Palo Alto Weekly

Spectrum - August 13, 2010

Alma: the last straw on high-speed rail?

With new disclosures on needing to narrow Alma Street, state should move now to overhaul California High Speed Rail Authority board

If the issues weren't so serious, last week's meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority board of directors in San Francisco would be worthy of being TV comedy, an "unreality show."

The star performer was board member Rod Diridon, the San Jose-based advocate of high-speed rail and longtime rail-transit visionary, who disclosed that he and fellow board member Quentin Kopp have been "instructed" by staff to not speak in the Midpeninsula.

It seems they are treated rudely by residents, who tend to shout at them. He said only if and when area audiences become more polite will he and Kopp return.

This was at the same Thursday (Aug. 5) meeting where staff reports ruled out either a deep tunnel or covered trench as alternatives for the Palo Alto/Midpeninsula segment, leaving open-trench, at grade or elevated tracks from which to choose — all of which are deeply unacceptable to Midpeninsula communities.

Even worse, it now appears that all alternatives will require a wider right of way than at present — up to possibly 96 feet.

And, surprise again, it turns out all alternatives may require the taking of either one or two lanes of Alma Street, a major north-south thoroughfare in Palo Alto, according to the latest engineering analysis. The traffic impacts would be horrendous.

It will vastly expand the number of residents outraged at potential impacts on their neighborhoods. They will join those already shocked, disappointed and angered by the history of incomplete, misleading, slanted or otherwise flawed information provided to date on this project — as documented in three separate credible reports (discussed in the July 16 Weekly editorial and news stories).

There is, of course, no excuse in a democratic setting for a speaker to be jeered at, booed or interrupted by anonymous shouts from the audience — such as the "Give me a break!" shout at last week's authority board meeting. This prompted a mini-lecture from Diridon about that being a sick form of democracy.

What he ignores, however, is that it was his own appearance before the Palo Alto City Council in late 2008 and to local audiences (back in the "polite" days before the Palo Alto Rotary Club, for instance) that set much of the tone for the present confrontational environment. He essentially told the elected officials that the Peninsula route is a done deal and brushed off their concerns.

And he has repeatedly shown bias against tunneling in citing its cost, even while pointing out that it is illegal for authority representatives to show favoritism for one alternative over another <0x0214> as if that made it OK to prejudge tunneling.

The attitudinal damage this "done deal" message created has lingered. It helped set the tone for rude reactions to the perceived arrogance and rudeness from the rail authority representatives. The best advice the authority staff could give them is to just stop talking.

Now, with tunneling and covered-trenching alternatives buried for the Midpeninsula, Diridon has the effrontery — in apparently unconscious but thickly ironic comments — to say that Midpeninsula officials and residents need to move off their "entrenched" positions and help the rail project move forward.

In our July 16 editorial we agreed with state Sen. Joe Simitian that if the rail authority can't get its act together by early 2011 "high speed rail done right" will likely lose his, and our, support. Rich Gordon, in his successful primary-election campaign for state Assembly last spring, also called for a reformulation of the rail authority board.

We also need a new, hard look at stopping the system in San Jose, even if it requires taking the measure back to voters with that alternative.

But with the brand-new information about Alma Street and disclosure of more misinformation about the right-of-way required we don't think the state can wait until early 2011. We need a new governing entity for high-speed rail, free of the bias of board members who are high-speed-rail zealots in the guise of public officials. The Legislature is the place where that should begin, and the sooner the better.

Comments

Posted by HSR is a mistake, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 13, 2010 at 6:48 am

"What he ignores, however, is that it was his own appearance before the Palo Alto City Council in late 2008 and to local audiences (back in the "polite" days before the Palo Alto Rotary Club, for instance) that set much of the tone for the present confrontational environment."

So the editors claim there is "no excuse in a democratic setting for a speaker to be jeered at, booed or interrupted by anonymous shouts from the audience", then go ahead in the paragraph that follows presents an "excuse" for such behavior.
The editors want it both ways.
While HSR looks like a colossal mistake (please take note Ms Kishimoto and Mr Klein--your big push for it, while being clueless about the consequences, may have tipped the balance in favor of the tax), the mistreatment of speakers in Palo Alto is not new.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 13, 2010 at 8:54 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

Once again the Palo Alto Ego rears its smugly head. This reminds me of Alioto delaying 280 completion for 7 years.


Posted by Need to know, a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2010 at 11:46 am

Lots of good information is coming out slowly.
What we don't know is which local institutions are favoring HSR and which favor a Palo Alto station.
Not individuals who speak for themselves, but institutions, is it Stanford? HP? Microsoft? Facebook? Google? the Chamber of Commerce?
Who wants HSR?


