Palo Alto raises red flags about rail funding

City wants 'cleanup language' for bill, to clarify state's commitment to two-track system, Caltrain's electrification

Nearly a month after California legislators passed a bill to begin construction of high-speed rail, Palo Alto officials are still trying to sort out the bill's ambiguities and considering ways to insert "cleanup language" that would ease local anxieties about the highly controversial project.

The City Council Rail Committee had a lengthy discussion on Friday afternoon about Senate Bill 1029, which legislators passed on July 12 and which Gov. Jerry Brown subsequently signed into law. The bill cleared the state Assembly and the Senate largely by a party vote, with Democrats promoting high-speed rail as a necessary aid for the state's economy and transportation system and Republicans characterizing it as a boondoggle that would further exacerbate California's considerable financial woes. The state Senate approved the bill by a single vote, with Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, among a handful of Democrats who voted against it.

The Palo Alto City Council has been among the project's most vehement opponents. In December, the council unanimously adopted as the city's position a call for the project's termination. The council, which supported the project in 2008, gradually turned against it after the price tag more than doubled from the 2008 predictions and after local watchdogs and independent analysts found major flaws in the California High Speed Rail Authority's ridership projections.

The committee on Friday focused on a number of perceived "ambiguities" in the newly passed appropriation bill. One issues is the bill's commitment to the northern and southern ends of the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles system. While most of the funding would go to construction of the rail line's first segment in the Central Valley, the bill also provides $705 million for to electrify Caltrain. However, as the Weekly reported last month, the bill also includes a clause that could allow the shifting of funds from the ends of the line to the Central Valley if there are cost overruns.

From the perspective of Peninsula communities, which see Caltrain's electrification as a major bright spot of the bill, this clause creates a major problem. Palo Alto hopes to convince legislators to pass a high-speed-rail "cleanup" bill that would clarify some of these ambiguities and guarantee that funds would not be shifted to the Central Valley. Councilman Larry Klein, who chairs the Rail Committee, said it will likely be hard to get a commitment from the legislators to guarantee that the northern and southern "bookend" projects get funded.

"If they have cost overruns in the Central Valley, how are they going to cover that?" Klein asked. "The answer is -- they will take the money from the bookends. They have a commitment to get the Central Valley thing done, otherwise they won't get the federal money."

The Rail Committee on Friday directed staff to put together a memorandum listing its concerns. The memorandum could then be used by the city's Sacramento lobbyists to influence future legislation relating to funding of high-speed rail. In addition to seeking a guarantee of bookend funding, Palo Alto also hopes to get a guarantee from the California High-Speed Rail Authority that all future funding allocations (not just the one in SB 1029) would be used for a two-track "blended" system. Under that rail design, high-speed rail and Caltrain would share two tracks. The rail authority had initially proposed a four-track system before backing off in the face of intense Peninsula opposition.

Palo Alto is also looking for a guarantee that funding for high-speed rail would be contingent on compliance with the California Environmental Quality Act, without alteration or weakening. City officials also want to make sure that Caltrain would serve as the lead agency for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment of the line.

While city officials hope to see Sacramento lawmakers address this cleanup-language bill as soon as possible, the debate might have to wait until early next year, according to the city's lobbyist, John Garamendi, Jr. Legislators are currently focused on pensions, Garamendi said, adding that he would be surprised if they get to clean-up language during the current session, which ends in three weeks.

The city's memorandum, Garamendi said, would allow his firm to submit letters as needed when the subject of high-speed rail returns to Sacramento's center stage. In the meantime, Palo Alto plans to continue to reach out to state officials, analysts and members of the local watchdog group Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design (CARRD) in hopes of getting some clarity about the recently passed bill.

"The devil's in the details," Councilman Pat Burt said. "How the legislation is described and what the actual wording is are two different things. People tend to take others' words for the characterization of the content of the legislation."


Like this comment
Posted by Martin Engel
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 10, 2012 at 6:55 pm

It should be clear by now that, no matter how commendable Palo Alto's position is regarding the high-speed rail project, without leverage -- "clout" --, all the letters, resolutions, lobbying, fact-finding, analysis, etc. that have been and continue to be conducted, are worthless.

