News

Morton: Should rail authority be dissolved?

Palo Alto vice mayor questions qualifications of authority staff in handling large-scale planning and construction project

Vice Mayor Jack Morton of Palo Alto caught City Council colleagues by surprise with a suggestion Monday night that perhaps California's High Speed Rail Authority ought to be dissolved.

He said the $40 billion rail project could be turned over to some other entity with staff that has experience handling large planning/construction projects -- possibly including even Caltrain.

Morton made the suggestion Monday night when he was reporting to the council and public on a trip he, Councilman Pat Burt, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie and citizens and officials from other Peninsula communities made to Sacramento last Thursday to convey a key message: Don't allow the rail authority to override local concerns.

Morton said authority staff members at the subcommittee hearing revealed a general lack of experience in putting together a large-scale project, and there was a feeling that the planned $40 billion rail project needs a staff highly experienced with large-scale projects.

He said about 50 persons, representing communities from San Jose to Belmont, attended a hearing of a state Senate subcommittee -- the "Budget and Fiscal Review Committee No. 2 on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation" -- chaired by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). The two other members are John J. Benoit (R-Bermuda Dunes) and Alan S. Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

What's local journalism worth to you?

Support Palo Alto Online for as little as $5/month.

Learn more

They joined with Simitian to defer a request from the rail agency for about $130 million in bond funding and instead indicated they wanted to see more "transparency" in the authority.

Lowenthal also chairs the Senate Housing & Transportation Committee, of which Simitian is a member.

Morton told the council Monday night that the delegation from the south Peninsula seemed to impress the senators, one of whom commented that he couldn't believe "how well-spoken" the contingent was, despite some disparate views.

The delegation represented views that ranged from pushing for a relocation of the Bay Area route from Pacheco Pass to Altamont Pass to skip the Peninsula; trying to kill the rail project altogether; challenging the environmental impact studies done so far; and favoring tunneling the Peninsula segment between Sunnyvale and Belmont, at least.

Morton praised Emslie for two hours of careful briefing on the issues Emslie provided him on the ride to Sacramento, and called on Emslie to make some comments.

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Sign up

But Mayor Peter Drekmeier said high-speed rail will be a regular agenda item next Monday night, and Emslie could speak at that time.

Burt added that because of a "flurry of bills" relating in some way to the rail project that the council may want to delegate the responsibility to testify on the bills to a council subcommittee, based on a "set of principles" adopted by the full council.

He suggested that also be a topic for next Monday's meeting.

He said there are "20 or so pieces of legislation racing through Legislature right now" that will have widely varying impacts relating to the project, relating to the $9.9 billion authorized by the passage of Proposition 1A in last November's election.

Burt said numerous bills are predictable when there is $9.9 billion on the table, but Peninsula cities "will have a flurry of need to comment on these proposals" in a short timeframe -- urging delegation to a subcommittee and city staff.

Simitian, who earlier told the Weekly the senators heard the message "loud and clear," said Monday he heard from speakers that two separate issues need close attention: oversight of the rail authority and project and a broad "outreach" effort that includes intent listening as well as disseminating information.

He repeated an earlier statement that the authority has a basic structural problem: It started out as a "small study organization" promoting high-speed rail and evolved into an agency with funding and broad powers to design and implement a huge construction project leading to a major railroad operation.

Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto also has put together a group representing several cities along the south Peninsula route of the high-speed rail system. The group has proposed holding a "design charette" -- or theoretical planning and design exercise -- on the proposed rail system.

Under the initial concept, two additional sets of tracks would need to be built within the existing Caltrain right of way to leave the existing tracks for the regular Caltrain commute service and freight services operated by Union Pacific railroad.

The high-speed trains would travel about 125 miles per hour through the Peninsula communities, increasing to about 220 miles per hour through open stretches of the San Joaquin Valley.

Travel time between San Francisco or Sacramento -- on separate branches of the system -- to Los Angeles is estimated at about 2 hours 40 minutes or less, according to supporters of the high-speed rail system.

Rod Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor and a member of the rail authority board, has said other high-speed-rail systems in various parts of the world make money, while acknowledging major challenges of building such a system.

He said no design decisions have been made, but when questioned raised concerns about the costs of deep tunneling and possible impacts on disrupting the underground aquifer underlying some affected cities.

