News

Palo Alto joins lawsuit against rail agency

City Council decides to file 'friend-of-the-court' brief against California High-Speed Rail Authority, asks for new environmental review

Palo Alto has decided to join the ongoing lawsuit against the state agency charged with running a high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The City Council decided in a closed session early Tuesday morning to file amicus curiae -- or a "friend of the court" brief -- for the suit filed last year by Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of environmental groups against the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA). Though the deadline for joining the lawsuit has passed, the council's decision will allow Palo Alto to submit documents to the Sacramento County Superior Court supporting the plaintiffs and providing the city's perspective.

The city would not, however, be a plaintiff in the suit.

The council reached a decision by a 5-3 vote after a midnight session following its meeting Monday night. Mayor Peter Drekmeier and council members Yoriko Kishimoto and John Barton voted against filing the brief. Councilman Sid Espinosa was absent.

Several council members, including Larry Klein and Pat Burt, expressed concern during the meeting about the rail authority's process for designing its track alignment through the Peninsula.

"I think there are things that I hope that the city will achieve from the brief, mainly to assure that the program-level EIR is done with adequate analysis," Burt told the Palo Alto Weekly. "As we've been digging into all these issues in recent months, a lot more questions have been raised about the adequacy of that EIR."

City Attorney Gary Baum said the city's brief would run parallel with the complaint filed by the plaintiffs and explore many similar themes.

The coalition's lawsuit argues that the California High-Speed Rail Authority failed to conduct an adequate environmental review before it chose Pacheco Pass as its preferred route for the rail-line section between the Bay Area and Central Valley. The plaintiffs argue that the agency dismissed the Altamont Pass, which runs through the East Bay, without a proper analysis.

"Petitioners allege that the CHSRA's consideration of these two major alternatives was neither fair nor complete, but, instead, improperly distorted the analysis of benefits and impacts, and ultimately of feasibility and desirability to unfairly and improperly bias the analysis in favor of approving the Pacheco Alignment," states the complaint prepared by Stuart Flashman, the attorney for the plaintiff.

Baum said his office will be working with a consultant in the next month to put the brief together, he said. The court would then decide whether to accept the brief.

"We can provide a different perspective," Baum said. "It's not inconceivable that something that is provided in an amicus can influence the court's decision."

"We may be able to elaborate on issues already raised or provide Palo Alto's perspective," he added.

Comments

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Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 3:54 pm

When High Speed Rail meets Low Speed Litigation I'll pick the latter every time. Glad to see Palo Alto finally jump on the bandwagon, and just hope it isn't too little, too late.

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 31, 2009 at 4:52 pm

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

AS I said elsewhere here, If Palo Alto wins the lawsuit they will not tear out the tracks and make bike paths, we will just have low speed rail and a continuation of the slaughter at the crossings. Southern California will gladly take our share of transit money and we will continue to beep and creep.


Like this comment
Posted by CC_watcher
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 31, 2009 at 5:59 pm

If we want HSR done right, then let's welcome as much scrutiny as necessary to this project. If everything is open, transparent and justified - there shouldn't be any issues. I suspect things haven't been handled well - and that is why anyone questioning the process is labeled a NIMBY.

I think asking the right questions makes us concerned citizens. There will be some difficult decisions ahead - but this is a good thing for the State. CAHSRA needs to follow Obama's mantra - open and honest governance....


Like this comment
Posted by Jay Tulock
a resident of another community
on Mar 31, 2009 at 6:00 pm

Good work PA City Council. When you are lied to by Rod Diridon, you either see a snake or you believe the lies. The council finally saw a snake. (Do not blaime them for their earlier vote, that had just been lied to by Rod Diridon -- they knew not what they did, as they believed the snake. Now they've seen the snake for what it is and are acting, so cut them some slack.)

I wish those of you hoping for high speed rail -- which I am all for in concept -- will come to understand that the snakes on the Authority are your biggest enemy -- same snakes that wasted a billion extra of our transit dollars on the worst possible plan for BART to SFO (short of building it into the Bay with a station in the mud), and are doing the same with BART to San Jose, which oddly won't be ready in time for HSR's 2018 opening date (Oh God, I am laughing so hard having typed that with a straight face that I am about to choke on my blue Slurpee). They are going to drag this out and either get it built at enormous cost many decades in the future, or so many people are going to get hip to their game that Prop. 1A is going to get repealed ala Florida. This BS that we need to accept this plan or it will never get built is not taking into account what a bunch or corrupt incompetant snake liars are running the show. Come to the light my idealistic little darlings, come to the light.

