up to Europe is ludicrous. Did you know that virtually every high-speed rail in the world runs at an enormous deficit, covered by the governments in question? Are you prepared to endure a substantial increase in YOUR taxes to pay for the deficits HSR would bring to California? I doubt it. Or perhaps, since you cite China favorably, you think it appropriate that the national government should pick up all tabs for HSR not paid for by people being asked to pay higher and higher ticket costs and then arriving in LA or SF without anything remotely resembling the TUBE or the METRO. I am not willing to pay for the consequences of a pathetic utopian business plan that will foreseeably have CHSRA either begging the government for subsidies or returning to the voters for more bonds. This system will wind up costing a tenth of a TRILLION dollars. Either you didn't think about it or if you did you don't give a hoot about the consequences. And if you believe CHSRA can run this thing at a major profit each year so as to cover the system's operating costs you are indeed a sanguine individual. This is a class bait and switch scheme that will benefit three groups: Parsons Brinkeroff and other insatiable construction companies, the workers who run and service the trains, those on expense accounts who can charge the ticket costs to their businesses, and of course Kopp and Diridon with their quest for legacy (read: symbolic immortality). Stop the system in San Jose and take only 5 minutes more to get to SF on CalTrain, OR TUNNEL BOTH HSR AND CALTRAIN and turn the land area in beautiful public space for all citizens.


Posted by HSR Pipe Dream, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Mr. Turlock's comments ring true to me. He makes a lot of sense. Is anyone anywhere in California working on a petition drive to stop this thing?


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 12:54 pm

"Stop the system in San Jose and take only 5 minutes more to get to SF on CalTrain, OR TUNNEL BOTH HSR AND CALTRAIN and turn the land area in beautiful public space for all citizens."

Talk about a pipe dream. Palo Altans don't just want HSR to skip their community, they want a bike path in place of it. I guess some of you are used to calling the shots, but this project is bigger than your wish list. Stopping the train in San Jose would be like stopping a train to L.A. in Anaheim. People want to travel to S.F., they shouldn't need your permission first.

Take a look at those houses right along the tracks in Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton. Nobody else up the peninsula built/bought their homes so close to the rail. Now we're all supposed to be devastated when something new comes along? Why? Because you never considered it to be a possibility?


Posted by Brian, a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Tulock sounds like the lunatic to me. If I were going to base my opinion on how I interpret his arguments and tone, I would definitely choose to support the train.


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2010 at 1:19 pm

To "P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View": You'd be singing a completely different tune if you were living adjacent to or near the tracks that Kopp and Diridon want to build as their legacy. Oh, wait, I forgot: you are so foresightful that you'd have not bought a house anywhere nearby because you saw that HSR was a theoretical possibility 25 years ago. What a joke. The people who stand to be harmed by this unnecessary boondoggle are not just those living adjacent to or near the tracks. If HSR runs aboveground through P.A. and surrounding communities it will usher in a blight on this beautiful community, resulting in further lowered property values, tranquillity shattered, a huge wall bifurcating the community into east and west Palo Alto -- just as Route 101 did vis-a-vis Palo Alto and East Palo Alto -- graffiti on the wall, views blocked, and more vehicular traffic and pollution if there is a HSR station in Palo Alto. For what? To save 5 minutes and so that commuters from LA need not walk 15 feet across a platform in San Jose and catch a CalTrain BabyBullet to SF, all that for the bargain cost of about a tenth of a trillion dollars. I'm impressed that being taxed year after year to cover that huge cost and to overcome the yearly operating cost deficits of such a system doesn't phase you in the least.


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 1:34 pm

@ Robert McGinn,

Actually, I do live near the tracks now in Mountain View. Growing up in Palo Alto I lived near the tracks there too. I've always loved being by the train and I use it as much as I can.

I love how you lead off your list of scary possiblities with property values. That's pretty transparent. Somehow I have a feeling that local homes will still be worth a pretty penny. Then from there it's just one big slippery slope. Tranquility Shattered? I thought those trains were fast, so wouldn't your tranquility only be shattered for 10 seconds at a time? Can you get past that 10 seconds to enjoy the rest of your day? A huge wall seperating the city into East and West just like 101 did East Palo Alto? So you're concerned that the tracks will create two new towns and we will lose our identity? That is so far fetched. I guess that would make the East side of the tracks bad right? Somebody better tell Steve Young and Steve Jobs that they are soon going to live on the dreadful "East Side". As for your claims about grafitti, that's gross speculation as I'm sure you are aware.