There is a basic, non-negotiable position of the Governor and the majority of Democrats in Sacramento. Councilman Klein has it right: the CV will get its useless tracks and ALL available funds will be directed to that end in order to obtain the "free" FRA funding. That is the Governor's mission.

What is Palo Alto's -- or the entire Peninsula's, for that matter -- bargaining position? What could possibly persuade Brown or the Legislature to change their collective minds? Reason? Logic? Priorities? The facts? Strategic planning? Cost/benefit analysis? Fuggedaboudid!

Without a massive, popular uprising in opposition to this project, we can expect nothing to change for the better. Washington today is rife with confrontation politics. And that's what it will take to obtain the changes we are seeking. It's not a pretty picture, but unless our government is made aware of how widespread and how intensively most Californians object to this project, our few voices will be drowned out.

Like this comment
Posted by Carl
a resident of Midtown
on Aug 10, 2012 at 7:48 pm

This is so lame! The Palo Alto City Council voted, unanimously, to support this HSR turkey! What do they expect? Wimps should not complain when the get what they whine for.

HSR will go through Palo Alto, and the rest of the penninsula cities, as a four track elevated system. Get used to it!

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm

HSR must operate independently from freight and local transport such as Caltrain. That is how it is done all over the world. Blended systems cause delays, mishaps, and control systems nightmares. Maybe Facebook should pay to put it underground? After all, they have four insider stock holder lock-up periods expiring soon. And people gots to get paid.

Like this comment
Posted by James
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Aug 10, 2012 at 10:05 pm

HSR must operate independently from freight and local transport such as Caltrain. That is how it is done all over the world. Blended systems cause delays, mishaps, and control systems nightmares. Maybe Facebook should pay to put it underground? After all, they have four insider stock holder lock-up periods expiring soon. And people gots to get paid.

Like this comment
Posted by paloaltoresident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Aug 11, 2012 at 9:29 am

Love Acela on the East Coast, would love it here. A lot of NIMBY behavior mostly driven by a refusal to bury the whole line beneath the city.

Like this comment
Posted by TJ
a resident of Barron Park
on Aug 11, 2012 at 10:42 am

But there is still no money.

Like this comment
Posted by axel
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 12, 2012 at 1:13 am

I'm appreciative of the fact that council did a 180 and is now fighting it, after urging the community to support Prop 1A in 2008. I hope that blunder is emphasized repeatedly in this fall's council election. (Liz Kniss was a big HSR fan too, until she figured out which way the wind was blowing.) We need to keep fighting this -- including Caltrain electrification. Electrification is simply a way of enabling HSR to slip onto the Peninsula without a fight. My bet is that Romney is elected and the Senate goes Republican. If that happens, they'll stop the federal part of HSR funding in a New York Minute. Then we'll have to fight union shills like Rich Gordon and Jerry Hill, who will probably push for funding HSR entirely out of state funds.

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Posted by Adina
a resident of Menlo Park
on Aug 12, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Caltrain has record ridership and trains are full capacity at rush hour. Electrification will enable it to run a sixth train at peak, plus stop more often at Cal Ave, San Antonio and Menlo Park to take the pressure off of downtown. Opposing electrification means more traffic congestion on the streets, even more competition for parking spaces and local expense for parking structures. We are really biting off our nose to spite our face if we fight electrification as a tool to oppose high speed rail.

Like this comment
Posted by Julian
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 12, 2012 at 8:11 pm

If the HSR proposal wasn't full of it they'd have no compunctions about separating it from Caltrain electrification. That connection is just a ruse to make it harder to oppose the turkey.

Like this comment
Posted by I don't need no edukation, duh train is a comin'
a resident of College Terrace
on Aug 12, 2012 at 9:22 pm

I'm hopeful that the electrification of Caltrain is a success, however, with EVERYTHING remotely connected to CA HSR, the devil is in the details. The CA HSR Authority has either lied, denied, or made up virtually every aspect of HSR, especially details about how it will impact communities all over the state. That is not a Palo Alto centric issue.

Having said that, I believe that the Caltrain funds will be swallowed up by the central valley project. Who is to stop them, the Governor? Furthermore, the Caltrain funding legislation speaks at length about adding more trains per hour or day along the corridor, and furthermore, the CA HSR plan is still the 4-track plan. Our 'leaders in Sacramento couldn't care less about that detail. As pointed out earlier, the Caltrain carrot/lie was most likely an enticement for legislators, like our half wit rep Gordon, to support it.

