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Palo Alto explores ways to pay for revamped Caltrain intersections

Original post made on Nov 29, 2017

Despite years of discussions about the need to separate the Caltrain tracks from the local streets that intersect the rail line, Palo Alto leaders are still struggling to figure out what the project would look like and how it would be paid for.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, November 29, 2017, 4:54 PM

Comments (79)

4 people like this
Posted by Midlander
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 29, 2017 at 5:28 pm

Midlander is a registered user.

Dear Palo Alto Online,

I fear you have dropped some digits in your summary. The costs for the "cheap" trenches are not $500,000 and $750,000, but rather $500 million and $750 million.


2 people like this
Posted by Jocelyn Dong
editor of the Palo Alto Weekly
on Nov 29, 2017 at 6:08 pm

Jocelyn Dong is a registered user.

You're correct, Midlander. Thanks for catching that. It's been fixed.


6 people like this
Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Nov 29, 2017 at 6:11 pm

I find the map graphic helpful.


37 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 29, 2017 at 7:17 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Just a reminder that the current City Council has consistently refused to impose per-employee taxes on businesses or to even conduct accurate employee counts. Unless the Council becomes more sensitive to resident needs, we the residents will get stuck with the increased tax burden.

Also, oddly, this article seems much more concerned with bike traffic than car traffic at a time when we're looking at a massive Stanford expansion.


22 people like this
Posted by seriously?
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 30, 2017 at 8:45 am

"close the current at-grade crossings at Palo Alto Avenue"

And where would this traffic go? Pushing it all through the business district at University would be a nightmare. It's already bad enough there with Stanford traffic, forcing all the Palo Alto Avenue traffic through there as well will just result in gridlock.


20 people like this
Posted by Evan
a resident of Crescent Park
on Nov 30, 2017 at 8:57 am

Tunneling, while expensive, would return a massive amount of land that could be used for both a bike/walking path and put on the public market for sale (I think?). I'm not sure if this is an option with the right of way and Southern Pacific and all that, but I hope it's being considered. I imagine if you built housing or offices (or hell, I hope, both) over Palo Alto and Cal Ave caltrain stations, you could raise hundreds of millions — or billions — of dollars.


29 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 30, 2017 at 11:46 am

The per-employee tax evaluated by the consultant was for 10 years. A 30-year tax would raise three times as much.

And it should apply to non-profits like Stanford Hospital as well.

A 30-year tax at $1,000 per employee (increasing with wage inflation) who makes over, say, $50,000 per year for employers for employers with over, say, 10 employees assigned to Palo Alto would raise a lot more money.

$1,000 employee is less than the current rate in San Francisco, according to the study.

A back of the envelope calculation is 100,000 employees x 80% qualify for the employer tax x $1000/year x 30 years. That's $2.4 Billion (with a "B")!

If we banded together with other cities, we could get State transportation tax dollars. And, when Trump is out of office, we could get Federal transportation dollars.

Palo Alto citizens could impose a Transportation Impact Fee with a majority (50% plus 1) vote of the people through the initiative process, while 2/3 approval would be required if the City Council proposed such a tax. So we are not constrained by the City Council's antipathy to business license taxes.


24 people like this
Posted by Nancy
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Nov 30, 2017 at 12:13 pm

I hope they can make the trenches a special design, like a "statement" welcome to Palo Alto. It would be so fabulous!

Lets have a design contest, get approval, have another contest because someone doesn't like the winning design and pay triple to four times the original price!

I love spending other peoples money.


2 people like this
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 30, 2017 at 12:38 pm

Any "per-employee tax" should be billed directly to the employee. Payable to the City of Palo Alto. We should know (and feel) the true cost of all taxes, otherwise there is no transparency, and we're fleeced by unknown amounts from unknown directions. At least make it a line-item on the paycheck stub at $20 a week. We can skip holiday gifts, or negotiate with our employers to give us a raise to pay for it. 2.4 billion dollars doesn't materialize out of nowhere. It comes right out of our purchasing power or gets added to the cost of goods and services.


20 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 30, 2017 at 1:02 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

It is clear that peninsula cities are facing huge transportation challenges that are solvable, but they lack the funds dedicated to meet those needs. We need to fully implement trip reduction programs citywide, based on the the downtown TMA and Stanford Research Park models, to actually solve our severe traffic and parking problems. In addition, we need much larger funds to pay for major capital projects, the biggest being Caltrain grade separations.
A city payroll or gross receipts tax is common throughout the country and even in California. 30 of the 50 largest cities in California have gross receipts taxes. For whatever reason, the smaller cities of Silicon Valley have much lower business taxes than many cities, despite being home to many of the most successful companies anywhere. If Palo Alto, Mountain View and Menlo Park implemented taxes less than what San Francisco currently charges, we could actually solve these problems. This would not only benefit residents, but is critical for the workers and the companies who employ them. If we don't solve these problems the livability and economic vitality of our region will continue to deteriorate.
The good news about us facing the grade separation funding issue is that it is forcing a serious look by the community at how to solve these problems, rather than just the options identified by the consultants and staff in this expensive and yet limited report.


