Seven, not five, council members need to decide this major issue | An Alternative View | Diana Diamond | Palo Alto Online |

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Seven, not five, council members need to decide this major issue

Uploaded: Apr 30, 2019
We need a seven, not a five-member Palo Alto City Council to decide on what the city should soon do about grade separations at the four traffic crossings over Caltrain tracks. Right now, two of the members can’t participate in any discussion concerning these separations because they each own property near the tracks.

That’s a decision that the state’s FPPC (Fair Political Practices Commission) has made that needs to be changed. It handicaps the council having a full and knowledgeable discussion about these grade crossings – a major significant decision that will affect the city for decades to come.

The grade separations are really needed, and each possible proposed “solution” involves complicated engineering and structural problems. Caltrain, after its electrification, will at least double the number of trains that run on their tracks daily (an estimated 20 trains an hour during commute times (one every three minutes). That number of trains will impede cars (and people) from crossing the tracks without long waits.

So that’s why I think we need all seven council members decide on the best grade separation solution for this city.

Right now both Mayor Eric Filseth and Councilmember Liz Kniss must recuse themselves from all discussion on the topic because of a potential conflict of interest – they each own property within 500 feet of the tracks (Filseth, his home in Downtown North; Kniss owns a multi-family rental apartment building).

City Attorney Molly Stump said the FPPC has ruled in this case that both members have a financial conflict of interest and the city must abide by that decision unless the situation of grade crossings somehow changes in the near future.

However, I think the FPPC is ruling on the trees and not seeing the forest, so to speak. These grade separations may affect these two properties, but also many more in town. And the grade crossings also will create a visual impact – trees and bushes adjacent to the tracks will have to be torn down; if the tracks are raised it will mean a several-foot high berms which will visually separate the east-west sides of the tracks; we all will be inconvenienced for a couple of years, including a possible three-year shutdown of Alma for temporary tracks, traffic patterns will be changed, some houses may be torn down – the reasons are many why seven people need to decide on this issue. Kniss has been apprised of it for years, and Filseth has followed it closely.

Stump said as of now, there were not enough reasons to appeal the decision, but circumstances may have changed, so perhaps in the next couple of months the city will ask the FPPC again to consider the broader impact of the grade separations. How long would it take the FPPC to make a decision? About four weeks, she said.

The council has imposed an October deadline to finalize the kind of grade separations it wants (tunnel, trench, raised tracks with traffic going underneath, or way overhead).

It’s fine for the FPPC to decide in its traditional manner whether council members should recuse themselves, but this time the issues are much greater than one house and one apartment building, particularly since the current five deciding council members are already split on which approach they prefer (two want a tunnel).

So, Palo Alto, get going and ask the FPPC to change its decision. And FPPC decision makers, stop being so rule bound. This issue has to be an exception to your usual way of thinking.
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Comments

 +   3 people like this
Posted by Peter Carpenter, a resident of Atherton,
on Apr 30, 2019 at 4:23 pm

Peter Carpenter is a registered user.

The way to change thge ruling is to change the question.

The real issue is in what manner should CalTrain pass through Palo Alto. That question impacts all residents equally.


"The Public Generally Exception. A public official is not disqualified from a decision if the effect on the official's interests is indistinguishable from the effect on the public." FPPC


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 30, 2019 at 5:19 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Peter --

According to the FPPC report to City Attorney Molly Stump, under the "Public generally exception" part of the report, the FPPC wrote, "Neither you (Molly Stump), the mayor or the vice-mayor (then Eric Filseth) has established that the decisions relating to the at-grade crossings affect a significant segment of the public or that the effect ... is not unique.Accordingly the public generally exception is not applicable to the decisions related to at-grade crossings based on the facts present" (by the city).
So it is time for the city to ask that question! Thanks for your comment.


 +   4 people like this
Posted by Resident, a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood,
on Apr 30, 2019 at 5:52 pm

I think this is bigger than Palo Alto and I think that letting Palo Alto decide what happens in Palo Alto when, for instance, Mountain View is deciding what happens in Mountain View and the two many not match up is stupidity to the nth degree.

Caltrain corridor runs along a Peninsula. It involves passengers who both alight and embark on their trip and also those who just pass through on their complete trip. We do not have a one way commute but people travel both directions at the same time.

There has to be an overall component of what is best for Caltrain and also the other freight trains that use the tracks. I am certain that turning the tracks into a roller coaster ride of up and down can't be the right way for this decision to be made.

I am no expert and I have heard all the arguments. I have no idea what is best for Caltrain and I have no idea what is best for Palo Alto. But I just have to think that the people who make the decisions should not be politicians but should be experts on the subject of engineering. Yes, interested parties should have a voice, should have their input and certainly those who may lose property have to be heard. But really, do we want the monkeys pulling the strings or do we want unbiased individuals who actually know what they are talking about making the final decision.

And please, can we be told why this has to be paid for City by City. This is a Peninsula issue, a regional issue, a Caltrain issue and ultimately a transportation issue for everyone who lives on the Peninsula whether they have tracks in their town or not.

The insanity of allowing 5 (or 7) small town politicians making a decision this big just scares me.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Diana Diamond, a Palo Alto Online blogger,
on Apr 30, 2019 at 7:22 pm

Diana Diamond is a registered user.

Resident -- I agree with you on several aspects. It IS a regional issue but Caltrain has asked cities to decide -- maybe trying to avoid a city-by-city fight?? And yes, we should have unbiased individuals helping Caltrain make these complicated engineering, technical and budgetary decisions, but right now that's not the way the system works. If we can figure out a way to change that, more power to us! It is a transportation issue for all of us.