Here are links to four bills currently before the Legislature:

SB 409 -- Creates a Department of Railroads (DOR) in the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and requires an undersecretary of the agency to be assigned to give attention to rail matters.

SB 451 (also listed as SB 455) -- Provides the High-Speed Rail Authority with certain eminent domain powers, establishes a policy for prioritizing investments, and provides a process for reporting on the progress of the high-speed rail project.

SB 783 -- Requires the High Speed Rail Authority, prior to seeking an allocation of bond funding for the 2009-10 fiscal year, to prepare an expanded business plan, with a draft submitted to the Legislature by Sept. 1, 2009, and the final plan being adopted by the HSRA's governing board by January 2010. The draft plan must be circulated for public comment, and include high, medium and low ridership projections.

AB 289 -- Specifies that the current California Environmental Quality Act exemption for reconstructing an existing railroad grade separation project or eliminating existing at-grade crossings extend to similar projects that are part of the California high-speed rail system.

Craving a new voice in Peninsula dining?

Sign up for the Peninsula Foodist newsletter.

Sign up now

Follow Palo Alto Online and the Palo Alto Weekly on Twitter @paloaltoweekly, Facebook and on Instagram @paloaltoonline for breaking news, local events, photos, videos and more.

Morton: Should rail authority be dissolved?

Palo Alto vice mayor questions qualifications of authority staff in handling large-scale planning and construction project

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Tue, May 5, 2009, 1:38 am
Updated: Tue, May 5, 2009, 2:25 am

Vice Mayor Jack Morton of Palo Alto caught City Council colleagues by surprise with a suggestion Monday night that perhaps California's High Speed Rail Authority ought to be dissolved.

He said the $40 billion rail project could be turned over to some other entity with staff that has experience handling large planning/construction projects -- possibly including even Caltrain.

Morton made the suggestion Monday night when he was reporting to the council and public on a trip he, Councilman Pat Burt, Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie and citizens and officials from other Peninsula communities made to Sacramento last Thursday to convey a key message: Don't allow the rail authority to override local concerns.

Morton said authority staff members at the subcommittee hearing revealed a general lack of experience in putting together a large-scale project, and there was a feeling that the planned $40 billion rail project needs a staff highly experienced with large-scale projects.

He said about 50 persons, representing communities from San Jose to Belmont, attended a hearing of a state Senate subcommittee -- the "Budget and Fiscal Review Committee No. 2 on Resources, Environmental Protection, Energy and Transportation" -- chaired by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto). The two other members are John J. Benoit (R-Bermuda Dunes) and Alan S. Lowenthal (D-Long Beach).

They joined with Simitian to defer a request from the rail agency for about $130 million in bond funding and instead indicated they wanted to see more "transparency" in the authority.

Lowenthal also chairs the Senate Housing & Transportation Committee, of which Simitian is a member.

Morton told the council Monday night that the delegation from the south Peninsula seemed to impress the senators, one of whom commented that he couldn't believe "how well-spoken" the contingent was, despite some disparate views.

The delegation represented views that ranged from pushing for a relocation of the Bay Area route from Pacheco Pass to Altamont Pass to skip the Peninsula; trying to kill the rail project altogether; challenging the environmental impact studies done so far; and favoring tunneling the Peninsula segment between Sunnyvale and Belmont, at least.

Morton praised Emslie for two hours of careful briefing on the issues Emslie provided him on the ride to Sacramento, and called on Emslie to make some comments.

But Mayor Peter Drekmeier said high-speed rail will be a regular agenda item next Monday night, and Emslie could speak at that time.

Burt added that because of a "flurry of bills" relating in some way to the rail project that the council may want to delegate the responsibility to testify on the bills to a council subcommittee, based on a "set of principles" adopted by the full council.

He suggested that also be a topic for next Monday's meeting.

He said there are "20 or so pieces of legislation racing through Legislature right now" that will have widely varying impacts relating to the project, relating to the $9.9 billion authorized by the passage of Proposition 1A in last November's election.

Burt said numerous bills are predictable when there is $9.9 billion on the table, but Peninsula cities "will have a flurry of need to comment on these proposals" in a short timeframe -- urging delegation to a subcommittee and city staff.