Enough of the scare tactics. Just admit that it has to do with property values above all else. At least then I'd respect your honesty.


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2010 at 1:36 pm

I'd like to see members of the P.A. City Council step up to the plate in a major-league way, earn their salaries, and justify holding their prestigious posts. Recall that the P.A. City Council members in office in November 2008 failed to probe the route that Kopp and Diridon had already decided on before merrily voting unanimously to support the HSR just before the election on Prop. 1A. In short, the PACC was asleep at the switch and is only now starting to awaken to a realization of the devastating impact an above-ground HSR would have on Palo Alto. A project with an impact comparable to what HSR would have on Palo Alto arises about once a century. Our City Council needs to critically assess this project's relationship to the well-being of the community with a tenacious laser beam focus. One is beginning to hear some encouraging sounds the last few weeks, e.g., from Mayor Pat Burt, but the end game has not yet begun.


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2010 at 1:50 pm

To "P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View":

The prices of homes on the track side in my neighborhood have already declined precipitously. That's known from looking at the prices that homes have recently sold for. You said, "Somehow I have the feeling that local homes will still be worth a pretty penny." Now there's a brilliant observation. Yes, indeed, even if they declined 20% they'd still be worth a pretty penny. Not exactly to the point. The point is HOW MUCH OF A LOSS IN PROPERTY VALUE SUCH RESIDENTS WOULD SUFFER, not that their homes wouldn't still be worth a pretty penny.

If you bothered to read the plans of CHSRA, you'd see that they want to run trains with rather high frequency. "CAn you get past that 10 seconds to enjoy the rest of your day?" You show not the slightest clue at all of the toll that high noise can exact on people's nervous systems, even when they sleep through it. Check out the scientific literature then get back to me. Yes, a huge wall separating east and west Palo Alto. Check out the images that have been put together by a local architect showing what it would look like and then get back to me. A large structure like that CAN have a very negative effect on community identity. No, not "bad," just psychologically separated. In urban studies, that's called "the urban island effect." Ever ride past areas where there's a lot of grafitti on walls? Pretty depressing isn't it? It's called a legitimate concern based on what other large walled surfaces have had happen to them. You think it's baseless. I hope you're right. Frankly, I'm as much concerned with the ambience of the community as I am with property values. But I do appreciate your adventures in mind reading.


Posted by Steve, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

What are the names and contact information for the state and rail-authority officials who are quietly working on legislation to nullify the CEQA review requirements? We need to let them know now that we will NOT stand for this.

Hats off to Mayor Burt, CARRD and other realists who see through the charade of this project. We need honest, accountable, and fiscally responsible government, not pork barrel projects such as this.


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 2:01 pm

Yeah, I actually read the CHSRA plans before I voted, something that many of the opponents of HSR failed to do. I am aware of the frequency, but I do not share your concern for nervous systems. That seems to me like people complaining about something small when in actuality they're doing just fine. Same could be said about those property values. Should the entire state feel bad because someone bought a home in Palo Alto and it failed to pay off for them? That happens every day all over America! And yes, it's still worth a pretty penny, so don't look to me for tears of sympathy.

BTW, there's plenty of walls all around Palo Alto already. Look for the grafitti, it's hard to find. I'm sure this new wall would be covered in it though, as you suggest.


Posted by Don A, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2010 at 2:27 pm

How do we get a petition going to stop this monster project?


Posted by WEVOTEDYES, a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2010 at 2:43 pm

DEAL with it people We voted yes and you moved next to railroad tracks?? NOW you dont want trains ...What poor choice you made and its your fault..most people moving next to railroads in the rest of the US have to because of limited income..Sorry your not getting any tears from the rest of the Bay Area..and it passed in Palo Alto


Posted by Clem, a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2010 at 3:04 pm

> A professor in the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department at UC Berkeley has already shredded the categorical claims that there will be major savings in greenhouse gas emissions

That professor didn't shred anything.