Jay Tulock, Vacaville


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 6:04 pm

Walter Wallis wrote: "AS I said elsewhere here, If Palo Alto wins the lawsuit they will not tear out the tracks and make bike paths, we will just have low speed rail and a continuation of the slaughter at the crossings."

If HSR doesn't happen on the peninsula that doesn't mean we won't have an electrified, grade-separated CalTrain in the near future (CalTrain is planning/hoping to electrify by 2015). Put another way, Walter, which do you think has the better chance of coming to fruition, a widened, elevated, electrified, shared, four-track HSR/CalTrain/UP right-of-way or an electrified, grade-separated CalTrain?

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 31, 2009 at 6:56 pm

Mark--

How do you build an 'electrified, grade-separated CalTrain' and not have something similar to the HSR design?

And for people who want the HSR system to terminate in San Jose and transfer passengers to CalTrain (electrified, grade-separated), you're going to have more trains, running at higher speeds, on the CalTrain line, so how much are you gaining by not having the HSR go all the way through?


Like this comment
Posted by An Observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 7:23 pm

They can't stop it in San Jose- Prop 1A mandated SF to LA route. the sooner people deal with that the better. Either kill the whole project or move the route. Stop in San Jose is a NON STARTER


Like this comment
Posted by John H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 31, 2009 at 7:56 pm

A $60B train system for a bankrupt state is a stupid idea to begin with. I'll take beep and creep.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 8:24 pm

WilliamR wrote: "How do you build an 'electrified, grade-separated CalTrain' and not have something similar to the HSR design?"

You do so on the existing two-track main line, William, and likely without raising the right-of-way in the manner required for HSR. Huge difference, and one of the chief issues with the peninsula HSR route.

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 8:27 pm

An Observer wrote: "They can't stop it in San Jose- Prop 1A mandated SF to LA route. the sooner people deal with that the better. Either kill the whole project or move the route. Stop in San Jose is a NON STARTER."

Prop 1A is full of foolish mandates -- please tell me why terminating HSR in San Jose is a bad idea.

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 31, 2009 at 8:34 pm

Grade separations with 2 tracks or 4 tracks are still going to look very similar. It will either be a wall, a trench or a fly-over. Any of those options will REQUIRE some eminent domain. Walter is right. We are fighting against a good thing. Wake up people!



Like this comment
Posted by An Observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 8:45 pm

hey I don't think its a bad idea, I'm just saying that prop 1A is full of booby traps and Palo Altans, including the city council, don't seem to get that. For one thing, there are environmental laws that say that if a wealthy area gets a tunnel on a federally funded project, every poor area also must get one. Palo Alto cannot get a tunnel independently of the rest of the project under the Environmental Quality Act, so that is one huge issue. Next issue is that prop 1A said SF to LA, deliberately I am sure. At this point I think the best approach might be to fight the actual proposition on legal grounds.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 8:58 pm

bikes2work wrote: "Grade separations with 2 tracks or 4 tracks are still going to look very similar. It will either be a wall, a trench or a fly-over. Any of those options will REQUIRE some eminent domain. Walter is right. We are fighting against a good thing. Wake up people!"

I'm not sure where you got this idea but HSR requires greater physical separation than does CalTrain -- hence the mandatory berm, trench, or tunnel to accommodate the former. And widening the right-of-way to four tracks will require more property-taking, especially if a berm is built to support those tracks. From what I've read, CalTrain/UP service alone might allow for grade separations with a far smaller, narrower berm than that required for HSR, but as with so many other things related to Prop. 1A no one can yet state anything with certainty.

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by WilliamR
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Mar 31, 2009 at 8:59 pm

Sorry, Mark, but I still don't get it. When is a grade separation not a grade separation? Two tracks or four tracks shouldn't make any difference. It's just wider, not higher or longer isn't it?


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 31, 2009 at 10:27 pm

WilliamR wrote: "Sorry, Mark, but I still don't get it. When is a grade separation not a grade separation? Two tracks or four tracks shouldn't make any difference. It's just wider, not higher or longer isn't it?"

William, the issue isn't so much one of grade separations, per se, as it is the required isolation (to the extent possible) of HSR trains, which will travel much faster up and down the peninsula than CalTrain currently does. If HSR gets built, it will of necessity run through a tunnel or trench or over a very large berm, and all three of these solutions include grade separations. In a CalTrain-only scenario, the grade separations can be affected by, as one example, lifting the tracks a few feet and digging under the right-of-way at intersections to accommodate motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. The latter method is understandably far less expensive, especially when there is also no need to add two tracks, take property along the widened right-of-way, etc.

