Palo Alto gives emphatic "NO!" to rail station

Council unanimously opposes a high-speed rail station in the city

California's high-speed rail system should not stop in Palo Alto as it speeds between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the City Council agreed Monday night.

Citing a wide range of reasons -- including increased traffic, a stringent parking requirement, questionable ridership projections and flaws in the proposed station design -- the council voted unanimously Monday to take a position against a local rail station.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority had chosen Palo Alto as one of three possible cities in the Midpeninsula that could host a station for the voter-approved rail line. Redwood City and Mountain View are the other two cities.

But the council agreed Monday that the city shouldn't have anything to do a rail station. Council members compared bringing a high-speed rail station to Palo Alto to building a regional airport in the middle of the city. The council took its vote days after its High-Speed Rail Committee unanimously rejected the station idea.

The rail authority indicated that the community with a rail station would need to build 3,000 parking spots for train riders without three miles of the station, including 1,000 spots next to the station. Staff estimated it would cost about $150 million to meet this requirement.

The authority is considering building a rail stop at the historic University Avenue Caltrain station, though officials indicated that they would consider the California Avenue station if the city expressed an interest.

The council agreed Monday that neither city site could accommodate the massive project. Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa said Monday that a rail station "just doesn't make sense for the city."

"We just don't have the streets or the capacity to consider doing this either at California Avenue or University Avenue," Espinosa said.

Other council members had different concerns. Yiaway Yeh said he was worried that a local rail station would bring high-speed rail into competition with Caltrain. Gail Price cited the ongoing controversy over the rail authority's ridership numbers and underscored the council's lack of confidence in the authority. Mayor Pat Burt noted that even the supposedly "at grade" design for the tracks at the station calls for the tracks to be raised by nine to 10 feet.

"It's a new definition of 'at grade,'" Burt quipped. "Berm is the new at grade."

Councilman Greg Scharff said a rail station would also be environmentally detrimental because it would bring thousands of additional cars to the city every day. This is ironic, he noted, given that a major reason for high-speed rail is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help the environment.

"Frankly having a Midpeninsula station does none of those things," Scharff said. "Having a Midpeninsula station is an environmentally bad decision."

Related stories:

Reports: High-speed rail to start in Central Valley

Rail authority lags in response to auditor's report

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


Like this comment
Posted by Jim
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2010 at 8:30 am

It SHOULD stop in Palo Alto. A city with a major university...yes it should! Can't wait.

Like this comment
Posted by Darryl
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2010 at 8:34 am

HSR - the devil is in the details.

As details are pried from the High-Speed Rail Authority, the once rosy picture has morphed into an ugly sketch of an ill-conceived project.

The fix is in at every level of government, except city and county. You must let your state and federal legislators know HSR is a bad idea which must be stopped now, before HSR burns through more millions.

Like this comment
Posted by PandP
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Oct 26, 2010 at 8:52 am

What a ridiculous vote! Here we are trying to deal with the effects of global warming and what does Palo Alto do? Vote against public transportation.

Like this comment
Posted by PatrickD
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 26, 2010 at 8:55 am

I still support HSR, but I certainly do not want an additional 3,000 parking spots in either Downtown or at Cal ave. I can only imagine what dumping an additional 2,000-3,000 cars per day would do to University or Oregon Expressway.

My hope is that transit alternatives like HSR will get people out of their cars and not in to them.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2010 at 9:44 am

This vote is at least consistent: if we don't want the railroad, why should we want the station?

But I don't understand the fuss about HSR passengers driving to Palo Alto and needing a big parking lot for them. Why not build the station but ditch the parking and make the passengers (both of them) ride the bus and CalTrain to HSR? After all, the station would have been in the heart of PA's holy Transit-Oriented Zone.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:06 am

Unfortunately Palo Alto leadership is looking at today and not tomorrow.

The opportunity for both a high speed train and a stop in Palo Alto do not come along very often.

Alternative transportation is the future, and it would benefit every resident of Palo Alto and California.

I wish we had it now so I wouldn't worry about my college student fighting her way on the highway to/from college at each break. Also, when our family wants to take a trip by car, we have to leave early in morning or late at night to just move at the speed limit on the highways. The wasted gas and time spent stopped on the highways in cars has a cost as well.