The professor made an order-of-magnitude error when he failed to question or validate a figure that he obtained from the CHSRA for the energy consumption per vehicle mile of a high-speed train (271 kWh per train-mile, which is a gross overestimate).

The correct value, about TEN times less, completely undermines the conclusions of the greenhouse gas study.

Web Link

Back to your regularly scheduled programming...


Posted by Paula, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 16, 2010 at 3:42 pm

To Robert McGinn:
THANK YOU for your response to John McNary and Lionel. A High Speed Rail would change Palo Alto and the peninsula FOREVER. If it has to be done because it was mandated by the Initiative passed by the voters, then run it up the Highway 101 corridor which is mostly industrial rather than residential. I do not understand why this scenario was dismissed.
Better yet would be to scrap the whole HSR from LA to SF, because the money would be better spent on other things. Or not spent at all since California can't afford it!


Posted by T Tierney, a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 16, 2010 at 3:51 pm

I wish Jay Tulock were wrong.

When Proposition 1A passed, it carried the force of law. Any judge who rules on HSR will need to stop using common sense and follow the law. No amount of complaining, notes to HSR, delaying lawsuits, or nuisance meetings will stop HSR -- because the authority does not want to stop and it does not have to stop.

The only way to stop HSR is to undo Proposition 1A. That means another election with a new proposition to kill 1A.


Posted by Irv, a resident of University South
on Mar 16, 2010 at 4:07 pm

Responding to Robert McGinn, a resident of the Southgate neighborhood, who wrote

To John McNary: what it is that has made you so flippantly facetious about a project that, if unchanged, will so negatively affect the quality of life in this wonderful city for the next century, and that will severely harm the property values and everyday life of those who live along the tracks. Would you like to reside adjacent to or near the tracks with your family, or do you just like to provoke people from afar?

(John McNary, a resident of another community, wrote: The kneejerk, picayune reaction of Palo Alto makes it very hard NOT to favor the exemption from environmental laws.

Thank you for the link. I am taking the opportunity to use it to demand that the rail tracks use the most cost-effective, straight route possible, right up Alma Street, and maybe ground level and really wide.)

Robert: I live adjacent to Alma. In fact, as I type, I am looking at the window of my building's community room down to Alma....adjacent to RR tracks).

I must dispute what you charge about negative affects. You know, the PAMF built their building directly opposite me - I can see one of their buildings ABOVE the RR tracks. Just think, if folks took the same attitude toward PAMF that they do toward HSR, where would they go for their health care? And yes, I go to PAMF!

While I might have used kinder words than McNary chose, I certainly understood his point.


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2010 at 4:59 pm

Dear Irv,

Please. The PAMF doesn't run the anything like length of the community, doesn't tower over homes, makes no noise, is not redundant, was not financed by a deceptive bond issue, will not cost a tenth of a trillion dollars, is not an albatross on future generations, is located where it has no impact on surrounding housing or property values, and will not be coming to us for more money to bail it out of its yearly operating deficits.

Other than that PAMF and the HSA are completely analogous.


Posted by P.A. Native, a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 16, 2010 at 5:06 pm

LOL @ "a tenth of a trillion dollars"

Why not say one ten thousandth of a quadrillion dollars. That sounds even more expensive!


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 16, 2010 at 6:02 pm

To "P.A. Native a resident of Mountain View":

There's a specific reason why I chose to characterize it thus -- accurately, I might add. Because we in this society have been desensitized to how big and weighty a number a million AND A BILLION really are. We have become blase about those huge numbers, even when it comes to assuming debt, either as individuals or as a society.

You know what? As of today, a tenth of a trillion dollars still has some (accurate) shock value, but who knows for how much longer. May our kids not find out how long it takes to pay off a California bond debt of $100 billions dollars! Does it make you feel better to see that indebtedness expressed back in billions? Not me.

Robert


Posted by Spokker, a resident of another community
on Mar 16, 2010 at 6:27 pm

"Somehow I have a feeling that local homes will still be worth a pretty penny."

Well, high speed rail won't ferry the white people out or people of color in, right? Then it'll be fine. Look, I'm not moving there anytime soon, so property values won't go down.


Posted by opposed, a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 16, 2010 at 6:30 pm

The problem with HSR is that it is a pet project, not a legitimate conclusion based on analysis of highest priority needs. Especially now, we just don't have resources to waste on pet projects.