I believe one reason why people (like Walter Wallis) are in favor of HSR is the perception that the greater difficulty presented by the berm, trench, or tunnel in reaching the HSR trains will prevent people from throwing themselves in front of those trains. But the cynic in me tends to think people will still find creative ways to litter the HSR tracks and surrounding homes with their body parts, limited access or no (and then there's the "sport" of playing chicken with high-speed trains -- YouTube has many examples of this sort of lunacy).

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by Howard
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2009 at 12:30 am

HSR does not require any lifting of the tracks. Just underpasses or overpasses for the crossings, plus a good fence. So it would be wider (4 tracks), but otherwise identical to what CalTrain wants to do. No need for a wall, trench or berm. (I don't mention the tunnel option because it's not feasible).


Like this comment
Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2009 at 3:14 am

Walter_E_Wallis is a registered user.

BART is a relative failure because it is passenger only, it was deliberately designed non-standard and because of some really stupid management decisions early on. Because BART is private right of way, suicides occur only at stations, and I believe Moscow subways have design features that reduce that risk. I see no problem with staging construction, starting with crossing elimination and electrification.
With staged construction, land acquisition could be spread over a period of time great enough to reduce the impact on most those disturbed.
As unsatisfactory as it is, we do have process, and the doctrine of interposition was decided a while ago. No act of man or God is perfect, but good enough is time to get on with it.


Like this comment
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 8:44 am

@Mark,

> If HSR gets built, it will of necessity run through a tunnel or trench or over a very large berm

How so? HSR could just as well run at the existing grade level, with roads being depressed or raised above it. Each grade separation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to decide how it will be built. The notion that HSR *must* either be raised or lowered, unlike Caltrain, is sheer nonsense.

Think of HSR as just another train (if only a bit faster).

> In a CalTrain-only scenario, the grade separations can be affected by, as one example, lifting the tracks a few feet and digging under the right-of-way at intersections to accommodate motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. The latter method is understandably far less expensive,

And that is why this scenario is precisely what the CHSRA was proposing to do at the Churchill, Meadow and Charleston crossings in Palo Alto, only to be met with cries of "Berlin Wall". How you would grade separate HSR is NO DIFFERENT than how you would grade separate Caltrain; you are drawing an artificial distinction that has absolutely no basis in reality!

It's sad to see such mis-information being spread around to a community that is evidently thirsty for facts.

> especially when there is also no need to add two tracks, take property along the widened right-of-way, etc.

Except for a couple of spots, Palo Alto has plenty of right of way for four tracks. Web Link


Like this comment
Posted by Norman Beamer
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2009 at 11:02 am

Filing an amicus brief is in no sense "joining" a lawsuit. So the headline is misleading. I can't imagine a more futile gesture on the part of the city. They sat by and let the deadline for actually joining pass. Now they are going to file a "me too" brief that simply agrees with the real plaintiffs' point of view. Hardly the role of a true "friend of the Court."


Like this comment
Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2009 at 11:16 am

Clem,
Show me where it says that CHSRA is proposing to lift the tracks "a few feet" at Churchill, Meadow and Charleston.

Odd that you claim others are spreading mis-information when Diridon himself has said that all alternatives will be looked at including a wall that will be, at the Churchill crossing, approx. 15 ft high, with an additional 4ft of track buildup and 20 ft electrical guide poles on top of that.


Aside from the colossal waste of taxpayers money, if the thing is going to get built and it's essentially at grade level, not a huge issue. But, that's not what they are planning. If it is, please show me where that's stated.

$60B would be better spent on so many other things. It's mind numbing to think of the stupidity to push this thing through.


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2009 at 11:17 am

Clem wrote: "How so? HSR could just as well run at the existing grade level, with roads being depressed or raised above it. Each grade separation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis to decide how it will be built. The notion that HSR *must* either be raised or lowered, unlike Caltrain, is sheer nonsense."

Interesting notion, Clem. Can you point me to HSRA or other documents that propose an at-existing-grade solution for a four-track main line, one that supports HSR, CalTrain, and UP?

Clem also wrote: "Except for a couple of spots, Palo Alto has plenty of right of way for four tracks."

I read your blog post on "Why They Chose the CalTrain Corridor" (Web Link), and your overly simplistic calculation for eminent domain takings on the peninsula of 4 acres at $4M/acre completely ignores that fact that those 4 acres (your figure, not authoritative) may represent as many as 350 properties, if we assume taking five feet along fence lines that average 100 feet in width. If you truly believe that many properties (or half that number) will be heavily compromised for a mere $16M combined, then you inhabit a fantasy world only you and Ron Diridon share.