Finally, it seems to me that train safety is cited at length as a justification to spend these funds. Ok, why no mention of person safety? Honestly, when was the last time any trains collided along the Caltrain corridor? I can't think of one. When was the last train car or person collision? There are too many to count. My point is, why are there virtually NO funds for grade separations on the Peninsula? More trains result in more rail crossing gates down, resulting in more traffic. More trains, and probably faster trains, will also sadly result in more really accidental deaths on the tracks. Well, so long as the trains are safe, I guess that's ok with Brown and his yes men.

Like this comment
Posted by YIMBY
a resident of University South
on Aug 13, 2012 at 11:45 am

YIMBY is a registered user.

What am I missing?

Palo Alto tries to kill Senate Bill 1029, and now is trying "to clean it up"?
Isn't this inherently contradictory, i.e. how can you really be taken seriously if you tried to prevent the bill from becoming law in the first place?

Like this comment
Posted by ZoBon
a resident of another community
on Aug 13, 2012 at 12:00 pm

That electrification stuff's gonna bite ya.

When the juice stops, EVERYTHING stops. The trains, the A/C, the lights. Can you imagine that?

Like this comment
Posted by Tim
a resident of University South
on Aug 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm

Every hour the city council spends debating a state issue is a waste of taxpayer money. It would be similar to the state legislature trying to discuss military funding or Social Security. Not their business, not within their power, and therefore a waste of time and money.

Like this comment
Posted by senor blogger
a resident of Palo Verde
on Aug 13, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Just where is the City getting the money to hire lobbyists and fight this Progressive Project.
What is the budget line item. Where is the voter mandate?
I challenge any Council Member to answer these simple questions

Like this comment
Posted by dave
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 3:41 pm

One item in the original Prop. A was that private money would be part of the funding. No private organization has even hinted at supporting the project. They recognize a loser, i.e. no profits, when they see it.

Like this comment
Posted by Janie
a resident of Downtown North
on Aug 13, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Should never have been put on the ballot from the beginning.

Like this comment
Posted by Choo Choo Charlie
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Aug 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm

Palo Alton's voted 70% to 30% in favor or Prop 1A in 2008 with Palo Alto City Council voting unanimously in favor of the HSR Project. In the standard wishy washy Palo Alto mentality, now Palo Altan's wring their hands in doubt. Your local politicians mislead you and still you blame others because everybody should now somehow listen to your reformed ideology. What a joke! So goes it with a transient population like Palo Alto ( 53% who are renters according to the 2010 U.S. Census). The choo-choo trains a comin'... get onboard or get out of the way!

Like this comment
Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Aug 13, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Electrified CalTrain and improvements to L.A. Metro were not, repeat NOT part of Prop 1A. The electorate did not vote on that. Even Quentin Kopp questions whether it's is legal. Quentin Kopp, of all people!

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 13, 2012 at 10:00 pm

70% of Palo Alto saw that Prop 1A promised that the authority would be required to show full funding for a complete usable segment of HIGH SPEED RAIL before proceeding to build. (not conventional rail, not Caltrain, Metrolink, not stranded empty non-electrified track in the middle of nowhere. Therefore knowing damn well that the authority could not muster than funding, people said - sure go ahead, when monkeys fly, we approve bond funding. Now all of a sudden the authority and governor, and the puppet democrats that are bought and paid for by unions and developers, and foamers like Choo Choo Charlie - all don't think the rules set forth by Prop 1A, and approved by the voters, are all that important. (Because they know damn well, that Prop 1A sets forth impossible prerequisites.) So Palo Altan's will fight the rip off.

Like this comment
Posted by Parent
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Aug 13, 2012 at 10:03 pm

Its funny how the thieves supporting HSR like to quote the voter approval of Prop 1A,,, But yet, they really can't, and don't intend to, follow the requirements set for by Prop 1A.

Like this comment
Posted by choo choo charlie
a resident of St. Claire Gardens
on Feb 15, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Add the poster "Parent" as one of the lemmings who voted for Prop 1A and now blame everyone for their misinformed ignorance. What a pity!

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