News

Residents: High-speed rail would affect home values

At Palo Alto rail workshop, concerns shared about housing prices, traffic

If and when high-speed rail is built in Palo Alto, properties and home values will decrease, residents predicted Thursday night at the Rail Corridor Study Community Workshop held at Lucie Stern Community Center.

The session was the first of six planned for over the next year as the city works to gauge resident concerns with the planned project.

At the meeting, the city and BMS Design Group presented the three current designs for what the high-speed-rail system would look like currently being analyzed by authorities.

The first, Alternate A, would feature a combination of graded berms beginning at the California Avenue station, which would remain as it is today. The berms would become 10-foot-tall aerial viaducts near Palo Alto High School. Such layouts usually require a 78-feet-wide right of way.

Alternate B would combine three types of structures: an open trench at the Menlo Park/Palo Alto border, a graded berms near California Avenue and an aerial viaduct around Charleston Road. The tracks would then return to graded berms and open trenches en route to the Mountain View station.

Alternate B1 would feature an open trench design along the entire route.

"Just think about what will happen to the land values if these tracks are put above ground," said Judith Wasserman, a member of the Palo Alto Architectural Review Board, pointing to New York City as an example of how above-ground tracks have impacted housing prices as well as the character of the neighborhoods that surround them.

This concern was echoed by another homeowner, Jonathan Horne, whose property is adjacent to Caltrain. Horne said the addition of above-ground high-speed-rail traffic will without question affect the selling price of his property.

William Cutler, a resident of Park Boulevard, agreed. If trains were to run at street level and roads were routed below ground, at least 500 feet -- or four to five houses -- on either side of the tracks would be impacted.

"If the tracks are placed on the surface, and the streets are forced to go below, properties will be made inaccessible to the street," he said. Crossroads like Charleston and Meadow Drive would also likely be used more, with the impact of reduced property value likely stretching along their intersections with El Camino Real.

"What needs to happen is for the railway to go under street level," he argued, noting that the costs of excavation and concrete would likely be similar for either option.

"If you put the trains below ground, you can't see them and you can't hear them," Wasserman said.

The potential problem of congested crossroads corresponded to another great concern indicated by a poll of the workshop audience, namely, the potential impact on the already difficult issue of traveling east to west. The need for appropriate auto, bicycle and pedestrian routes across the current Caltrain tracks as well as Alma Street were listed as high priority items by residents.

But the question of whether the high-speed-rail project should be implemented in the first place was also brought up by various members of the audience. "What convinces the city that change is necessary? Why are we doing this?" asked one resident.

"If you feel like no change is an option, we want to hear that," Director of Planning and Community Environment Curtis Williams said, stressing the point that the city is asking for community thoughts and perspectives so that resident concerns might be part of the discussion going forward.

That some form of change was bound to happen was acknowledged by the vast majority of attendees. They were asked to place stickers on boards that posed questions related to residents' desires for land-use development along the rail corridor -- roughly half a mile on either side of the present Caltrain tracks -- at locations such as Charleston Road, California Avenue, Park Boulevard and the downtown Palo Alto Caltrain station. Residents expressed an overwhelming desire for more mixed-use, retail and residential developments along the corridor.

And roughly half indicated that they envisioned high intensity land use to prevail in Palo Alto over the next 40 years, corresponding to the mixture of land use seen downtown today. The other half envisioned a Palo Alto with more moderate intensity developments, in keeping with present 50-feet-building-height restrictions.

They were also asked to indicate the level of priority that should be given by the city to the various land-use and transportation trends as it moves forward with its high-speed-rail development plans.

The results of the workshop, Williams said, would be put forward at the Planning and Transportation Commission meeting on June 8, as well as at the Rail Corridor Task Force meeting scheduled before the next community workshop on July 7.

The first two workshops would address the context of transportation and land use in Palo Alto, as well as residents' visions of their future, said Barbara Maloney, a partner at BMS Design. The second set would map out alternatives for the planned changes in transit systems and land use, while the final pair, scheduled for between December 2011 and February 2012, would develop final plans and strategies for implementation.

"We want to have these conversations with our neighborhoods, so that they have some way of articulating these thoughts to the agency," Williams said.