15 people like this
Posted by Open space along a trenched train - no buildings
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 30, 2017 at 2:44 pm

We absolutely do not want to build anything on area that may be left open by trenching the trains. We are over 40 acres behind on amount of park space and playing fields that we are suppose to have on a population basis. Our city council has been adding people and buildings and not usable in city open space. A long park/bike/walking path along as much of the train track as possible is what we need.

As far as funding goes. We may need to start trenching at one end of town, say Charleston/Meadow and work our way North. This way we could implement the business tax (and why not since these are the people taking the train to get here) and perhaps a tax on Stanford (since some of their workers also arrive on the train). Then as funds are collected we can move on to Churchill and Palo Alto or even reconfigure other intersections to put the entire length in a trench and make one long connecting open space along the rail line right of way.

I hope that this city can have a vision for how things should look in 100 years, and not just cover everything with giant buildings in an attempt to make money. (But so far this has never happened).


15 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Nov 30, 2017 at 2:46 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Of course we're facing huge transportation challenges because companies and non-profits keep adding a huge number of employees who triple and quadruple our population every weekday and then spend a huge amount of money to stick barriers in the middle of the road to make the challenges worse.

If you want to reduce car trips. get the commuters out of their cars and limit them to bikes since there are 3 or 4 times as many of them as residents. They don't need to haul groceries, pets and kids around.

Also, I wonder if this con$ultant is even aware of the other con$ultant studying whether to make University Ave pedestrian-only. Probably not given the way the city wastes OUR money.


20 people like this
Posted by margaret heath
a resident of College Terrace
on Nov 30, 2017 at 3:31 pm

Stanford is requesting the county's permission to add millions of square feet of additional development through 2035. In Stanford's Draft Environmental Impact Report to the county, Stanford is claiming their impact on Palo Alto's traffic will be mitigated because the trains will carry a large number of these additional employees. Their report assuming trains will be more frequent and longer during peak commute times.

A) Existing platforms are not long enough to add the number of carriages they claim will carry their employees. There is no plan or funding to extend the platforms.

B) The number and length of the trains they claim will bring in their employees during peak commute hours will effectively close the three at grade crossings (Charleston, E. Meadow, Churchill) during those hours.

As mitigation measures for this huge employment expansion Stanford must be required to:

A) Contribute funds so the platforms can hold the longer trains they claim are necessary to accommodate their additional employees.

B) Contribute to grade separation at Charleston, E. Meadow, and Charleston.

Or be required to revise their DEIR assumption for the number of employees who will travel by train and demonstrate how their additional employees, who will not be accommodated on the train, will be travelling to and from Stanford. What will be the impact of that on Palo Alto's roads.


33 people like this
Posted by Maybe slow down?
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Nov 30, 2017 at 3:41 pm

Maybe we should all slow down? so what is we wait at the crossings.I prefer to wait and not pay more taxes.


22 people like this
Posted by Arthur Keller
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Nov 30, 2017 at 4:01 pm

@ Taxpayer. The fee will come out of employer profits. There is no reason to charge it to employees.

@ Maybe slow down? If we do not build the grade separations, traffic will not clear at those grade crossings during rush hours. That is, the queue of cars waiting will grow longer and longer, backing up traffic farther and farther.

Most of the traffic congestion is due to employees driving into Palo Alto and Stanford and most Caltrain use related to Palo Alto train stations is employees coming into town.


5 people like this
Posted by Mike
a resident of Professorville
on Nov 30, 2017 at 4:15 pm

If instead of messing with Caltrain, we build out the Bart System circling the Bay, with local and espress tracks, making sure there is a stop at the three major airports, and terminate the high speed rail in San Jose, we could have stations along El Camino.


9 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Nov 30, 2017 at 4:18 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

Regarding the timing of funds from a payroll or gross receipts business tax, most of those funds could be bonded. Bonding would allow the city to construct the grade separation project to be funded as it, or phases of it, are ready for construction.