The state highways are inadequate to hold the amount of drivers, it is not forward thinking to just build more roads, and this opportunity to offer an alternative to cars is something we shouldn't pass up.

Like this comment
Posted by Frank
a resident of Ventura
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:12 am

Although I do support HSR - Paul has a point. The article points out the contradictory truths the city council (and many in the community) had to convince themselves of before casting a vote for NIBYism.

If the ridership figures are wrong and few are going to ride it where will the increased traffic come from?

How much better it would have been for out council to take a leadership position and say something to the effect of these are our concerns and if you address them we would consider it. I'm not for letting the HSR Authority dictate the project but neither am I opposed to it.

Like this comment
Posted by Crescent Park Dad
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:25 am

3000 parking spaces/garage. Enough said.

Like this comment
Posted by neighbor
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:01 pm

well, a high speed train/station opportunity can be optimistically embraced and made to work by rolling up your sleeves and thoughtfully finding solutions that work for your community, or pessimistically broken down into all of it's challenges about which one can complain and list and remain focused, trapped.

it's about choosing an approach to Palo Alto's community's quality of life. It is a choice, "linked" as we are to one another by being respectful of the beliefs, the values and the needs of each other.

solving problems is what advancement is about, otherwise we stay stagnant, characterized by lack of development, or progressive movement.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:19 pm

As for the parking concern one only needs to look at Stanford University. The parking garage near Munger Housing is under ground with a grass field above it that is used as a playing field. Other than the entrance you would not even know it was there.
The grass fields in PA between the railroad tracks and the El Camino could have a garage built there and the fields/park put right back ontop of them.
Cheap no, a possibilty yes. Parking garages can go down just as well as they can go up. And no open space would need to be taken.
Stanford University seems to have realized underground parking garages are a forward thinking option.
Was this ever even considered before the PA City Council voted the PA stop down? A stop in PA could have had a positive impact on PAs future. It seems only the potential negatives were being raised.
PA is a major player in the world technology economy, Stanford University, etc. PA would be a ending destination for many HSR riders I'm sure.
Also what would the sales tax revinue dollars mean for PA services and economy. HSR means ticket sales, hotel stays, meals, shopping, parking, The number of cars using the garage would not all be at the same time or driving on PA streets at the same time. Look at long term airport parking lots? thousands of cars but almost no traffic jams or waits.

Like this comment
Posted by M
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Yes to HSR. If Palo Alto is chosen for a stop, it will be an economic and social benefit for the townspeople and the university. I wish the negative energy would go into positive planning.

Like this comment
Posted by AR
a resident of College Terrace
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:34 pm

I did not vote for HSR and think it should not have been on the ballot until critical facts were known. But if HSR is in our future, how can the "heart of Silicon Valley" with its internationally renown university and medical center not have a station? Did anyone official challenge the parking requirements? Are there really such big parking structures in all other cities that have HSR stations?

Like this comment
Posted by One more ball dropped...
a resident of South of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:48 pm

I voted for the bond measure for HSR because I am, generally, a strong supporter (and a user) of alternative modes of transportation. The pre-election information looked promising. I since have read portions of environmental review documents that give me great cause for alarm. I have submitted to HSRA comments that I believe did not receive adequate response. I read the City of Palo Alto comments (which I thought were thoughtful and reasonable). They also received inadequate response…and yet this project moves forward.

The Authority is moving ahead with HSR with inadequate funding and a business plan that relies on unsupportable ridership projections. I have attended public meetings, written letters of comment…and most of what I get back is endless emails from what appears to be their public relations firm.

The thing that concerns me most is their management structure. At the very top, I see political figureheads who have had mixed local success with rail projects. This mammoth project will require some real expertise that they simply do not have. Worse, underneath them is a disorganized web of consultants who don’t seem to be well-supervised and don’t seem to communicate well with each other.

I understand HSRA’s desire to rush for federal money, but I think that those deadlines are driving the project (especially environmental review) forward in a way that is making it impossible for this hodgepodge of consultants to create a viable plan that is truly environmentally and financially sustainable. The poorly planned station review process is just another example of that.

Though I do not live near the tracks, I am very concerned that an elevated structure is now planned for much of the Caltrain corridor. This monstrous structure will split numerous Peninsula communities, creating a long list of impacts that I find completely unsupportable. Given the latest issues around Palo Alto station development, I agree with Council's position.