Comments

2 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 20, 2011 at 10:21 am

The article is pretty accurate as far as it went. However, it mis-characterizes the purpose of the Rail Corridor Task Force. The TF is not intended to figure out what to do with HSR; it's purpose is to look at the area between Alma and El Camino from Menlo Park to Mountain View and craft a vision for the future.
Whatever happens with HSR, Caltrain will still be there and require grade separated crossings. Better multi-modal transportation (cars, bikes, feet, busses, bus rapid transit, etc) is a good idea, train or no train.
The task force meetings are open to the public, and there is a website, too.


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Posted by David Pepperdine
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2011 at 10:29 am

The article takes on faith that providing high speed rail will cause home values to decrease. On the contrary, there are several arguments why they would increase:

+ More flexible transit options in an environment of rising fuel prices would increase convenience, desirability and thus, home prices

+ Better transit connections would encourage businesses to locate here, bringing in more tax revenue, allowing the city to provide more services, thus making living in Palo Alto more desirable

Oh, did I mention, my house is near the corridor, so I'm not a NIMBY?


2 people like this
Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 20, 2011 at 10:35 am

Is that not obvious ... and why would property values decrease ... because the whole nature and character of the city would change for the worse.

Look at two cities that are generally regarded as nicer than Palo Alto ... Menlo Park and Los Altos ... and they have no such problem a train going through the middle of them. Menlo Park has the train mostly away from residential areas.

The train is a big enough pain in the neck already, super-sizing it in side and noise or even possible danger is not going to improve anything, that much is certain.


2 people like this
Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 20, 2011 at 10:56 am

If the train does not stop in Palo Alto, there is no benefit to the town that would cause

" More flexible transit options in an environment of rising fuel prices would increase convenience, desirability and thus, home prices

+ Better transit connections would encourage businesses to locate here, bringing in more tax revenue, allowing the city to provide more services, thus making living in Palo Alto more desirable"

If the train is at grade or above, there would only be noise, vibration and dust, causing property values next to the train tracks to drop. Not to mention the grade separations, taking of property for the right-of-way, etc.

Increases in property values ONLY occur around the stations.


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Posted by John
a resident of Barron Park
on May 20, 2011 at 11:10 am

If the only area included in the study is the area between Alma and El Camino I expect home values would go down there. However, that area is a very small percentage of the area of Palo Alto, and the home values in the other areas would probably increase.


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Posted by Too much traffic
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2011 at 11:16 am

"properties and home values will decrease"
This is a common scare tactic used by people. It was recently trotted out against the cell phone antenna in Palo Alto and is now being used here. The people who make this claim have no proof for hier argument. But how better to drum up support then to scare people.
The question is does the city/state have the obligation to maintain the property values of people's homes when the public good would be served by actions that may decrease a property's value?


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Posted by I like trains, but above-grade is unacceptable
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 20, 2011 at 11:20 am

Trench or tunnel it, the full length of the city. If it is true that the costs are similar, why are we even discussing this? Theimpacts of at-grade and above-ground rails are completely unacceptable with the frequency of train service that is projected, especially if we don't get the benefit of a station. It is clear at this point, that we won't.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 20, 2011 at 11:27 am

I'm just glad I live in Palo Alto a looooong way from HSR. Meanwhile, a small Eichler built in 1954 has just sold in my neighborhood for over $1. Million. Zero improvements were made to the house or yard over the years - it's basically a tear down.

Perhaps at these prices property values should come down.


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Posted by No-To-HSR
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2011 at 12:08 pm

> Better transit connections would encourage businesses to locate
> here, bringing in more tax revenue

It doesn't work that way. Most technology companies, the ones inclined to locate here, do so during their infancy, and then move out as soon as they need to expand into their fire growth phases. The real estate costs are just too expensive for small companies to stay here very long. None of these companies, particularly in the Intellectual Property-based companies, generate sales, and so don't generate much in the way of taxes that the City can see.

Moreover, in the future, it's very likely that fiber-optic video conferencing systems will reduce the amount of B-2-B travel. Having the HSR here may be good for Stanford, but Stanford doesn't pay property taxes which the City sees either.


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Posted by Michael
a resident of El Carmelo School
on May 20, 2011 at 12:32 pm

Properties adjacent to the track have many ways that they could gain value if people were interested in constructive discussion on HSR rather than killing it.

