Palo Alto mulls tougher stance on high-speed rail

City considers urging legislators to either kill project or resubmit it to voters

The more Palo Alto officials learn about California's proposed high-speed rail, the more their opposition swells.

On Monday night, in its first discussion of the project since the California High Speed Rail Authority released its new business plan, an already skeptical City Council weighed its toughest stance against the project to date. The council was considering a proposal by Councilman Larry Klein to adopt as the city's official principle a request that legislators either kill the controversial project or send it back to the voters.

The council ultimately took a more cautious route and decided to let its Rail Committee deliberate the topic further. In doing so, however, members made it clear that their patience with the project, like Klein's, had been pretty much exhausted.

"This is an issue that has concerned our community for two years," said Klein, who chairs the city's Rail Committee. "It's time for our voices to be heard on this."

The council's opposition to high-speed rail has been accelerating since 2008, when the council adopted a resolution urging voters to support Proposition 1A -- a state measure that authorized a $9.95 bond for the rail system. Since then, Palo Alto and its neighbors, Menlo Park and Atherton, have grown increasingly skeptical about the project, questioning its ridership projections, panning its business plans and vehemently opposing the rail authority's preferred design options.

The Palo Alto council last year took a stance of "no confidence" toward the California High Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the rail line, and has participated in a lawsuit with Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of nonprofit groups that challenged the rail authority's environmental analysis. A Sacramento Superior Court judge ruled last week that the rail authority has to decertify and revise its Environmental Impact Report for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles line.

Monday's vote, coming weeks after the rail authority had released its latest business plan, marked a new low in the city's faith in the project. The business plan (which will be the subject of a public hearing in Palo Alto tomorrow) showed the price tag for high-speed rail spiking from about $37 billion at the time of the bond's passage in 2008 to $98.5 billion today. Klein said the dramatic increase in the projected cost is reason enough to give voters another say on the project.

"The city should go on the record as being opposed to high-speed rail, period, and we urge our legislators to terminate the project," Klein said.

If they feel that's going "too far," Klein said, the legislature should put the matter before the voters in November 2012. Councilwoman Karen Holman supported Klein's position.

Others on the council, including Pat Burt and Gail Price, shared Klein's concerns but urged more discussion. Klein's proposed principle, he said, would put the city in the forefront of opposition. The council, he argued, shouldn't be too precipitous on this subject.

"It's a big step -- we should be very deliberate in our thinking on this," Burt said.

His view ultimately prevailed. Councilman Greg Schmid, Vice Mayor Yiaway Yeh and Price, who also sits on the rail committee, all said the council should further consider the city's principles on high-speed rail -- particularly in light of the new business plan. Price, a former city planner, said her faith in the project has been undermined by analysis of the information from the rail authority.

"It has been extraordinarily painful for me to see this project implode," Price said. "It will continue to be painful for me to watch this continue to happen."

The council voted 8-1, with Klein dissenting, to send the discussion back to the committee.

Burt also proposed including in the council's principles a finding that the rail authority's ridership numbers are "fundamentally flawed," -- a proposal that his colleagues accepted.

The council's Rail Committee will now analyze the guiding principles further and issue a recommendation to the council -- a recommendation that will likely include a strong statement against the project. Mayor Sid Espinosa and Councilman Greg Scharff both said they share Klein's sentiments, though they also advocated further deliberation.

"I support terminating this project unless we get other advice based on other information," Scharff said.

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Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2011 at 6:50 am

"The city should go on the record as being opposed to high-speed rail, period, and we urge our legislators to terminate the project," Klein said."


It's high time to stop this profligate, ill-conceived project; the ridership projections are pie-in-the-sky; kudos to Klein for taking the right stance here.

Like this comment
Posted by Mary
a resident of Meadow Park
on Nov 15, 2011 at 7:25 am

'Fatally flawed' would be a more accurate description of at least these claims in High-Speed Rail Authority's Reports, any one of which should cause HSR to be killed:
- credibility of HSR management
- ridership
- construction costs
- time required for construction
- federal loan and grant sources
- ability of State of California to finance this turkey
- willingness of California taxpayers to support this turkey
- likelihood of equity investors
- cost of slicing up the peninsula
- Pacheco Pass vs Altamont Pass route

The light of day is revealing 'the HSR king has no clothes.'

Like this comment
Posted by Martin
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2011 at 7:30 am

With the latest peninsula EIR legal victory, the acceptance of the "blended approach" in the HSR business plan, the growing central valley opposition to HSR, and the Oct 2012 financial deadline for $3B in federal funds, I am hoping that the SF - SJ 4-track option is officially thrown out, a new EIR w/ the blended approach is quickly produced, and that electrification of Caltrain and the LA local commuter rails can become the "initial HSR segments", starting Sept 2012. May seem crazy looking back over the last couple years, but it could end up as a solution to truly benefit our communities and the state.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2011 at 8:20 am

The only, and I mean only, way a blended approach would work is if the same train (different engine) continued the journey up the Peninsula and only one ticket were needed. To get passengers physically off a train and the need for two separate tickets purchased by two separate bodies, would be the death trap of the system.