 +   3 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on Apr 30, 2019 at 9:43 pm

"There has to be an overall component of what is best for Caltrain and also the other freight trains that use the tracks. I am certain that turning the tracks into a roller coaster ride of up and down can't be the right way for this decision to be made."

True, but this is being hashed out independently by each bureaucracy whose fiefdom the trains traverse. And no bureaucrat worth his rubber stamp will defer to another bureaucrat. So I predict there will be city limits at which one town has dug a tunnel and its neighbor has built a berm. The next fight will be about who builds an elevator to help the continuing passengers change trains.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Locus Rags IT Company , a resident of Charleston Meadows,
on May 1, 2019 at 3:26 am

Nice Post
(post removed)


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mark Weiss, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 2, 2019 at 2:39 pm

Mark Weiss is a registered user.

You raise some good points, so to speak, Ms. Double D.
And yes sometimes a train is just a train. In vain.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by aryastark, a resident of Barron Park,
on May 3, 2019 at 1:08 am

Good information


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 3, 2019 at 11:11 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

A separate new blog is suggesting that Caltrans is going to study the issue relative to available funding. Each city still has to work within a general overall plan of available funding. If you look up and down the line RW City has already built out new apartments and commercial buildings next to the tracks. They are DONE. Going up the line each city has beautified their respective stations, increased parking, and generally upgraded their space. Hillsdale, RWC. I think most cities have acted on their goals for the system within their cities. I don't see us in confrontation with other cities since they have already acted on their plans. However most of the line is in commercial districts so trying to accommodate residential areas is iffy.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 3, 2019 at 11:51 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Just like to add that the SFC and SJM have had recent articles concerning the encroachment of bay water which will effect the SF airport, Oakland airport, and areas built on fill. My area south of Middlefield is on fill. Alma is on fill. Tunneling on an area that may be subject to water intrusion is an expensive venture. However if rails are on a berm than the train can run in an emergency. We have to invest in the future which will protect our ability to move people during natural disasters.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by VS, a resident of Greenmeadow,
on May 3, 2019 at 2:33 pm

VS is a registered user.

Sounds like it's time to appeal the FPPC decision with a more complete argument. Agree we need 7 deciders on this.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 3, 2019 at 8:46 pm

Simple solution. Bring back the council of nine. Done.


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 4, 2019 at 9:32 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

Menlo Park is in process of upgrading their section next to the tracks. They have to have a plan now regarding their assumptions on how the tracks are treated as they are now preparing the whole section with new planned construction. What ever we are doing should probably be able to seamlessly mesh with what they are doing. We have to consider the interface with the park with soccer fields and Stanford Shopping Center. We have new construction in the California Street area next to the tracks. A lot has been invested in the area specific to the tracks already. Time is moving on and new construction up and down the line is moving on. What ever is chosen needs to assume that we are not affecting all of the investment that has been made or is planned. What ever the investment is in the tracks is also affecting the investment in the surrounding structures next to the tracks.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by CurHolman wants back, a resident of College Terrace,
on May 4, 2019 at 2:22 pm

Sounds like curholman is trying get back onto the council. Finders fees are not what they used to be now that you have been replaced as the “no to everything" vote by Lydia kuo. How iconic!!!!!


 +   1 person likes this
Posted by Curmudgeon, a resident of Downtown North,
on May 4, 2019 at 4:00 pm

"Sounds like curholman is trying get back onto the council."

Naw. Holman's civilized. She's not a gutter brawler like you and me, good buddy.


 +   2 people like this
Posted by Resident 1-Adobe Meadows, a resident of Adobe-Meadow,
on May 5, 2019 at 11:18 am

Resident 1-Adobe Meadows is a registered user.

A person cannot pick up a regular newspaper without reading about the failures in the existing systems in the SF city that we are dependent on. The SF travel center has bad iron and no electricity. The "park" above it is falling apart due to bad concrete. The head of transportation in SF has been fired for incompetence. The HSR is going to run on diesel between Merced and Bakersfield whenever it gets built. WHENEVER.
We are being tasked to evaluate an upgrade being sold to us by professional spinners. However what ever has already been built is experiencing failures. That includes electrical outages that occurred during the heavy rains and now in Gilroy.
But our train keeps running every day on diesel. YEAH - Victory - something actually keeps on working despite what ever you throw at it. And AMTRAK has new locomotives that run like a Prius. We cannot control the conversion to electricity but it is not going to happen the way people think it will - not on time or within budget. And the new governor really dislikes anything that does not get good financial planning. What ever "they" told you before it is not going to pass muster now - a younger brain is looking at this situation.

Tunnels are a potential disaster for water intrusion and electrical outages. That happened on the New York subway during a hurricane and flooding. Whole area of that city flooded. You have a working system on an elevated track in flood prone areas so that is what we should be focusing on. Also all of the newer city upgrades that are dependent on getting people form point a to point b are part of the impact report that needs to accompany any major construction project.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Mja1, a resident of Professorville,
on May 15, 2019 at 4:04 pm

This is a very difficult decision but somehow we have to decide and move forward. Something I don't see suggested anywhere his to raise the tracks on a trestle like structure instead of a burn. This would mitigate the issue of a mound separating different sides of our city and open up the opportunity of pedestrian pass and maybe a bit of a green built underneath. With modern rail design and the use of electrification rather than diesel I think the trains could run quite quietly. I would like to see this in the discussion somewhere.



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