If you buy into the necessity to reduce overall pollution of our environment by transforming our transportation habits, you should be pushing to spend this huge amount of money on local transit. Local transit needs to be improved to the point where we need not drive in order to change habits and supporting infrastructure. Things like transit-oriented housing just won't work without local transit.

HSR doesn't bring local transit or help with TOD. It helps accelerate suburban sprawl.

It would be an interesting feather in someone's cap, and provide for a fun occasional trip, but it's not a defensible project in our current environment.

In my opinion, the vote on it would not pass if it were repeated, because:
- we know how little money we have,
- the misrepresentation of likely future ridership has been exposed
- there was misrepresentation of its ecological impact.


Posted by Bitter About the Train, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Mar 16, 2010 at 7:34 pm

The stupidest vote I ever cast for for HSR.

Cramming HSR down the Peninsula will ruin our quality of life, and for what? There won't be enough money EVER to get beyond San Jose. Our parks and schools will be impacted, our citizens lose property to eminent domain, and the tracks will either be empty or so limited in use that it'll be clear the boondoggle that we funded.

WHY are we focusing HSR on the Peninsula, where there's so much to lose? Start the damn, unneeded thing in LA and if they MAKE it to Gilroy, let's talk.

I really hope the city spares no legal expense to stop this. I agree that we should try to overturn the law. Is there any group working to gather signatures now?


Posted by SC Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2010 at 8:17 pm

I read recently that all realtors in San Mateo and Santa Clara are including a disclaimers that new property owners are required to sign that they are aware the HSR is being built through SM and SC, and that noise, traffic, construction etc. may impact their new home. The realtors are protecting themselves against possible future litigation. So, all property values in both counties may be adversely affected.


Posted by Brian Schar, a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:15 pm

Environmental regulations are a creature of the State, and live or die with the State. To expect the State to do anything other than serve its own interests is naive at best. Why would anyone think the State wouldn't change any rule it pleased in order to undertake a project it wanted to do? State environmental protection is no environmental protection.


Posted by Somewhere in Palo Alto, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:24 pm

My fellow Palo Alto residents are amazing.

They can't be bothered to notice airplane noise in our sky and their constant rumble, nor the garden blower noise in our streets and their noxious fumes, nor the din of the existing Caltrain diesel locomotives and horns along Alma, nor the mammoth highways dividing this town... no, nothing...

but when there is a proposal to put in a new, quieter, cleaner, swifter, train line along the existing train line,

all of sudden their world is coming to an end.

Amazing indeed.

I live in Palo Alto. I voted for HSR. I thought and I still think it's a great idea. And I am not the only Palo Altan to think so. I also think that having such a great transportation option in our town will raise most home values.

I hope our local NIMBYs will be inconsequential and that building HSR will go ahead as proposed.


Posted by pecuniac, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:44 pm

If you want to have an impact on air pollution, support land use planning, higher density along rail corridors, and cut Cal Trans budget for any future freeways or expansions. Let developers pay for their own freeways at the same ruinous expense that we air breathers have been paying for generations. May Randolph Collier (father of the California Freeway system) roll over in his grave.

The HSR will have a minimal impact on air quality. Instead, provide a useful, flexible, and available mass transit system like Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) at a fraction of the cost per mile of fixed rail.


Posted by Where?, a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Mar 16, 2010 at 9:48 pm

Somewhere -

You think no one has noticed "airplane noise in our sky and their constant rumble, the garden blower noise in our streets and their noxious fumes," and that there are mammoth highways dividing this town?

It is amazing that someone living in Palo Alto sees things this way.

But I agree that the real issues with HSR are its cost and inability to have the impact on California it is supposed to have. Not the complaints of those near the tracks.


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 17, 2010 at 12:11 am

Dear "Somewhere in Palo Alto":

You wrote, "I voted for HSR. I thought and I still think it's a great idea." Would it be asking for too much to ask that you say WHY you think HSR is a "great idea." Here's a question for you: is something a "great idea" INDEPENDENT of the amount of money it would cost to get it? Or is it a "great idea" only if its cost is affordable? I would suggest that the latter is the case. What do you think? Since it is probably going to cost $100+ billion for a HSR from SD/LA to SF/Sacto -- just for construction, mind you, not for annual operating expences! -- I submit that HSR is not a "great idea" at this point in time, when we in California are ALREADY drowning in debt, and any more debt, e.g., $100 billion more, will only increase the financial burden on our children for decades, as they will have to pay for our huge deficit spending.