I find it harder and harder to believe that HSRA will give thoughtful consideration to the interests of Peninsula cities. They increasingly appear too much in a rush to meet federal deadlines, too disorganized, and too unwilling to consider the full scope of impacts of this project. I regret to say that I no longer have any confidence that they can make this project a success. I hope elected representatives in Sacramento and Washington will redirect the HSR project.

Like this comment
Posted by Unbelievable
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Unbelievable that a supposedly educated citizenry in Palo Alto allows the building of umpteen gazillion new apartment buildings with the traffic, parking, and school system nightmares that brings, but won't do its part in supporting public transit to which they pay lip service in the name of global climate protection.

Like this comment
Posted by Native Palo Altan
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2010 at 1:21 pm

I am shocked and totally embarrassed for the city council right now. The reasoning exhibited in the comments above is incredibly ignorant.

Yes, traffic may increase in Palo Alto...but that does not mean that there will be a net increase in GHG emissions! People will need to drive to whichever station is closest to them. For the many people in Palo Alto who can't wait to use high speed rail, after this decision, they will now be driving further away.

This is all aside from the very significant GHG emissions reductions associated with taking the train rather than flying. Driving a bit to get to the departure station is just a tiny portion of the overall emissions associated with the entire trip. Clear lack of system thinking going on.

I saw another quote in the Mercury News expressing concern over competition with SJ airport: yes, there will be competition. That, hopefully, is the reason we are building this project. We want to reduce the unnecessary emissions associated with short-distance flights between the Bay Area and Southern California. We can do so while improving the standard of travel, comfort, and convenience.

Except when the Palo Alto City Council ignorantly stands in the way. Councilmembers, you failed to represent me today.

Like this comment
Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2010 at 1:55 pm

> Councilmembers, you failed to represent me today.

The Council is supposed to represent everyone .. not just you.

Like this comment
Posted by citizen
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2010 at 2:59 pm

I think the train stop in Palo Alto would be a great idea.

Like this comment
Posted by Gordon
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2010 at 3:05 pm

I'm again disappointed by our council. Palo Altans voted FOR high speed rail (Prop 1A), so why is our council fighting HSR every step of the way? Almost everyone agrees that our Caltrain station and stop are a great boon for the city (it's the 2nd most trafficed stop on all of Caltrain), so why is the council so terrified of upgrading the EXISTING station to support HSR too? The HSR trains will pass through PA regardless, so we should at least get a stop out of it.

Like this comment
Posted by Blake
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2010 at 3:27 pm

Another example of short-sighted, small town politics. No vision and no anticipation of future needs.

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 26, 2010 at 3:36 pm

<< The grass fields in PA between the railroad tracks and the El Camino could have a garage built there and the fields/park put right back on top of them. >>

If you're talking about El Camino Park, aren't there plans to build a reservoir/well under the park?

Like this comment
Posted by so
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2010 at 3:39 pm

I guess they dont believe in "destination palo alto" anymore ;-)

Like this comment
Posted by David
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2010 at 5:16 pm

One more ball dropped has made several good points which bear careful reading. The HSR authority made up its minds(?) long ago and will not listen to other viewpoints. If you read all the information from several thoughtful sources, they are not open to compromise or negotiation. The latest of "no tunnel or open trenches" is a case in point.

Where will Palo Alto get the $150 Million (estimated) to build a 3000 space parking garage? Stanford has refused to let any of its land be used for either a station or a garage. Look at the area around the University Ave. station and visualize how drastically it would changed. The entire downtown would be ruined by the increased traffic and resultant increased carbon footprint a garage would bring.

The HSR ridership estimates are woefully overstated; the cost of $43 Billion is greatly understated; and the incompetent leadership pushed through the San Jose to Mt. View light rail which is losing taxpayer money by the bucket because ridership estimates were much too high.

I'm glad the PA City Council had the good sense to consider all the pros and cons and then made the correct decision. Bravo.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul Losch
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2010 at 5:40 pm

Am I the only one who finds a contradiction on low ridership arguments and car traffic compunding?

Am I the only one who likes the concept of HSR, but is of the opinion that it is not the right corridor solution for Northern and Southern California?

Am I the only one who has a thought process that starts with, "OK, let's check out the concept," and then after some additional analysis and due diligence, concludes that this concept is not going to make it, and we should not throw good money after bad.