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 1, 2009 at 11:41 am

Interesting to read which members of the PA Council voted against this as they continue to provide an enormous disservice and harm to our community (Mayor Peter Drekmeier and council members Yoriko Kishimoto and John Barton voted against filing the brief). Take note voters!


Like this comment
Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2009 at 11:54 am

And, Clem, why not terminate HSR in San Jose? Keep the two-track main line on the peninsula, electrify and grade separate CalTrain, and coordinate arrivals and departures for both systems in San Jose? I know Prop 1A mandated LA to SF, but what's wrong with the idea of terminating HSR in San Jose? This would still leave open the option of running HSR to SF at some later date (perhaps when the UP finally abandons the peninsula right-of-way)? Building HSR up the peninsula will be a far greater stumbling block than I think some HSR advocates realize, and terminating at San Jose seems an excellent compromise.

Now, were I emperor, here's what I would decree: Run BART, love it or hate it, under the existing CalTrain right-of-way from San Francisco to San Jose; pay Union Pacific to abandon the line; once BART service is running, do away with CalTrain altogether (one less transit bureaucracy is surely a good thing); build the country's greatest urban bicycle/pedestrian path on the right-of-way, uninterrupted, from San Francisco to San Jose, including residential and retail buildings and other amenities where feasible.

This I believe with certainty: having the aforementioned greenbelt in place of the existing CalTrain tracks (assuming BART service underneath) would benefit so many more people on the entire peninsula than would, say, saving 20 minutes travel time from SF to SJ on HSR. And such a greenbelt will only become more valuable as more people move to the peninsula. Damned expensive, yes, but of far greater value long-term than any above-ground rail service, no matter how fast.

Mark


Like this comment
Posted by wary traveler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2009 at 12:31 pm

“Except for a couple of spots, Palo Alto has plenty of right of way for four tracks.”

Clem, where are you getting your information? Caltrain's not a dependable source for right-of-way facts. There's a discrepancy between Caltrain's figures and what's on record with the city and county. You can view a brief summary of the issues which were presented at Monday's City Council meeting. Web Link item F at the 25:40 minute mark. Using city and county maps, there’s a discrepancy of 5 feet of ROW for some properties along Mariposa Ave. According to those records, Caltrain owns 70 -- not 75 -- feet of right-of-way. How will this play out when it’s time to take this land? Will homeowners be reimbursed according to county or Caltrain measurements? Are there other properties along the ROW that are similarly affected?

You and I have been through this issue a few times now (Web Link search for “Clem” or “wary traveler”), and I know we’re on the same side for being factual regardless of how that affects our views and support of HSR. Since your graph is being used as fact, please add a comment to the graph that explains your source and how it may not agree with city and county records.
I also note that your prediction and advice from that thread seems to be playing out:
“The most *constructive* thing that concerned Palo Alto residents can do is push for high speed rail to be routed over Altamont pass instead of Pacheco pass. Many transportation advocates and environmental groups support this option, which would spare Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto a four-track situation. The Altamont alignment was thoroughly studied in the EIS documents.
“The Pacheco / Altamont issue is the subject of the lawsuit that Atherton and Menlo Park joined. It may be a good option for Palo Alto to throw its weight behind this, although Palo Alto would no longer have the option of being a stop on the high speed rail line. I suspect that's why your elected officials haven't made a big stink about this issue so far.
“I personally think Altamont is a better idea, but the HSR authority has now chosen Pacheco. That was with plenty of arm twisting from San Jose politicos and construction companies who prefer the more difficult, earth-moving and concrete-pouring intensive option available. (ref: $6.2B and climbing for BART to san jose).”


Like this comment
Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2009 at 12:43 pm

Mark wrote: "In a CalTrain-only scenario, the grade separations can be affected by, as one example, lifting the tracks a few feet and digging under the right-of-way at intersections to accommodate motor vehicle, bicycle, and pedestrian traffic. The latter method is understandably far less expensive, especially when there is also no need to add two tracks, take property along the widened right-of-way, etc."
___________________
In order for adequate clearance for vehicle traffic, lifting the tracks and diggin uner the ROW still needs to obtain about 20 feet of total clearance. With 2 tracks or 4, the cost of construction will be very similar. The Caltrain tracks must support off-peak freight traffic.

One major expense comes from having to relocate every utility in both existing ROW's to cope with the lower roadway. The expense is also great to acquire land all around this new grade-separated intersection to handle all the retaining walls and/or stable slopes.

We NEED these grade separations. This is a win-win. I'm tired of crossing arms and freight train horns at 3am.



Like this comment
Posted by Phyllis
a resident of Addison School
on Apr 1, 2009 at 1:03 pm

In all I have read and heard NO one has spoken to the earthquake hazard potential a high speed train would pose, going on either side of the bay. The tracks will follow the fault line and is a disaster waiting to happen.