Posted by bob, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 15, 2010 at 4:37 am

I was in favor before, but now I do not want this HSR anymore. You cannot touch ALMA!!! only to enlarge. I will not want to take 2 or 3 times longer to my work and drive the kids to school. I hate the midfield road only 25 miles per hour speed. If they choke Alma with only 3 lanes and same or more cars in the future, that will be the end for Palo Alto.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 15, 2010 at 5:26 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

2 lanes Northbound on Alma, 2 Lanes Southbound on Park, limited access, 45 MPH, no problemo.


Posted by Palo Parent, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 15, 2010 at 9:18 am

Whoooossshhh! That's the sound of property values flushing down the tubes going from a partially blocked 25 MPH residential street to a 45 MPH expressway. Never going to happen.


Posted by formerly pro HSR, a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 16, 2010 at 9:50 am

I'm with Bob. I was pro HSR based on the rosie picture that was painted before the vote. No longer. By the way, Alma is slated to go down to two lanes in much of Palo Alto.


Posted by SteveU, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 16, 2010 at 10:19 am

SteveU is a registered user.

So what else are we not being told about HRS, until it is too late to stop bleeding our tax dollars on this poor implementation?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2010 at 10:39 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

I have never forgiven Park people for running Peninsula Scientific away and for the many other barricades they had erected to general traffic. I would advocate condemning every house that backed up to the tracks. [with adequate compensation, of course]
I believe any blocking of city streets should require those requesting the block to pay for improving alternate ways.


Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2010 at 11:09 am

What year was Park blocked, and how many of those homeowners do you suppose are left? How do you rationalize punishing existing homeowners over an old vendetta.

BTW, what would you do about the houses on the other side of the street? Condemn and buy them out, too?


Posted by chris, a resident of University South
on Aug 16, 2010 at 11:38 am

Bay Area Council and Silicon Valley Leadership Group are strong supporters of HSR.

Many prominent Silicon Valley companies belong to one or both of these groups.


Posted by Douglas Moran, a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 16, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Douglas Moran is a registered user.

"There is, of course, no excuse in a democratic setting for a speaker to be jeered at, booed or interrupted by anonymous shouts from the audience..."

I disagree most strongly. Such behavior is essential in a functioning democracy when confronted with behavior such as that of Diridon. Otherwise, that "incomplete, misleading, slanted or otherwise flawed information" becomes the basis for (bad) decisions. Part of Palo Alto's history of bad decisions is the result of its elected officials and newspapers valuing "politeness" over truth. I have written on this before ("Lies are bad, so don't point them out") so I won't repeat it here.

Disclosure: I wasn't at the meetings in question, but had been subjected to similar conduct by Diridon at much earlier meetings.


Posted by HSR is a mistake, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2010 at 1:12 pm

""There is, of course, no excuse in a democratic setting for a speaker to be jeered at, booed or interrupted by anonymous shouts from the audience..."
I disagree most strongly. Such behavior is essential in a functioning democracy when confronted with behavior such as that of Diridon."

Not surprised by Moran's post--he feels it is okay to engage in rude behavior when it suit's his purpose. Not surprising considering his history. There is a civil and proper way to make sure that all views are heard-unfortunately Moran does not believe that is necessary.

Web Link

"but had been subjected to similar conduct by Diridon at much earlier meetings."
Moran also believes two wrongs make a right.

I found this on the web--check out the websiteit came from:

"Rules of civility are not a violation of free-speech. Free speech is about expressing ideas, and not a license to say whatever you want wherever you want. Just as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater does not constitute free speech, neither does verbal behavior that impinges on the rights of others to participate. If confrontational and/or verbally abusive behavior has the effect of intimidating others or driving them out of the forum, it is not a violation of free speech to discipline those engaging in such behavior. "


Posted by HSR is a mistake, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2010 at 1:13 pm

Whoops. Put the web link in the wrong place it should be after the final quote:

"Rules of civility are not a violation of free-speech. Free speech is about expressing ideas, and not a license to say whatever you want wherever you want. Just as yelling "fire" in a crowded theater does not constitute free speech, neither does verbal behavior that impinges on the rights of others to participate. If confrontational and/or verbally abusive behavior has the effect of intimidating others or driving them out of the forum, it is not a violation of free speech to discipline those engaging in such behavior. "

Web Link


Posted by Allen Podell, a resident of Community Center
on Aug 16, 2010 at 1:15 pm

All this debate highlights the fact that a comprehensive plan is required. The impact of the HSR roadway squeezing Alma will result in heavier traffic on Middlefield, Embarcadero, Charleston, and Oregon. It will also create more local street traffic, with more requests for local street closures, more fuel wasted in stopping and starting.
Palo Alto already has poor access to downtown; the impact of the Alma downsizing would be catastrophic. Only if the access to downtown and Stanford were improved with a limited access road would this be thinkable. Is that in the plan? Embarcadero Road a freeway? Overpasses on University Avenue? One way University(W) and Hamilton(E) Avenues?
Imagine what Palo Alto will become if the HSR doesn't stop here.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 16, 2010 at 3:37 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

With adequate compensation, having your house condemned is no more a punishment than having half your earnings confiscated. As for the houses on the other side of Alma Southbound, See the South side of Oregon.


Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Walter, I believe the conversation went something like this:

Walter: 2 lanes Northbound on Alma, 2 Lanes Southbound on Park, limited access, 45 MPH, no problemo.

Palo Parent: Whoooossshhh! That's the sound of property values flushing down the tubes going from a partially blocked 25 MPH residential street to a 45 MPH expressway.

Walter: I have never forgiven Park people for running Peninsula Scientific away and for the many other barricades they had erected to general traffic. I would advocate condemning every house that backed up to the tracks. [with adequate compensation, of course]

Me: What would you do about the houses on the other side of the street [Park]? Condemn and buy them out, too?

Your turn.

(Aside: 'adequate' compensation is a happily-ever-after fairytale.)


Posted by jb, a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Aug 16, 2010 at 4:37 pm

I am confused by this conversation and I wonder, where can I see the entire plan for this rail system. Well at least a condensed version.

Among my questions are these:

1. Starting from—where does it start, specifically—where ever it starts, what scheduled stops are already on the route between its beginning in southern California and its terminus somewhere in the Bay Area?

2. Where is its officially suggested terminus? (I have read that the most successful HSR connects to outer urban areas that have well-branched local transits to pick up passengers for local destinations. This theory dictates a terminus at San Jose or Gilroy with a huge improvement in all our local public transit.)

3. Is it reasonable for speed-crazed commuters to expect they will be able to hop a 200-mph ride to the city? I have been believing that HSR would run alongside and in addition to the Cal Train commuter service.

4. What train(s) are referred to when people assert that a train every 6 minutes might be passing through Palo Alto? (Is that all day long?) Cal Train commuter service is threatening cutbacks now. I just don't see it being economical for both systems to be running that many trains, even with the occasional freight run thrown in. I know, they only run at night now.

These are my own conclusions drawn from what I have read on these conversations. Again, is there a "civilian-friendly" version of the HSR plans accessible to us civilians. (No it isn't "to we civilians"; the objective case is required after the preposition, to: to us.)


Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2010 at 4:50 pm

jb, try CHSRA Web Link or Caltrain-PRP Web Link or PCC Web Link.


Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 16, 2010 at 4:54 pm

Had to break this into two because of the limit on links allowed in a post.

Also try CARRD Web Link or Caltrain-HSR blog Web Link or CC-HSR Web Link or Web Link.


Posted by Problem Solved, a resident of Green Acres
on Aug 17, 2010 at 8:19 am

Palo Alto needs to become its own nation, the Republic of Palo Alto, with two states: North Palo Alto and South Palo Alto. That way the Palo Alto Congress can pass a bill that the President of Palo Alto can sign outlawing anuy high speed rail within the borders of the soverign Republic of Palo Alto.


Posted by soundedgoodbut, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:32 am

Very funny Problem Solved. But where was the disclosure of the real impact HSR would have on our communities? So you're implying we little folks here in Palo Alto shouldn't mind that Alma will be doomed. It's OK to lie/mislead the folks who will have to fund HSR.

I'm with Moran. In a democracy, the people, especially the tax payers, should have a right to speak up when they are being lied to or deliberately mislead.


Posted by Phil, a resident of Fairmeadow
on Aug 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

I'm excited about the HSR. I hope they get a train stop in Palo Alto. I do wonder how it will impact my family, as we live quite close to the train tracks. But, I remain an HSR supporter.


Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2010 at 11:17 am

Alma's not going to be reduced. They're playing us as a means of taking homes or partials on the west side of the tracks. They're counting on community (or commuter) outrage -- and maybe a traffic study to back it up -- where we cry uncle and tell them that we'd rather lose a few homes than a few lanes. Don't fall for the bait. Neither is acceptable.


Posted by pat, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2010 at 1:19 pm

1. Phil, exactly what about HSR has got you excited? At this point, how can you possibly NOT know how it will impact your family?

2. Doug, I totally agree with you that shouting or booing is "…essential in a functioning democracy when confronted with behavior such as that of Diridon. …Part of Palo Alto's history of bad decisions is the result of its elected officials and newspapers valuing 'politeness' over truth."

Government bureaucrats often use behavior as a reason to brush off a speaker. (Best example: Then-mayor Burch shutting down Aram James for daring to criticize then-city manager Benest.)