By the way, do you realize that you have a tendency to just state your views and not give any reasons for why you think as you do? Nor do you adduce any evidence for your views. High school is the place where they've traditionally just settled for getting people to express their preferences. College and university is a place where one has to DEFEND one's views in a reasoned way. Maybe I missed it but I just don't see that in your letter. So there's not much to rebut. About the only thing that would complement your letter would be one in which the writer stated that he held views that there the opposite of yours and gave no arguments or produced no evidence in support of them. Well, it is interesting to know that you hold this view and that about HSR. I'm more interested in WHY you hold those views.


Posted by Robert McGinn, a resident of Southgate
on Mar 17, 2010 at 10:20 am

From THE WIRED (3/16, Kambitsis) [NOTE THE LAST SENTENCE. It makes it clear why HSR, beyond fostering urban sprawl (into the Central Valley where farm land will be sold off for homes for people able to commute to San Francisco), it is a waste: because there is neither a Paris METRO or London TUBE in either SF or LA, so when one arrives there via HSR one will have to slog on via bus, car, taxi, or walking.]

"Autopia" blog reported that although high-speed rail offers a number of benefits, it could also increase urban sprawl, according to "some urban planners. Despite the promise of creating more densely populated urban centers, high-speed rail could do quite the opposite by making it easier for people to live far from urban centers."

While "the goal of high-speed rail in the United Sates" is similar to that of Europe and Japan in that it would link large cities, "the big difference between the European and American approach is Europeans have made a large investment in rail and the accompanying infrastructure that links it with stations and communities," and the US has not.


Posted by Jay Tulock, a resident of another community
on Mar 17, 2010 at 1:51 pm

There is no organized statewide effort to overturn Propo 1A, yet. Everyone is till focused on spinning their wheels in a Government comment system designed to allow the agency to force through its goals while giving the illusion of public input.

Someone with money (I have heard Atherton has such people) needs to spend some money to organize opponents statewide (to the Authority and the plan, not high speed necessarily)and raise the millions necessary to draft an initiative that will pass legal muster and hire paid signature gatherers to qualify that initiative.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville


Posted by Somewhere in Palo Alto, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 17, 2010 at 3:00 pm

Dear Mr McGinn

The continued (or rather renewed) economic growth of California calls for increased population, as it did in the past 30 or 40 years. Where are we going to put these new arrivals, and how is everybody commute with such increased population? We'll have to invest in transportation infrastructure one way or another. Yes, it will cost money. There is no way around it. If we don't want to invest in infrastructure, I very much doubt we will prosper. In my opinion, mass transit, both local and inter-city, is the way to go. I am not the only one who thinks so. So I'll let better debaters speak for me.

Here is what Mr. Krugman says about HSR:
More on density and rail
Web Link

Here is what the Sacramento Business Journal says about HSR:
21st Century Infrastructure
Web Link

Here is what the San Diego Business Journal says:
Rail Stops Envisioned as Starting Points for Development
Web Link

[Portion removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language]


Posted by Jan, a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 18, 2010 at 8:21 pm

I love the French TGV but I can't see putting it here. For one thing, there's no infrastructure (decent local transportation) to support it on the Peninsula. Whatever midpeninsula city has a station will have to put in lots of parking lots and rental car agencies for riders. (Most of them will not be headed to downtown Palo Alto, San Mateo or wherever they get off the train.) What a mess!!!
Maybe San Jose would like to have the northernmost stop. They are always trying to make their downtown into a real city center and this could help. Then put a lot of money into improving all the the peninsula buses, lightrail and local trains that we already have so that many more people would be able to -- and want to -- use them. That could help everyone, including people still in cars.


Posted by Sharon, a resident of Midtown
on Mar 18, 2010 at 9:04 pm


We still have not seen a robust business case for HSR in California.

There is NO evidence that people will use it unless forced to--that policy is dead on arrival--

It is a train plan to nowhere and will not happen-- how is the VTA light rail working out for you----? practically ?

It is a money sink


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