I know I am not the only one who takes a jaundiced view the the people leading the HSRA. I have been following this matter pretty closely since I voted against it in 2008--for local transit policy reasons as an alternative expenditure strategy--and I have almost exclusively seen ineptitude and criticism of this gang that cannot shoot straight. The scales tip way too far toward their incompetence.

This is not about the concept of HSR or NIMBY Palo Altans. This is a poorly conceived project, with questionable financials, and a leadership group that has not delievered on concerns expressed about it.

There is a reason why private investors are not getting involved in this. It's a turkey, and they don't want to waste their time or their invstors' money.

I can see how HSR can work in the Chicago area, the US east coast corridor, and that's about it. It is effective in densely populated areas, as I have experienced riding HSR in Asia and Europe.

We have to keep fighting this beast until it finally expires.

Like this comment
Posted by Sharon
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2010 at 5:57 pm

Your argument makes complete sense-the question is how do we stop this boondoggle and how do we punish the politicians who deceived us about its nightmare reality?

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 26, 2010 at 6:30 pm

Many people have said they elect members of the City Council to make important decisions, now it seems many people are not happy about the Council voting no on HSR stop in PA.
Many people in PA voted for the HSR bond, PA supposedly supports public transportation, seems to be sending a mixed message and also not looking at the big picture for the future.
Hopefully the people of Palo Alto will have some say in the matter of HSR and Palo Alto.

Like this comment
Posted by Let's live it up
a resident of Meadow Park
on Oct 26, 2010 at 7:30 pm

The Brits have it right. Apart from St. Pancras in London where you can board the EuroStar the only other station before the channel tunnel is out in the middle of nowhere. It's built rather like an airport terminal so everyone who lives in Southern England can drive to that one location, leave their car (very expensive parking fee!!) and board the train for a night in Paris.

We should have one spot somewhere south-east of San Jose in the middle of farmland/vineyards, leave our cars and board the HSR for Disneyland.

Like this comment
Posted by Here we go again
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2010 at 7:50 pm

Fast forward a few years.

How will Palo Altans feel when they have to drive to some other town or even to "south-east of San Jose" to catch an HSR train that actually goes through their town anyway, all that simply because Palo Alto refused to have a proposed station in town?

I can only shake my head.

Like this comment
Posted by Casey
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 26, 2010 at 8:48 pm

No leadership in Palo Alto whatsoever, from the Mayor to the City Council to the City Manager. No vision either.

All of them stick their fingers in the air to determine which way the political winds are blowing at the moment and then start posturing.

Of course there should be a high speed rail station in Palo Alto! It will be a great asset to the community. The lack of vision, the shortage of political courage, and the absence of leadership in Palo Alto may prevent this good thing from happening.

Like this comment
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2010 at 9:23 pm

What embarrassing, self-serving, short-sighted decision. This council seems to be beholden to a couple dozen homeowners near the tracks, and are not acting in the best interest of the city, the region or the state. This council should be embarassed. They're making Palo Alto a worse-off place to live in the future.

20 years from now, I can't wait for my kids to ask me why they have to go to Redwood City or Mountain View to pick up the high-speed rail. Then again…I'd probably prefer to live in those cities, since they'll have vibrant downtowns with great transit access, while Palo Alto decided to shackle itself to autos. Council members, I hope you're still around to explain to my kids just what in the heck your were thinking last night.

Like this comment
Posted by Gazoo
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm

Shame on the City Council! How did such a forward looking town wind up with such shortsighted leadership?

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Crescent Park
on Oct 26, 2010 at 11:22 pm

This decision to not put a train stop in Palo Alto reminds me of an equally selfish decision of San Mateo County that denied the rest of the peninsula its BART service. We will look back in disappointment at this Council.

Like this comment
Posted by Gunn mom
a resident of Gunn High School
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:50 am

This decision is short sighted (and an embarrassing picture of our stuck in the mud city). Seeking a station stop for Palo Alto could have had many advantages. It would give us a central role in the HSR and planning for our city. It would benefit the large number of regular daily Palo Alto train commuters and could benefit the city itself with increased foot traffic to cafes, hotels and shops, as this stop would, for some, be a destination because of business and Stanford. City Council's decision effectively nullifies a very large potential benefit.