Of course we should all start with civility, but sometimes that just doesn't work.

3. How do we explain the schizophrenia on the part of the city council? They don't want HSR (in it's present form, which is unlikely to change), but they might want an HSR station. Seems like a station would be every bit as bad as the train.

3,000 parking spaces = 3,000 cars traveling into Palo Alto. How does this fit the "high speed rail will reduce cars" theory?


Posted by Need to know, a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2010 at 5:28 pm

I agree, Pat. We need to know who is behind the Pro-HSR in that the city keeps spending big bucks on meetings and consultants and educating us. Are they even giving one minute to the possibility of a station? It's crazy.
Maybe it is Stanford behind the scenes who wants it. Any guesses?
Any way you look at it, some people are making money off of the studies and memos and meetings.
The council should just say No, like other jurisdictions have.


Posted by Mike, a resident of Crescent Park
on Aug 17, 2010 at 5:50 pm

I too am excited about high speed rail. Lots of people here are way too concerned about maintaining ways of life that are old and out of date. Our way of life must change. Progress rules!

We are hopefully not too far off from wearing aluminum foil jump suits, driving personal anti-gravity hovercraft and eating once a day all purpose nutritional pills. Hooray! Let the changes come!


Posted by ODB, a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 17, 2010 at 6:20 pm

<< 3,000 parking spaces = 3,000 cars traveling into Palo Alto. How does this fit the "high speed rail will reduce cars" theory? >>

3,000 is the grossly inflated CAHSRA figure. In reality I suspect it will be closer to one or two, maybe five on the weekends.


Posted by Lostus, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 17, 2010 at 7:38 pm

How come the other thread on this (with over 70 responses) got deep sixed?


Posted by James Hoosac, a resident of another community
on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:05 pm

Based on what I know, I bet that if you poll Palo Alto residents today, the majority of voters will still support HSR.


Posted by wary traveler, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Aug 17, 2010 at 9:14 pm

James, it all comes down to how you word the survey.


Posted by tm, a resident of Gunn High School
on Aug 17, 2010 at 11:01 pm

The loss in property values while building the HSR in any manner but a deep tunnel would pay for the deep tunnel. Palo Alto is already so overbuilt that all new construction of housing projects should be prevented due to the environmental impact of untenable traffic in Palo Alto. There should be no chance in h*** that impact of increased traffic from HSR station could be allowed based on an honest EIR, but Diridion will just laugh away these contentions. The original bond measure language said NOTHING about a route, nor anything about destroying Peninsula cities as they exist today. Any claims to the contrary are lies.


Posted by near the tracks, a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 17, 2010 at 11:16 pm

It's still remarkable that the original plan to run BART around the south end of the bay has not been resurrected. With that as a basis, the HSR could terminate in SJ where it makes the most sense.

Further, if the HSR project was truly forward looking, then it would have been based on a longer-term plan to run trains from San Diego all the way to Seattle. Stopping in San Francisco, from which no direction but south is possible makes no sense.

Finally, it's unbelievable that the ridership projections were ever accepted. How can a single train possible replace flights between three northern and four(five?) LA-area airports, most of which will not be on the train line? Why would the same people who driver because it's cheaper than flying choose to take the train that's no cheaper than flying?

I'm all for providing 40 billion dollars worth of construction jobs, even if it's really going to be much more expensive, but the notion that it must be done now and with the current trash-the-SF-peninsula plans simply because the project might get $2B if it starts immediately is unworthy of any but the **** politicians.


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 18, 2010 at 4:53 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

BART was a disaster because its unconventional construction and its passenger only usage thew away railroad experience and standardization. As an electrical engineer with a railroad family background I shuddered at he decision to use 3rd rail, a technology that permanently robbed BART of the advances in high voltage motors. The bastard rail gauge made every equipment order special, at a cost.
BART was revolutionary, but like many revolutions the enemy was common sense.
HSR on the other hand is evolutionary, with elimination of grade crossings, electrification and mature technology.


Posted by maguro_01, a resident of Mountain View
on Aug 20, 2010 at 7:32 am

The posts about a projected restriction of Alma Street are amusing in a way. People used to post advocating the restriction of traffic on Alma, El Camino, etc, as much as possible but put in terms of vistas or transformation into a boulevard or a pedestrian magnet and so on. I seem to recall people who wanted to regress to a grade crossing on University Ave., of all things.

It appears now that the HSR would restrict Alma as collateral damage but no one has posted in favor of that. What happened?


Posted by Walter_E_Wallis, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 21, 2010 at 3:48 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

For some people opposition to any change is all that gives their lifes meaning to themselves.


Posted by Life's meaning, a resident of Midtown
on Aug 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm

And other people find life's meaning by posting on every subject.


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