Simitian, who earlier told the Weekly the senators heard the message "loud and clear," said Monday he heard from speakers that two separate issues need close attention: oversight of the rail authority and project and a broad "outreach" effort that includes intent listening as well as disseminating information.

He repeated an earlier statement that the authority has a basic structural problem: It started out as a "small study organization" promoting high-speed rail and evolved into an agency with funding and broad powers to design and implement a huge construction project leading to a major railroad operation.

Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto also has put together a group representing several cities along the south Peninsula route of the high-speed rail system. The group has proposed holding a "design charette" -- or theoretical planning and design exercise -- on the proposed rail system.

Under the initial concept, two additional sets of tracks would need to be built within the existing Caltrain right of way to leave the existing tracks for the regular Caltrain commute service and freight services operated by Union Pacific railroad.

The high-speed trains would travel about 125 miles per hour through the Peninsula communities, increasing to about 220 miles per hour through open stretches of the San Joaquin Valley.

Travel time between San Francisco or Sacramento -- on separate branches of the system -- to Los Angeles is estimated at about 2 hours 40 minutes or less, according to supporters of the high-speed rail system.

Rod Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor and a member of the rail authority board, has said other high-speed-rail systems in various parts of the world make money, while acknowledging major challenges of building such a system.

He said no design decisions have been made, but when questioned raised concerns about the costs of deep tunneling and possible impacts on disrupting the underground aquifer underlying some affected cities.

Here are links to four bills currently before the Legislature:

SB 409 -- Creates a Department of Railroads (DOR) in the Business, Transportation and Housing Agency and requires an undersecretary of the agency to be assigned to give attention to rail matters.

SB 451 (also listed as SB 455) -- Provides the High-Speed Rail Authority with certain eminent domain powers, establishes a policy for prioritizing investments, and provides a process for reporting on the progress of the high-speed rail project.

SB 783 -- Requires the High Speed Rail Authority, prior to seeking an allocation of bond funding for the 2009-10 fiscal year, to prepare an expanded business plan, with a draft submitted to the Legislature by Sept. 1, 2009, and the final plan being adopted by the HSRA's governing board by January 2010. The draft plan must be circulated for public comment, and include high, medium and low ridership projections.

AB 289 -- Specifies that the current California Environmental Quality Act exemption for reconstructing an existing railroad grade separation project or eliminating existing at-grade crossings extend to similar projects that are part of the California high-speed rail system.

Comments

Jay Tulock
another community
on May 5, 2009 at 2:47 am
Jay Tulock, another community
on May 5, 2009 at 2:47 am
Like this comment

Thank you, Mr. Morton, for helping spread the word that the professional integrity of the High Speed Rail Authority must be examined, questioned, scrutinized and called into doubt. The deeper you dig the more you will find. The "Honorable" Judge Kopp not so honorable. The "Chair Emeritus" of the Authority, acutally the ousted former chair, the "Questionable" Rod Diridon. Have an objective re-evalution of the routing choices from San Diego to Sacramento to San Francisco, have a world class foreign consorteum of builders of high speed systems plan the system and have a financial stake in the outcome. Then, maybe, the high speed rail system may have a chance of not being a statewide version of the BART (not quite just yet) to San Jose apocalypse, which, at the rate in years per mile that taxpayer sinkhole has been built, would complete the high speed rail system in the year 3219 and at a cost per mile at $400 billion!

Jay Tulock, Vacaville


Julian
Palo Verde
on May 5, 2009 at 10:17 am
Julian, Palo Verde
on May 5, 2009 at 10:17 am
Like this comment

Don't forget that when BART was set up in the '60's that Santa Clara and San Mateo counties opted out. Decades later they opted in, but by then everything was more expensive. It would have been cheaper and provided much more service if they had seen the light 40 years ago, but you know what is said about that...

What concerns me is the lack of exposure about The Wall that the authority is planning on. This will truly divide all of the affected cities into halves, and the subject is frequently omitted from news coverage.


HSR fan
Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 10:47 am
HSR fan, Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 10:47 am
Like this comment

Don't like the concept of a "wall" that divides Palo Alto, but how about elevated tracks with a underpath underneath. I'm thinking about the intersection of Alma and Oregon Expressway, or many of the Caltrain intersections in San Carlos or Belmont. The road is "depressed" by a bit, and the tracks go overhead.