I am beginning to think that we should be looking at either a hover rail or other type of unirail system rather than a two rail conventional track. Technology is moving ahead faster than we are acting and I don't want us to be stuck with a system that is considered old technology before it even starts.

Like this comment
Posted by Carter Willhelm
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2011 at 8:31 am

So let me get this straight? Palo Alto votes for HSR in 2008. The majority in the city still support it. But the NIMBYs on the track are now tuned in and going batsh#)*t. But why? Stop and think. CalTrain is not going away. It's pulled by diesels. Diesels ROAR when they accelerate. We have grade crossings on the ROW. Bells ring. Horns blast. Traffic is stopped.

A blended HSR will be electrified (the roar of the engines is gone...electric trains don't make noise like that). No more cancer-causing diesel fumes spewed into the air. Grade crossings eliminated... so no horns, no bells, no traffic backups. We get to SF much faster and more efficiently.

The NIMBYs who have houses right on the CalTrain ROW...okay, yes, some of them will have to put up with construction. They might even lose some property. Some of them--gasp--might have to move. A handful of people will have to make a small sacrifice (for which they are financially compensated) for the greater good.

I don't believe, not for a second, that "CAARD" gives a darn about ridership figures...the train could cost $200,000 and they'd still oppose it. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Like this comment
Posted by Steve silvin
a resident of another community
on Nov 15, 2011 at 9:02 am

I just rode the high speed train from Shanghai to Beijing and it is extemely quiet, fast, inexpensive, and the ridership facilitates trains every 20minutes or so. I've also seen those trains go by, and they are realy quiet compared to Bart or Caltrain and they' pass in about 3 seconds.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:07 am

@ Steve silvin:

...and the high speed train in China was built in a quasi-communist country without unions and with virtual slave-labor.

There is a reason why Apple builds our iPhones and iPads in China -- and it has NOTHING to do with "ingenuity" or "forward thinking." It has EVERYTHING to do with the low cost of production due to the lack of unions, less government regulation, less production taxation, low-cost labor and the bogus valuation of Chinese currency.

To build such a system in California would be enormous given the opposite circumstances.

At the present time, this deficit-dwelling state cannot afford this massive (and massively expensive) undertaking.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:12 am

@ Carter:

What makes you think that the "majority" of Palo Alto residents still support this?

As suggested that it would by opponents of the HSR in 2008, the outcome has changed. Costs and other intangibles have increased.

Plus, of course, the vote in 2008 may have been based upon the notion that the economy would improve within a year. It actually got worse.

It would be interesting to see a legitimate set of polls in order to ascertain the public's sentiment toward HSR.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:19 am

@ Carter:

Web Link

Yeah, it looks like public sentiment has turned -- and 62% would vote to end this money pit (at least at this time).

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 15, 2011 at 11:52 am

Can't this Council take a firm stand on ANYTHING? It does the 'Palo Alto PROCESS' routine on every issue.

Like this comment
Posted by common sense
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2011 at 12:46 pm

Thank you Larry Klein!

Like this comment
Posted by TRYUT
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Nov 15, 2011 at 4:15 pm

What GALL ..a single little city and its council demand a state wide HSR project be stopped all because of Nimbys ..please

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 4:28 pm


It isn't just a "single little city and its council." A recent poll suggested that 62% of California residents would vote against this thing.

Web Link

You are calling a 62% majority of California voters "NIMBYS" -- but many may be against it simply because of the extra baggage associated with it.

I don't think that anyone is really against the concept of a "high speed rail;" however, many people have changed their mind on the basis of the ENORMOUS cost (at this particular time) or other intangibles that are making this a sore subject for voters.

Like this comment
Posted by JA3+
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 15, 2011 at 5:12 pm

No public or private entity will finance this project: the ridership numbers make no sense and the costs are significantly higher than earlier projections. Absent financing, this plan is dead in the water.

As an aside, the project is 'not in my backyard'. I live a fair ways away from the tracks. Nevertheless, I'm concerned: the financial cost of this project to our state is likely very significant. In its present form, this project an imprudent waste of money.

Like this comment
Posted by TRYUT
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 15, 2011 at 5:34 pm

NO IT IS a single city ..PA and some of its "nimbys" that have made a huge issue out of this ..and shows how small groups of people can hold back everything unless its not to just their "way"

Like this comment
Posted by NO-TO-HSR!
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Nov 15, 2011 at 6:14 pm

> I just rode the high speed train from Shanghai to
> Beijing and it is extemely quiet, fast, inexpensive

Depends on whether you are American, or Chinese. These trains are considered pretty expensive by the average Chinese worker.

Web Link

One Way/Round Trip: 555RMB/935RMB (6 RMB = 1 USD)

Salaries In China:
Web Link

Most of these salaries are on the high end, requiring college degrees.
People on the low end might make between $1000-$7000 USD a year--which doesn't leave a lot of money for riding HSRs.