Like this comment
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 1:48 pm

@Mark

> Can you point me to HSRA or other documents that propose an at-existing-grade solution for a four-track main line, one that supports HSR, CalTrain, and UP?

The only CHSRA document that anyone has to go by, and which is causing the concern we see in Southgate, is the Bay Area - Central Valley EIR/EIS, Volume 2, Appendix D, page 5. Web Link

I was specifically told by an HNTB engineer at one of the scoping meetings that whatever was in that Appendix will get tossed-- the task of designing vertical and horizontal track alignment options will proceed from a clean sheet.

(One might ask that same question of yours of opponents who depict a 20-foot wall bisecting all of Palo Alto... source?)

You seem to have tacitly agreed with me that grade separations (and attendant vertical alignment of the tracks) will not be significantly different for HSR than they would be for Caltrain alone. Especially if Caltrain ends up carrying thousands of passengers stranded in San Jose, should HSR terminate there.

That's right: terminating HSR in San Jose will massively increase Caltrain traffic levels, which are already expected to rise quickly with electrification (and the attendant improvement in travel times). Palo Alto would end up right back where it started: faced with the need to grade-separate Caltrain, due to the high traffic levels, the first option would be to build a split grade separation at Churchill with the rails 15 feet higher than they currently are and the road six feet lower. Whether two tracks or four tracks, I think Southgate neighbors would still call it a "Berlin Wall".

I think terminating HSR in San Jose is a false solution because it will not remove the problem of high train traffic through Palo Alto.

> Run BART, love it or hate it, under the existing CalTrain right-of-way

BART would be far slower than an electrified Caltrain, largely because without four tracks, BART cannot run express service like the Baby Bullets. With electricity, the Caltrain bullets will only get faster and more frequent, thanks to the excellent opportunity to share tracks with HSR. And again, the notion of a tunnel is nice in principle, but nobody will ever pay for it in practice. (IMHO).

@Wary

> How will this play out when it’s time to take this land?

There's no doubt that boundaries established over a hundred years ago might be recorded a little bit inconsistently in some places. Going in favor of the abutter, where such inconsistencies exist, will be a trivial additional cost. As controversial as it sounds, eminent domain proceedings are really no big deal; VTA has experienced lawyers to execute them quickly and efficiently. If past Bay Area transportation projects are any indication, this will barely register in the list of legal and financial obstacles to HSR on the peninsula.

> please add a comment to the graph

I'm sorry if it wasn't clear. The blog post states the source of the data used in the graph.

> In all I have read and heard NO one has spoken to the earthquake hazard potential a high speed train would pose

@Phyllis, one possible reason that the discussion isn't taking place is because a hazard might not exist. Japan, where heavy high speed train traffic has operated since 1964, is seismically just as active as California.


Like this comment
Posted by Herb Borock
a resident of Professorville
on Apr 1, 2009 at 1:55 pm

Posted by Norman Beamer, a resident of the Crescent Park neighborhood, 2 hours ago

Filing an amicus brief is in no sense "joining" a lawsuit. So the headline is misleading. I can't imagine a more futile gesture on the part of the city. They sat by and let the deadline for actually joining pass. Now they are going to file a "me too" brief that simply agrees with the real plaintiffs' point of view. Hardly the role of a true "friend of the Court."

-------

I agree with Norm Beamer's comment above.

I thought the Council needed to consider that opinion before going into closed session to decide whether to file a brief in the lawsuit.

Here is the text of the e-mail letter I sent the Council before their meeting:

Dear City Council:

The report from the City Attorney says, "Palo Alto's brief would add to any issues already raised by Atherton and Menlo Park."

Prior to going into closed session, please clarify whether Palo Alto can add causes of action to the lawsuit, or whether Palo Alto can only add arguments about the causes of action that are already in the lawsuit.

Also, prior to going into closed session, please clarify whether Palo Alto would be filing a brief in support of the plaintiffs or in support of the defendant.

On October 6, 2008, the Council unanimously approved a resolution in support of State Proposition 1A, the High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act on the November 4, 2008, ballot.

The third whereas clause of the resolution says, "Proposition 1A enables the California High Speed Rail Authority to proceed to construct Phase I of the systems from San Francisco to Anaheim via San Jose ... ".

The lawsuit filed by Atherton and Menlo Park is for the purpose of setting aside the decision of the Rail Authority to construct the system via San Jose, and instead reconsider its decision, after appropriate environmental review, of whether the system should go through San Jose and Palo Alto on the way to San Francisco, or whether the system should bypass San Jose and Palo Alto on the way to San Francisco.

