High-speed trains could glide through Palo Alto within a decade or so, but they probably won't be stopping at University Avenue as they whisk passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has identified Palo Alto as one of three cities, along with Mountain View and Redwood City, that could host a Midpeninsula station for the voter-approved rail line. To qualify for a station, a city would have to encourage dense, mixed-use development around the station, modify its zoning ordinances to incorporate high-speed rail and provide about 3,000 parking spaces for rail riders.
Several members of the Palo Alto City Council indicated Tuesday morning they are unlikely to support hosting a local high-speed rail station, despite the rail authority's characterization of stations as opportunities to boost local economies and improve transportation.
In their first consideration of a station, members of the council's High-Speed Rail Committee expressed opinions that ranged from skepticism to flat-out opposition.
Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the committee, said the city should clearly indicate it has no desire to accommodate a high-speed-rail station. He focused on the rail authority's parking requirement, which would entail construction of about six 50-foot parking structures. City staff estimated the cost of these structures to be about $150 million, which would be paid for by the city.
Building large parking structures around downtown would be a "misuse of land," Klein said, particularly because these types of garages would only encourage more traffic.
"This isn't my vision of Palo Alto, and it's not what our Comprehensive Plan says," Klein said.
"We should just state very clearly that we don't want to participate in the process," he added. "I don't see how it would ever benefit our community."
Klein also called the process used by the California High-Speed Rail Authority for planning a Midpeninsula station a "charade" and argued that the city should not waste any resources on studying the issue further.
The rail authority requested the city provide feedback on the station guidelines by Friday. The committee agreed that the time constraints make it impossible for the city to submit a thoughtful response.
The other three members of the committee -- Mayor Pat Burt and council members Nancy Shepherd and Gail Price -- agreed the city should host community meetings and discuss the issue in much greater detail before reaching a final decision.
While cities along the rail line have little say on what the rail system will look like along the Peninsula, they have considerably more power when it comes to the stations. The authority plans to build the actual stations, but it will be up to local governments and their private partners to provide parking and promote surrounding development.
"The responsibility and powers needed to focus growth and station-area development guidelines in the areas around high-speed stations are likely to reside primarily with local government," the rail authority's guidelines state.
Redwood City and Mountain View have both scheduled meetings in September to discuss high-speed-rail stations. Palo Alto's city staff is in the process of creating an outreach plan for discussing the topic.
If any of the three cities opts to pursue a high-speed rail station, it will be expected to undertake a host of improvements around this station, including pedestrian-friendly features, bike paths and mixed-use developments. In his letter to stakeholders, rail-authority Chief Executive Officer Roelof van Ark wrote that the authority's goal is "to have local communities plan for a greater vision around their stations, as local needs and special requests should be incorporated into this planning."
Van Ark also wrote that the authority aims to provide resources, "both financial and otherwise, to support and encourage the local authorities to optimize these developments."
Shepherd and Price said it's too early for the city to take a stance on the issue of stations. Both said the city needs to get more information and to do more outreach.
"It seems that for us, at this stage, to be making comments about a lack of interest or lack of suitability is going in a direction without information," Price said. "I do not feel we have enough information to be thoughtful."
Burt agreed the issue deserves council discussion and community outreach but indicated that, even with additional information, it's improbable the council would rally behind a local high-speed-rail station.
"I think it's unlikely that we'll draw a conclusion that it would be favorable to us or the subregion to have a station," Burt said.
Current rail plans call for a station in Millbrae in addition to ones in San Francisco and San Jose.