Palo Alto officials are calling for Caltrain to put the brakes on possible service cuts until stakeholders and members of the public have a chance to review the latest changes proposed by staff.
Caltrain plans to unveil the latest proposal for service cuts and fare changes at its Thursday morning meeting -- the same meeting at which the agency's board of directors is scheduled to vote on the proposal. The agency is facing a budget deficit of up to $30 million in fiscal year 2012 because of decreased contributions from its three member agencies -- San Mateo County Transit District, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.
So far, Caltrain has been considering raising fares, eliminating weekend and night-time service and closing seven stations. The list of stations facing possible closure includes the San Antonio Road station in Mountain View, near the Palo Alto city line.
In recent weeks, however, Caltrain has been negotiating with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its three funding agencies to identify other ways to close the budget gap.
Michelle Bouchard, Caltrain's director of rail transportation, wrote in a brief report that staff has developed a service and fare plan "consistent with the potential level of funding that it anticipates will be implemented July 1, 2011." The report gives no indication, however, of what the proposed service and fare adjustments would be. It notes that the "proposed service reductions are exempt from review" under environmental law because the Joint Powers Board, which oversees Caltrain, declared a fiscal emergency at its March 3 meeting.
But members of the Palo Alto council cried foul Monday morning about Caltrain's process for instituting the new fees. Councilman Pat Burt, who represents the city on the six-city Peninsula Cities Consortium, called Caltrain's plan to vote on the changes Thursday a "fundamental process problem." Staff's proposed timeline gives neither the JPB nor the public a chance to properly review the new plan, he argued.
"There's no way on earth that they should be making this decision at the same meeting that the information is presented to the public," Burt said. "Member cities will have no opportunity to respond."
Burt's colleagues on the committee, Larry Klein, Gail Price and Nancy Shepherd, shared his frustration and agreed to send Caltrain board members a letter calling for them to slow down and give the public a chance to consider the new proposals. Though Caltrain held four meetings on the previously considered cuts, it has not done any outreach on the new staff proposal, which remains under wraps.
"It's unbelievable to think that they can get away with that," Price said.
Committee Chair Larry Klein said Caltrain's proposal to unveil and adopt the staff recommendations at the same meeting suggests that the Joint Powers Board is expected to basically "rubberstamp" these recommendations. He called the process "unconscionable."
"Obviously, they know what they'll be proposing on Thursday," Klein said. "The fact that it's not being released says that it's something that they want to hide."
Burt called the proposal by Caltrain staff not to publicize the latest plans until Thursday an "outrageous procedure" and said he hopes agency officials will "come to their senses."
"Staff continues to operate in a way that's almost like they hope to circumvent participation of member cities and the public," he said.
Palo Alto plans to send a letter to Caltrain no later than Tuesday asking for the agency to delay its vote on the staff-proposed changes -- whatever those changes might be.