Atherton and Menlo Park are opposed to the train running up the peninsula with a possible station in Palo Alto.

The Palo Alto City Council wants the train to run up the peninsula and wants a station in Palo Alto.

Which side are you on?

Do you want to support the route through San Jose and Palo Alto financed by the bond you unanimously endorsed on October 6, 2008, or do you want to support the lawsuit filed by Atherton and Menlo Park that would nullify the decision of the Rail Authority to select the San Jose route?

You can say anything you want in closed session, but if you file an amicus curiae brief, that brief will immediately become a public record and it will be clear to everyone whether that brief is consistent with, or contradicts, your unanimous decision to support the San Jose route chosen by the Rail Authority.

Any amicus curiae brief on this environmental lawsuit must necessarily involve the participation of the same staff in the Planning Division, City Attorney's Office, and City Manager's Office who were responsible for informing you on a timely basis whether the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) certified as complete by the Rail Authority was in compliance with, or violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Nobody on staff last year informed you that the Rail Authority's decision violated CEQA, but here you are considering whether to assign the same staff the task to prepare a legal document that could say CEQA was violated.

Doesn't that seem strange to you?

If nobody on the Council or staff has read the EIR and made a determination about whether it is complete and accurate, then how can the Council make a decision about whether to participate in a lawsuit about the EIR's adequacy, and how can the Council decide which side of the lawsuit to support?

I believe your objectives can best be met by your actions on agenda item #7, where you have the opportunity to participate in the current environmental review scoping process for the San Jose to San Francisco segment of the project.


Like this comment
Posted by wary traveler
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2009 at 2:19 pm

"I'm sorry if it wasn't clear. The blog post states the source of the data used in the graph."
Sorry if I wasn't clear. What I'm asking is if you'd consider adding the bit about how ROW measurements from your source (Caltrain) do not agree with city and county records. Is that fair?


Like this comment
Posted by An Observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 1, 2009 at 2:38 pm

To Mark and Clem,
I agree completely with Mark about Clem's blog post about "why they chose the Caltrain corridor" as being an overly simplistic view of the situation. here is the link
Web Link

First of all, literally every ROW width under 75' are the most desirable properties: San Bruno, San Mateo, Hillsdale, Redwood City, Menlo Park, Palo Alto and Willow Glen. What is this chart supposed to be saying? That everyplace WITHIN the borders of every town is a problem but the stretches in between Hillsdale and San Mateo are ok? Thats hardly an endorsement. All that chart says to me is that every town along the Caltrain ROW is going to be in contention except Sunnyvale. And some of the data just plain doesn't pass the smell test such as Burlingame. The Burlingame ROW is one of the most troublesome locations for a train, butting up against the high school, bifurcating the town and a historic train station to boot and yet the chart says there is "plenty of room there"- well I guess that depends on your point of view. This is more than being about specific ROWs anyway. The ROW beside Paly might be technically feasible but it is not SOCIALLY feasible. So please Clem, do yourself a favor and stop posting to that chart.


Like this comment
Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 4:23 pm

> What is this chart supposed to be saying?

Please don't read any more into it than you should. The chart simply says that (a) room for four tracks exists nearly everywhere along the peninsula, (b) rumors of vast swaths of neighborhoods being bulldozed to build HSR are probably exaggerated, and (c) approximately 4 acres (not including construction easements) will be required to build HSR, in addition to the 700 acres already available.

None of these facts had been addressed quite so succinctly, which is why I created the chart. That being said, I agree with you that community impacts go far beyond a simple matter of land. Burlingame in particular could rightly be worried about their eucalyptus groves.


Like this comment
Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 1, 2009 at 4:31 pm

The recommended buffer for HSR in Germany (and I believe China) between trains and residences is about 1000 feet. In almost NONE of the Caltrain ROW does the buffer approach anything like that.

Can some of the HSR supporters tell us where (if at all) the HSR planners have addressed this issue? Even if they run trains somewhat slower on the peninsula, it doesn't seem reasonable that trains passing within a few yards of occupied residences meets any standard definition of safety (not to mention quiet enjoyment of one's house).

Calculating the required ROW width only on the physical requirements of the trains and tracks doesn't seem to address the true extent of the required real estate if a significant buffer will be required between the trains and adjacent residences.


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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 4:59 pm

> The recommended buffer for HSR in Germany (and I believe China) between trains and residences is about 1000 feet.

For operation at 220 mph, maybe, and then only because of noise.