Mike Cobb, former Mayor
Greenmeadow
on May 5, 2009 at 10:55 am
Mike Cobb, former Mayor, Greenmeadow
on May 5, 2009 at 10:55 am
Like this comment

Kudos to Vice Morton for again being the voice ... sometimes alone ... that needs to be heard to protect the quality of life in Palo Alto.

And make no mistake, the very character of this community is very seriously threatened by the HSR project. Some people will lose their homes ... facilities like Palo Alto High School and PAMF will be impacted ... and much, much more. Some have already suffered a serious loss in property values because of the threat to their homes. And, I have have said and written in public; 'who speaks for us?' Yes, Jack does. But we need more, beginning with other Councilmembers and going on to Senator Simitian and Supervisor Kniss. Residents need to contact all of them, and forcibly express your concerns. The future of your community literally hangs in the balance.

If you need some motivation, read the lead article in today's Post. It makes very clear the fact that Rod Diridon and Quentin Kopp are driving the HSR train ... and they really don't care about the impact on our community. They will go the motions of listening to public input, and then do what they want, which is a surface system which will fracture our community in so many ways.

The hour is very late. The system as currently conceived is deeply flawed. Make your voice heard.


For HSR
Fairmeadow
on May 5, 2009 at 10:57 am
For HSR, Fairmeadow
on May 5, 2009 at 10:57 am
Like this comment

Another Jack Morton sniping potshot. Worthless.
And he's asking for other public officials to resign?
I'll be glad to buy him a mirror.


Parent
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 11:12 am
Parent, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 11:12 am
Like this comment

SB451/SB455 and AB289 are very dangerous - they give MORE power and authority to the California high speed rail authority to run amok through these communities. If anything should be happening - THIS authority should be stripped of its power, not handed more!

Eminent Domain authority should be immediately stripped from teh CHSRA, and only administrated through the State once the CHSRA has property plans, environemntal clearances, and proof that they are operating soundly.

There should be absolutely NO waiver of environemntal reviews for HSR projects - these are 150 year old railroads, built well before our current understandings of earthquake, water, environemtnal issues were. And current railroads are NOTHING like what the electrified 4 wide HSR will bring in. Its like saying we have environmental clearance for 150 year old brick buildings, so remodels on those should be waived for clearances. Stupid. This is CHSRA tryin to grab powers to ignore the constituents of the towns and neighborhoods they hope to demolish!

This absolutely can not be allowed. Letter writing to lawmakers must start immediately? Who do we write to besides Simitian and Lowenthal?


Big Al
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 11:32 am
Big Al, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 11:32 am
Like this comment

Way to go Jack-
Stop Diridon in his tracks!
Keep up the good work!


energyman
Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 11:51 am
energyman, Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 11:51 am
Like this comment

Fixed rail is always going to be limited in speed, expensive, vulnerable to earthquakes, noisy, and separate parts of communities. Remember the phrase "the other side of the tracks" ? We must abandon any further development of fixed rail in favor of Personal Rapid Transit. Its a system of lightweight gondolas carrying 2-4 passengers or freight. They are available at stops. When activated, they join a main line which runs at constant speed unlike fixed rail which has a much lower average speed between stops. At a destination, the gondola is shunted to a station and the main line of gondolas continues at constant speed. Among the choices for movement is magnetic levitation, a demonstrated pricipal. The cost per mile is a fraction of fixed rail, whether its of the Caltrain type or, ga$p, the BART type. There are good discussions online on the subject of Personal Rapid Transit. For example: Web Link
Its time to reinvent the wheel.


Big Al
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm
Big Al, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm
Like this comment

Thanks energyman for the update-
the future is now!
do you know if this system is being used elsewhere?


Grade Crossings
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 12:51 pm
Grade Crossings, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 12:51 pm
Like this comment

My heart goes out to the families of those who died on the Caltrain corridor the last few days.

Is it time to think about eliminating the at-grade crossings for Caltrain and building grade separations? If we want to avoid the ones like in Redwood City and Belmont, we need to underground Caltrain. The ONLY way to pay for that undergrounding is funding from High Speed Rail along the Caltrain corridor (Federal stimulus money and State bond money) combined with money from development on top of the train tracks, mostly north of Oregon Expressway.