Alma St is by no means a city treasure and combined with the existing rail corridor provides many negatives to the current land values.

Regardless if HSR is constructed or not, Palo Alto and Caltrain must make grade separation of the tracks a top priority for public safety alone. No additional lives can be lost at these crossings. This is a life safety issue. The bandaid stop gap measures taken to date are still inherently flawed. No car or person should ever be allowed on or crossing these tracks.

Grade separation of the rail corridor will improve property values by helping to break down the great wall of alma that divides Palo Alto. With a grade separated railway, more road, bike and pedestrian crossings could be added.

An even better option around Charleston and East Meadow would be to trench and cap Alma expressway with the rail corridor for through traffic and place an at grade multi use commercial residential district above with pedestrian and bike friendly streets that would bring together the communities on both sides of alma.

Also, the mid-peninsula high speed rail station was Palo Alto's to lose. I hope the city council can rethink their position on HSR and begin to realize the fantastic opportunity this is for Palo Alto and act to influence HSR in positive ways.


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Posted by al norte sm
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2011 at 12:56 pm

"must make grade separation of the tracks a top priority for public safety alone."

Best thing that ever happened to Belmont and San Carlos was raising the tracks.

Less noise
- no ringing crossing bells!
- no reason to blow the darn whistle!

Phenomenally better traffic flow.

MP doesn't have residences near the tracks? Maybe you may want to look at a map.


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Posted by Jon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2011 at 1:09 pm

I am far enough away only to have positive effects from HSR butI am more and more convinced HSR is dumb idea. Unlike the East Coast there's very little in the way of rapid rail connections at either end. If we want to help the environment we should make the San Jose to SF link faster and better first and then have HSR plug into San Jose.....


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Posted by resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 20, 2011 at 2:14 pm

An option that put ALL tracks under ground and covered the track with a pedestrian/bike right of way up the peninsula would be an incredible thing. It would boost property values and give the Bay Area an unparalleled resource.

Okay, I pinched myself awake...


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Posted by Spokker
a resident of another community
on May 20, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Home values are already depressed by their proximity to the tracks and home values are already inflated by their proximity to a station. I doubt high speed rail would change much here. If the existing stations are improved, there would probably be a net increase in home values, all this paid for mostly by public money from the state and federal level.


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Posted by Carlito Waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 20, 2011 at 10:24 pm

What is the percentage of all those cry babies that actually have ridden a High Speed Train?

Probably their ignorance gets in the way and can not think clearly.


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Posted by Resident
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on May 21, 2011 at 3:56 pm

The tracks that are there carry extremely minimal rail traffic, less than 1 train per hour most of the day, only about 5-6 trains per hour for one or two rush hours per day. The high speed rail plan increase the size and profile of the tracks, the frequency and speed of the trains, and the visual, noise, wind, impacts of the line. There will be ONLY degredation for quality of the neighborhoods along the tracks.

Any location where a station is planned along the Caltrain corridor will be the subject of massive influx of auto/bus/rental car traffic in the surrounding already traffic impacted neighborhoods, as those stations will be remodeled into massive LONG DISTANCE transit hubs - per the published plans. Note that HSR is NOT a commuter solution, its a LONG DISTANCE mode. So HSR doesn't take local daily commute traffice off the road, it only BRINGS IN TO NEIGHBORHOODS the impact of auto traffic for long distance travlers trying to reach the stations. Plus the impacts of large parking structures, rental car hubs, to support hundreds of thousands of planned passengers. This is not even to mention the properties, schools, parks, etc that will be directly impacted by eminent domain takings, or even worse LACK of eminent domain takings -leaving them with massive impacts of high speed trains running through, with no compensation. There is nothing about the HSR located in the caltrain corridor that would bring increase in property value - with one exception... The DEVELOPERS will be able to buy what was once considered prime property in these cities, at depressed firesale prices, and turn it in to ticky tacky stacked "TOD", ruining the schools, ruin the neighborhoods, but will profit handsomely for pressing urbanites in to these gross high rise properties like sardines. Turning the nature and character of prime suburban canopied walkable bikable neighborhoods into traffic packed urban crap centers. SF may have chosen this wonderful lifestyle for their town - they can have it (and those who love it should go there! ASAP!) They are not however going to be able to foist it on the rest of us. Not without a fight the likes of which CHSRA has barely scratched the surface on.