How much buffer is there on the Northeast Corridor in New Jersey, where trains operate at 125 mph on a four-track grade-separated right of way? Anybody from Menlo Park, NJ ?


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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2009 at 5:02 pm

Anna,

HSR through the Peninsula will not travel at the highest speeds like it will through the Central Valley. Your concern for 1000 feet of buffer is not valid in this case.



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Posted by Clem
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 7:06 pm

> What I'm asking is if you'd consider adding the bit about how ROW measurements from your source (Caltrain) do not agree with city and county records. Is that fair?

I understand now. That's quite reasonable; consider it done.


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Posted by bikes2work
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Apr 1, 2009 at 7:45 pm

Thinking about Anna's comment made me think about the feasibility of a tunnel. I don't believe a tunnel will be very feasible due to the cost and local geology. However, what about an "above-ground" tunnel? Why can't the train corridor be encased in a tube above ground? That would significantly reduce the noise and eliminate the dust and wind caused by a high speed vehicle moving past it. It would be expensive, but not nearly as much as a real tunnel. It could also make a great architectural pallet. It could be a little different in each Peninsula city that it travels through.

I will include this idea in my comments to HSRA for their EIR scoping effort. I think comments are due by 4/6. Please feel free to include this idea in your comments to the HSRA.


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Posted by TB
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 1, 2009 at 7:52 pm

Keep the HSR at surface level and tunnel the roads under it.

I want HSR, but I would not want to see a Great Wall. Undergrounding the HSR would surely not be approved due to the imense cost. Tunneling the roads would be substantially cheaper.


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Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 9:00 pm

"it doesn't seem reasonable that trains passing within a few yards of occupied residences meets any standard definition of safety (not to mention quiet enjoyment of one's house)."

If Caltrain's diesel locomotives afford one a quiet enjoyment of their house, so will relatively lightweight electric trains traveling at 125 MPH.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 9:21 pm

Wow, I didn't realize that people from Palo Alto never drive on freeways. If they are putting up this much of a stick over an expansion of an existing right of way, they must have be furious about entire neighborhoods being completely demolished to put in any of the bay area freeways.


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Posted by Jim H.
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Anna's comment is entirely valid in this case! How can you say it's not?

So, at 220 mph, 1000 ft clearance is considered adequate due to noise. And at 125, or even 80, an adequate clearance is what, 5 ft? Must get REALLY quiet around 100 mph.

What's the recommended clearance for Acela?


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Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Some Acela examples.

While this photo Web Link was taken in 1978, Acela Express trains travel over this viaduct today at speeds over 100 MPH, towering over the residences below. Here's a more recent photo of the structure at another angle: Web Link

Look through the trees in this video: Web Link You'll find what look like apartments very close to the tracks that trains operating in excess of 100 MPH use.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 2, 2009 at 4:51 am

Thank you for the posts. Most of this is speculation about buffers based on inferences from Acela. This is interesting and somewhat helpful. However my question was whether if anyone knew about any considerations that the CHSRA people have given to residential/train buffers.

It's one thing to assume that the design people have done the requisite science and engineering on this issue, but I'd feel a lot more calm about this if there was actual evidence that they have actually thought about it.

As an aside, those Acela pictures are kind of scary. I'd sure not want one of those structures in my backyard - or even neighborhood. I note that one is titled "Great Wall" of Canton. Seems like an apt description.


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Posted by An Observer
a resident of Barron Park
on Apr 2, 2009 at 1:59 pm

Oh please, Robert. As I said in an earlier post, this recent love fest the HSR supporters have for things like emmenent domain and the freeway encroachment on working class neighborhoods in cities of the 50s which left us beauties such as the SF Central freeway and the Embarcadero makes me want to vomit! Are you seriously suggesting there would be NO objection to inserting a freeway into the middle of any peninsula town right now? What you are witnessing with HSR is a realization that this is much more like a FREEWAY, than the non invasive Caltrain, on the Caltrain tracks.


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Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Apr 2, 2009 at 8:30 pm

Observer, do you have any clue what you're talking about? When were the 87 and the 85 built, and what was there before they were built?


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Posted by Mark
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 2, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Robert wrote: "Wow, I didn't realize that people from Palo Alto never drive on freeways. If they are putting up this much of a stick over an expansion of an existing right of way, they must have be furious about entire neighborhoods being completely demolished to put in any of the bay area freeways."

The post above is another good example of why the Weekly should consider threaded forums. Lacking immediate context, Robert, what is your point?

Mark


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Posted by Mediator
a resident of another community
on May 8, 2009 at 12:36 pm

There are a few misunderstandings I'd like to clear up. These quotes are from various articles in the past few days...