If the lawsuit against HSR succeeds, we will not see Caltrain undergrounded for many years, if ever.


Etaoin Shrdlu
another community
on May 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm
Etaoin Shrdlu, another community
on May 5, 2009 at 2:42 pm
Like this comment

What a great idea! Spread the Palo Alto Process statewide, so that high speed rail can be delayed, postponed, and re-designed by amateurs...or expensive consultants. Alas, the Palo Alto City Government was asleep at the barn doors when the horses escaped. Cut-and-cover undergrounding like Park Avenue in New York, probably makes too much sense for the local solons.


Walter_E_Wallis
Registered user
Midtown
on May 5, 2009 at 2:43 pm
Walter_E_Wallis, Midtown
Registered user
on May 5, 2009 at 2:43 pm
Like this comment

Energyman, the same level of service can be provided on surface streets with current levels of automation and energy storage, but any system that does not handle freight is doomed to be a subsidy sucker.
Fixed rail and trucks and barges carry the bulk of commodities, and the concurrent passenger availability is just the cherry on top. The tracks predate the city and will not go away. There is no law requiring you to live near the tracks. If the mountain won't go away from Mohamed, then Mohamed should - students?


eric
Mountain View
on May 5, 2009 at 3:34 pm
eric, Mountain View
on May 5, 2009 at 3:34 pm
Like this comment

I'm glad to see so much opposistion here to the HSR boondoggle. My fine city is sadly in the tank for this project-- largely, I suspect, because the exising Caltrain line bisects, for the most part, lower income neighborhoods. Guess those voices dont matter to the MV city council.


THETRUTH
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm
THETRUTH, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 5, 2009 at 5:36 pm
Like this comment

Glad to see so much opposistion!!! HA A small group of people are going to decide what 60 percent of the voters in PA said yes on? Maby on this little on line paper ..ie home of the naysayers yes...try reading say SFGate and the large amount of postive posts and the booing of Nimbys and PA..The Vice Mayor better watch out for what he is doing to PAs reputation because you people are being branded as self-centered Rich crybabies around the rest of the BayArea..


Ruth
another community
on May 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm
Ruth, another community
on May 5, 2009 at 9:22 pm
Like this comment

The opposition to high speed rail is not only the so called "rich crybabies." The Gardner district in San Jose is against it, too. In the past this area South of Diridon station has suffered through 2 freeways and rail expansions. They said their area will be devistated by this high speed rail project. Rail authorities aren't listening to them either.

I live in an area not impacted by high speed rail. I feel that Teachers not trains should be California's priority.


Spokker
another community
on May 5, 2009 at 11:54 pm
Spokker, another community
on May 5, 2009 at 11:54 pm
Like this comment

"I feel that Teachers not trains should be California's priority."

Throwing more money at teachers and schools isn't going to solve educational problems in this state. The whole system must be reworked.

It's amazing to me that a guy like Jaime Escalante was essentially run out of a California public school after he accomplished so much. I do not want the system that ran him out to get more money.

I don't usually agree with the Reason Foundation, but I do love this article: Web Link


PA Idiots
College Terrace
on May 6, 2009 at 5:22 am
PA Idiots, College Terrace
on May 6, 2009 at 5:22 am
Like this comment

[Post removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]


eric
Mountain View
on May 7, 2009 at 12:28 am
eric, Mountain View
on May 7, 2009 at 12:28 am
Like this comment

Walter-

Show me one place where rail freight service is growing locally. Old spurs are getting paved over at a record rate. Its not viable around here.

"There is no law requiring you to live near the tracks. If the mountain won't go away from Mohamed, then Mohamed should - students?"-- great. So, if a massive government-funded project puts an expressway in front of your house, you'll be cool with that, right? There is no law requiring you to live near asphalt.

(in case thats too subtle, commuter rail service is to elevated HSR as a neighborhood culdesac is to Central Expressway in Sunnyvale)



Spokker
another community
on May 7, 2009 at 4:45 pm
Spokker, another community
on May 7, 2009 at 4:45 pm
Like this comment

"(in case thats too subtle, commuter rail service is to elevated HSR as a neighborhood culdesac is to Central Expressway in Sunnyvale)"

No, your whole analogy is retarded. High speed rail has much lower impacts than a freeway.


Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.

Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.