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Judith Wasserman is right. I grew up on the east coast and the areas around RR tracks were hardly prime real estate.

> “Probably their [cry babies’] ignorance gets in the way and can not think clearly.”

Are the state’s independent analysts also ignorant and unable to think clearly?

“The cost for that first phase was estimated in 2009 at $43 billion. But estimates for early stages of the project have grown by as much as 57 percent since then…

“… debt service on the $10 billion in bonds … would amount to about $1 billion a year from the state's general fund for the next two decades.”

Full government report at: Web Link


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Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on May 21, 2011 at 4:14 pm

The birth of HSR:

Web Link


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Posted by santa clara resident
a resident of another community
on May 21, 2011 at 7:29 pm

If Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton want a tunnel the only logical and fair solution is for those communities to pool their resources, create a special funding district and pay for the additional costs themselves (beyond that of the above grade options proposed by the CAHSR). I don't quite believe the idea that property values will drop because of HSR but even if they did it is not the responsibility or obligation of the rest of the state to subsidize property values in those communities by building a line with disproportionately higher costs than any other part of the state. I grew up in Palo Alto and my parents still live there so it's not like I am not concerned about the community but I think the fears about HSR are misplaced. I could see property values increasing with HSR. Think about the appeal of connectivity and getting places without a car. Think about the support and growth of walkable communities. Except where engineering conditions require it a tunnel would only be a necessity if there were invaluable natural or historic/cultural resources along the line which must be preserved at all costs. Then it would be justified for everyone in the state to pay for it. That's not the case here. I would rather see the loss of one traffic lane along Alma than see half of Palo Alto sit beneath the rising bay waters because no one wanted to be inconvenienced and address one of the major causes of global warming.


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Posted by What's True Today May Not Be True Tomorrow
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on May 22, 2011 at 8:16 am

> The tracks that are there carry extremely minimal rail traffic,
> less than 1 train per hour most of the day

Trains go North and South, so there are at least two trains per hour at the current time. If there were any political will to expand the current deficit of $30M to $50M or so, then there could easily be more trains per hour.

Web Link



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Posted by Louis
a resident of Downtown North
on May 22, 2011 at 4:07 pm

"I could see property values increasing with HSR. Think about the appeal of connectivity and getting places without a car."

Somebody got it right! You know, in addition to all the ballyhoo about HSR, I see <very little> being done to get people out of their cars in Palo Alto. the sense of entitlement here is overwhelmingly embarrassing! For heaven's sake - <lead> once in a while, Palo Alto, instead of resting on laurels!


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Posted by HUTCH 7.62
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 22, 2011 at 7:58 pm

I still don't see how this state is gonna afford this.....ahem were broke! HSR maintenance costs alone are enormous. The state can't even keep the current Highway infrastructure it has now in good working order. Plus most people in Mexiforniastan would rather drive their car.


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Posted by Hmmm
a resident of Midtown
on May 23, 2011 at 11:54 am

The train has been here a long while, and all sorts of businesses and housing projects... it's just what happens as we populate. If you bought your house by a train path, you should have known it would continue and all traffic increases. At least the train reduces some of the street traffic. And perhaps the new trains won't be much more noisy.


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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on May 23, 2011 at 1:27 pm

@carlito -- have ridden HSR and no, I do not want it here. It makes no sense to run it through existing, high-density neighborhoods. It makes no sense to build something that all analyses done by those with no ax to grind clearly indicate the residents of California will be saddled with enormous debt and ongoing costs that just cannot be justified.

@santa clara resident -- state residents would not be subsidizing our property values. If built above ground, it would decrease property values; paying to tunnel would only maintain, not subsidize. And it will require land-grabs using imminent domain laws.

Finally, very few seem to recognize the impact on the entire peninsula, not just palo alto and menlo park. This is not a commuter train they want to build -- it does nothing to get commuters out of their cars; it does everything to increase traffic, noise, dust, particulates, etc..