Like this comment
Posted by susan
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 27, 2010 at 8:28 am

Fight back. Get rid of the entire city council. As usual, we are not being listened to.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 10:40 am

The City Council as a whole has an over inflated view of their role and influence in the world of politics.
They almost act like they are the United Nations. In my view members of the Council felt they should have the key role with the HSR powers at be and that Palo Alto should be making the big decisions about the HSR project on the peninsula.
Palo Alto has sadly become a standing joke with it's "Palo Alto process" and the Poster Child for red tape, studies, staff reports, etc. All of which waste time and MONEY. Money the City Council says is in short supply.
I would like to see a report on how much the City Council costs the budget in regard to staff hour and their costs, consultants, reviews,
etc. Those costs should all be a line item in the City Budget. All costs and expenses generated by the City Council should tracked. Then everyone can actualy see how much the City Council costs the taxpayers in money and employee hours. I'm sure that if we compared those costs to other Cities the size of Palo Alto, that PA would be off the charts.
Week after week the Council sits up there getting drunk on the sound of their own voices. Somebody needs to tell them Pay Per View City Council meetings on TV are not going to generate any money for the local economy.
I hope the current City Council is remembered for many years for their vote on HSR.
They continue to reduce the number of road lanes, support more housing, etc but not support mass transit.

How much money and benefit would the HSR contribute to Palo Alto? what would have the HSR project meant to the future of Palo Alto and the local economy.

Like this comment
Posted by Unfortunate Neighbor
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:32 am

The logical City for a HSR stop is Mountain View. They have a connection to the VTA's light rail line, so you can transfer and ride to Moffett Field and other parts of the peninsula on public transportation.

I'm sure the HSR Authority are thrilled that Mountain View, Palo Alto and Stanford have rejected a station and Redwood City is wavering. When they've all rejected it the HSR Authority can impose their own decision, and the City chosen will have to cough up the millions for parking garages.

Don't kid yourselves just because a couple of cities have rejected a station, this decision is far from over.

Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 11:35 am

The City Council are not speaking for everyone in Palo Alto. Have they even bothered to ask us? They get surveys for how satisfied residents are about them, but did they think of getting a survey to ask us about this? No. They just act for themselves and themselves only.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Oct 27, 2010 at 12:49 pm

VTA, another question that should be raised. Why doesnt VTA light rail come into Palo Alto?
It was that not long ago that many Cities up and down the peninsula,including Palo Alto had municiple street rail systems.

Like this comment
Posted by HSR supporter
a resident of Midtown
on Oct 27, 2010 at 1:15 pm

"They (city council) just act for themselves and themselves only."

In this case I actually think they acted for a vocal minority of Palo Alto residents with houses close to the railroad line.

I am surprised by how many persons coming to this thread and expressing their disappointment with the city council's rejection of the HSR station. Up to now, most if not all threads about HSR in this forum, have been utterly dominated by HSR opponents. I wish you all had expressed your support for HSR in this forum much sooner.

Like this comment
Posted by Jake
a resident of another community
on Oct 27, 2010 at 2:13 pm

Can't agree with several posters here more, the people living along the railroad tracks all bought their houses or chose to live alongside the railroad tracks.
The tracks have been there since the 1800's, steam, diesel, etc. Freight trains, passenger trains. Houses along the railroad tracks are generaly cheaper (yes it's still PA) for the most part for a reason. They are next to the tracks.
I'm sure many people would like to see the tracks taken up and some sort of bicycle/ped pathway put there instead.
My personal feeling is that it is a right of way for mass transit. It's existing and its been there. High density housing should be encouraged along it and if the train tracks are ever taken out it should be used for BART. BART should already serve the entire Bay Area and people should be able to get up and down the peninsula on BART without going from buses, trains, BART, etc.
People for the most part are not going to use mass transit unless its quick and easy for the most part.

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

Stay informed

Get daily headlines sent straight to your inbox.

Why is it becoming increasingly impossible to open a restaurant on the Peninsula?
By Elena Kadvany | 27 comments | 4,939 views

Firing Judge Persky as a tennis coach was a big mistake
By Diana Diamond | 23 comments | 2,755 views

Electric Buses: A case study
By Sherry Listgarten | 2 comments | 2,120 views

It just takes time
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 506 views

Helping Partners Become Couples (vs. Helping Couples Become Partners)
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 273 views



On Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Register now