Like this comment
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 7:03 pm

@ "TRYUT:"

You aren't serious, right?

Palo Alto is simply reflecting the sentiment of the MAJORITY of citizens in the entire state!

62% would vote AGAINST this thing if the vote was held today. I hardly call that a "small group."

My husband was asking this week just why people in 2008 wanted to spend so much money on a train that connected Sacramento to Los Angeles. He wondered just how many people travel to Los Angeles each year -- to justify the BILLIONS of $$$ that it would cost to build and maintain the thing.

Someone in a different article's comments section mentioned that this was going to cost thousands of dollars for every man, woman and child in this state. However, that cost is just to build it. It will cost addition amounts of money to keep the thing running -- and the inflated price of tickets will probably be as effective in keeping the rail out of debt as CalTrain's fiscal model.

California cannot afford this thing...and there really isn't a pressing need for it given the existing transportation infrastructure and petty yearly traffic figures from Sacramento to Los Angeles.

Like this comment
Posted by Robert
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 15, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Wait, the same people who ruined the state university system for their kids, the state transportation network for their kids, and the housing market for their kids, oppose this as well?


Like this comment
Posted by CrunchyCookie
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Nov 15, 2011 at 8:32 pm

CrunchyCookie is a registered user.

I think it's an encouraging sign that, judging by the discourse around here, the only remaining supporters of HSR are the types who have severe trouble with things like logical reasoning and spelling. Also going by these forums, the % of Palo Altans against HSR is at least in the 70s, which naturally means the proportion of Californians is probably past 80%.

Let's come to our collective common senses by ending this retarded financial debacle of a project already. The sunk costs of having spent four years on talk and a billion or two laying down some track is nothing compared to the $100,000,000,000 (not often you see a 12-figure number) and 30 years of misdirected labor destined to be wasted if we actually go through with this plan, which would be a questionable idea at even half the price.

Masses of people simply do not travel between SF and LA on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis -- NorCal and SoCal are very much their own separate microcosms -- and for those who do, the existing options of car, plane, and bus/slow-speed rail (Amtrak) suffice. In fact, the car usually makes the most financial sense when carpooling's factored in: 400 miles x $0.30/mile = $120. Carpooling with even ONE other person halves that to $60, and with a full load of 4, to $30. HSR probably can't even beat the first figure -- especially once you factor in the likely need to taxi/ZipCar yourself around once you get to your destination -- and flat out loses to the other two.

To anyone delusional enough to think masses of people would sacrifice personal finances for environmentalism, please explain why 19 of the 20 hybrid cars offered for sale in the past decade haven't sold worth jack s*** in the marketplace. The 20th would of course be the Prius, the only one with a positive cost/benefit ratio, and even it might've been a money loser without prestige on its side.

Public transit is great, but as long as the state's broke as a joke and our colleges are falling apart, let's focus our dwindling transportation resources on something that actually makes sense and benefits more than 1%. How about going ahead with electrifying Caltrain, or extending BART outward to somewhere like Livermore, a city where masses of Bay Area workers actually live and commute from. Sheesh.

Like this comment
Posted by bert
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:12 pm

To all the HSR boosters why cry NIMBY! How pathetic that the best, and apparently only, reason to squander hundreds of billions to build a train most voters apparently don't want, and that the state surely can not afford, is to repeatedly post 'NIMBY'. Come on, don't you have any better argument than that? nimby nimby nimby! The CA HSR Authority doesn't pull the nimby card because even they know how lame it is. Have you considered making a donation to the CA HSR program, they sure could use your money right about now. Actually, they could use all of you money right about now, and then some more. Make a statement, a down payment if you prefer, on the fabulous train to nowhere! It seems that your share of the cost should be about $8000, for starters. I imagine checks can be sent to:

California High-Speed Rail Authority
770 L Street, Suite 800
Sacramento, CA 95814

Let us know how that works out for you.

Like this comment
Posted by Terry
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 15, 2011 at 10:14 pm

... funny name, good point +1

Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Nov 16, 2011 at 12:23 pm

If California's state government took its entire tax revenue for one year and burnt it in a huge bonfire on the Capitol steps, our society would be far better off than if HSR is built.

This is an utterly worthless project at incomprehensible expense. It seems like a natural for California's peculiar brand of unicorn-worshipping politics, but perhaps people are starting to wake up.

Like this comment
Posted by ReallyReduce
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm

What ways are available REALLY to reduce traffic on our streets and highways?
How to do more carpooling!, and make that cheaper.
I don't know if the train emissions would correlate to X number of cars exhaust, but should be known.
Put it out plainly...
Our ENVIRONMENT is ultimately what we must SAVE. If not, we will get sick, and not have beautiful blue skies, clean water etc.

Like this comment
Posted by Steve Silvin
a resident of another community
on Jan 30, 2012 at 10:03 am

Wow, alot of passion here.
It sounds like we have the technology, but not the will.
I think the will is not there because of the realization of a high level of corruption in government and unions. I agree that that makes HSR cost prohibitive.

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

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