As for Palo Alto, do you not realize that Alma will be widened to try to accomodate traffic (look at the plans HSR has)? Have you been on Alma lately between 4:30-6pm on a weekday? Now imagine the increased traffic from Stanford's expansion, increased traffic for the HSR, and tell me all of Palo Alto will not be affected? How "GREEN" is this idea if the pollution rate along our roads continues to increase eponentially? And then there's the parking mess it creates in all towns with stations (built at that town's expense, btw).

I love trains and train travel, but this is poorly conceived on SO many levels.


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Posted by Steve
a resident of Mountain View
on May 23, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Since we can't agree even on how to fund Caltrain beyond year to year gimicks, what qualifies the Peninsula to dictate the success or failure of HSR to the rest of the state? We might be credible if we had all resoundingly defeated the bond measure, but every community overwhelmingly supported the concept. Now we are left to cry that the devil is in the details, even though the CAHSRA did not have resources to develop these details until the passage of the bond measure! Unless we all agree not to travel, and to videoconference only, eventually we will outgrow our airports, but the recession has slowed this somewhat. Why not take advantage of favorable construction pricing and get started now. All HSR infrastructure built with bonds paid for by everyone would benefit Caltrain, whether or not an HSR ever runs. But no, instead we look hypocritical by wanting to "green travel", just not in our pre-existing rail corridor (since 1864 -- Civil War). CAHSRA could not even buy right of way up the Peninsula for what they may spend upgrading Caltrain, and no right of way purchase ever created a construction job that cannot be off-shored. The main reason their estimates keep going up is, to quote Pogo, "We have met the enemy and he is us!"


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Posted by Doesn't Matter
a resident of College Terrace
on May 23, 2011 at 2:39 pm

This entire discussion borders on farcical. California's HSR will never be built. The HSR plan contemplated using private investment which has never materialized (since there is no credible plan for the HSR system doing anything but losing boatloads of cash if it ever becomes operational). The Federal government and Republican Congress will be contributing nothing more to this boondoggle any time soon. And the costs have ballooned over 50% before construction even is started.

Prattle on all you want about how HSR will - or will not - affect property values. It's all theoretical only because there never will be HSR on the Peninsula or anywhere else in California.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on May 23, 2011 at 5:02 pm

The Feds have already contributed to 'this boondoggle' and not just 'any time soon', but a week ago. They offered California $300M consisting of some of the funds refused by other states and now available for us here.

Brings to mind the classic street drug dealer who offers the first few supplies of his drugs for free, in order to hook a new customer whose eventual addiction will be impossible to overcome.

Any guesses how California will respond to the offer?


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Posted by JD
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on May 23, 2011 at 7:36 pm

HSR is an unmitigated environmental disaster.....it should not go up the peninsula.

Supporters s/b embarrassed to back this boondoggle which drives up taxes to pad a transit developers' bottom line, and worsens our quality of life.


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Posted by bbc
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on May 23, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Many years ago, when BART was only a concept, Berkeley put the option of an underground BART-thru-Berkeley on the local ballot. The residents would only tolerate the underground BART and voted as such. Any thought of putting this up for a vote?


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Posted by nimby1
a resident of another community
on May 24, 2011 at 10:13 am

I am a NIMBY and proud of it. What's the shame in wanting to preserve my home value for myself, my family and my neighbors (as all properties are comparitively valued)? These terms get tossed around and somehow become scarlet letters. So my question is: Is there any way for this thing to be built in NOBODY's backyard? When I look around, I see enough industrial areas and open space to accomodate a big, fat intrusive project like this. Shouldn't we all work harder to promote the preservation of all residential neighborhoods from being ploughed through?


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Posted by Judith
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on May 24, 2011 at 11:02 am

When Berkeley passed the underground BART concept, it went with a tax to pay for it. We could do that - do you think we could get 2/3 vote? Good luck!


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Posted by HSR is a distraction
a resident of Southgate
on May 24, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Judith correctly pointed out that
" it mis-characterizes the purpose of the Rail Corridor Task Force. The TF is not intended to figure out what to do with HSR; it's purpose is to look at the area between Alma and El Camino from Menlo Park to Mountain View and craft a vision for the future. "
The task force is mostly composed of developers and pro-development housing advocates.
While you are talking about HSR they will be planning high density housing.


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

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