1. "And unless these trains are tunneled, which would help , the trains will run on 15-foot-tall tracks that will divide our cities in more ways than one."

First, these are not the only alternatives. The 15 foot wall was just one conceptual example illustrated in the EIR. There are many more ways in which the HSR/Caltrain could come up the peninsula - and all of them must and WILL be evaluated by the CAHSRA. Believe me, it has been the CAHSRA's intention to include community input in the planning process. They want to design the system so that it benefits, not detracts from the communities it goes through. They are very appreciative of the public input - it better informs them of potential conflicts which they may not have thought of.

2. "It started when High Speed Rail Authority member Rod Diridon spoke before local councils a month or two ago. In Palo Alto he bluntly said the decisions on the high-speed rail system have been made, period, and the council has no say in any aspect of it now."

This is an unfortunate misunderstanding. What Diridon meant (he should have clarified, and the councils should not have made such assumptions) is that merely the route choice had been chosen-- not how the train would come through.

Based on some articles I've read on this conflict this is my point of view:
For some reason, the cities do not feel like the authority is taking their concerns seriously, when in fact the CHSRA plans to address each and every one of their comment in the EIR and engineering studies. CHSRA has been very understanding and very patient (maybe not Diridon). From the very beginning they've wanted to involve the communities in the planning process and have been holding countless public meetings for public input. The communities are frustrated because they are not getting answers, but the trouble is the alternatives have not yet been studied yet and no decisions have been made regarding the manner in which the trains come through. The SJC-SF EIR has not yet been completed and all the alternatives must and will be evaluated in engineering studies. Some NIMBYs have changed their stance to YUMBY (Yes UNDER my backyard). This spiral of conflict has escalated to the point of these cities filing a lawsuit. They are no longer trying to work with the CHSRA to come to a viable solution, they are not opponents who are trying to win no matter what the cost. They are now so grounded and hardened in their positions that they are not willing to negotiate- It's their way, or the highway. Trust and respect has been replaced with paranoia. City officials want HSR to go silently underground through their cities or to not go through at all. They have resorted to finding any reason to verbally attack the CHSRA. They claim that the Central Valley - Bay Area EIR did not adequately examine all the impacts of the Pacheco Pass alignment compared to the Altamont Pass alignment. The EIR had an extensive comment period in which hundreds of concerns were addressed. Keep in mind that there would be a whole lot more than 5 cities opposing HSR if it went over the Altamont. Instead of working with the authority to find common ground and clear up misunderstandings, the cities are working against the authority. A lawsuit will only waste precious time and an enormous amount of money for both sides.

-I'm sorry for taking up your time by ranting. Hopefully the cities and the CAHSRA can work out a good solution together without the need for legal action. What about the benefits of HSR, like reduced noise, safety (no grade crossings), no more diesel fumes or rumbling locomotives, reduced automobile and air traffic congestion, economic growth and development (TODs, more livable, walkable communities that reduce automobile dependency). A dozen relocated homes would be a small sacrifice to pay for the benefits that HSR would provide for the state of California. Let's work together and make sure that HSR compliments our communities, not divide them.

Thanks for reading another perspective.


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Posted by Anna
a resident of Downtown North
on May 8, 2009 at 12:44 pm

"A dozen relocated homes would be a small sacrifice to pay for the benefits that HSR would provide for the state of California."

One can assume that the poster does not live in one of these houses or indeed in any of the cities that will be violently split in two by a noisy intrusive HSR system.

It's very easy to talk about "small sacrifice" when somebody else, and not you, is doing all the sacrificing.


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Posted by Mediator
a resident of another community
on May 10, 2009 at 12:47 pm

That's very true, however HSR (even if it's above ground or in a trench)would be far less noisy than what you have right now. Remember, it has not been decided whether the tracks will be elevated by beams, a wall, underground, in a trench, or a combination. So the assumption that HSR would violently split through the cities does not hold any truth. Let's concentrate on how HSR can be a visual and economic benefit to the cities. How can you work the train line into the landscape or architectural stylings of your downtowns or communities. For instance, if the track is elevated like BART on the East Bay, you could have parks and bike paths underneath like what the Urban Ecology (a non-profit group focused on making communities more sustainable) is working on. It's called the Eastbay Greenway. Web Link

The HSR EIR document (available on their website) has a rendering of how HSR could fit into a more livable, walkable, Redwood City. This same graphic is on Redwood City's general plan.

When I traveled overseas, I stayed in a hotel that was right up against the bullet train line. My window looked down onto the 4 track line. Unless I looked out my window, I would never know if a train was passing by. Remember there will be no horns, bells, or crossings of any kind.


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Cherries and Berries
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