11 people like this
Posted by Passing On
a resident of Barron Park
on Nov 30, 2017 at 4:22 pm

Palo Alto has become a virtual parking lot anyway.
It is overcrowded and overdeveloped.
Who cares if the RR crossings cause delays ?
If they are unsafe - then close them completely.
Use the $Billion you would have spent on the grade separations and trenching to help the RV dwellers, homeless, and poor.


11 people like this
Posted by Patrick
a resident of Mountain View
on Nov 30, 2017 at 4:46 pm

I think that the city and county should bargain with Stanford that would allow them to expand if Stanford funds the grade separations.



31 people like this
Posted by Abitarian
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 30, 2017 at 5:37 pm

I agree with Arthur Keller.

For far too long, employers in Palo Alto -- including Stanford University and Stanford Health Care -- have created transportation (and other) problems for residents.

And for far too long, City Hall has aided and abetted these employers, both by enabling over-growth in building and employees as well as exempting these businesses from providing genuine mitigation and paying their fair share.

While I don't have an exact formula in mind, I believe these businesses -- and Stanford is a business -- should fund the share of the costs that is not covered by governmental means, etc.

They created the problems; they should be held accountable to fix it.

Residents should not have to pay higher sales tax, higher property tax, etc. The residents have already funded far to much corporate welfare in this city.


18 people like this
Posted by Ken
a resident of Downtown North
on Nov 30, 2017 at 8:08 pm

I understand and appreciate that the 'do nothing' solution should be a pert of any study for comparison purposes. However, in my view all of the existing at grade crossings need to be permanently separated. There should be no question about that. I personally like the tunnel idea, which is what some in Menlo City govt are also suggesting (tunnel from Sunnyvale to RWC I believe), as the best long term permanent solution. Pat Burt is right, cost is a huge hurdle, and Arthur Keller has pointed out that there are mechanisms available to reach those goals. I urge the city to think big, in terms of what option(s) are going to provide the best long term solutions with respect to quality of life in this town. I feel that a rail system that is out of sight and out of mind is best. Trains can run 24/7, theoretically, and move large numbers of people without disturbing anyone living above. A MUCH better situation than we have now.


5 people like this
Posted by Devon
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 1, 2017 at 10:25 am

It seems like most of the proposed ideas are "in the box." In our neck of the woods, we ought to be better at coming up with novel ideas. What about building a series of office buildings from the north end of Palo Alto to the South covering the space used by the train tracks now, with gaps for the automobile crossings, and the train (+ stations) on top? Use contracts with builders to help fund the construction. With Palo Alto land value, it seems like even a single story of office/retail space could create a lot of money. And if it isn't too noisy for housing/condos, we could use more of that, too! Let's use the space we have wisely.


7 people like this
Posted by Marie
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2017 at 2:32 pm

Marie is a registered user.

Why on earth are they proposing bike and pedestrian crossings when they don't have the funds to separate the actual grade crossings? Is this an excuse to shut down two of the four crossings?

If the city can find a way for even a partially covered trench, then many more auto/bike/pedestrian crossings would be possible at minimal additional cost, not to mention (which no one ever seems to do), funding the trench by building housing over the tracks. If they could do it over Grand Central and Penn Central in NY, in the last century, surely this could be done now.


1 person likes this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2017 at 2:38 pm

"What about building a series of office buildings from the north end of Palo Alto to the South covering the space used by the train tracks now"

Where would the train tracks go?

How would you respond to the hue and cry of building a "Berlin Wall" through town?

Guess what! The City of Palo Alto does not own the Caltrain right-of-way. It is owned by the PCJPB. Palo Alto can't simply start building/developing/turning this land into a bike path without acquiring the right to do so from PCJPB. That means either leasing or outright purchasing the land.

You also have to factor CA HSR into the equation. It wants to use the ROW for its high-speed trains.


5 people like this
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 1, 2017 at 2:57 pm

The more crazy ideas, the better. Nothing like chaos to guarantee inaction.


10 people like this
Posted by john_alderman
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 1, 2017 at 3:09 pm

john_alderman is a registered user.

@taxpayer - Yes, and they are completely ignoring the most practical, and inexpensive solution which is elevating the tracks like San Carlos.


23 people like this
Posted by Mr. Below Ground
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2017 at 3:10 pm

This is a once in a hundred year's opportunity to radically transform our city for the better. Any solution that doesn't include putting the trains below ground would be a catastrophic failure. I know cost is an issue but if High Speed Rail wants to run its trains through our city, then they'll need to figure out a way to pay to put the trains below ground. City Council, you guys have the opportunity to do something historic for Palo Alto. Don't get mired in the nitty gritty. Focus on a plan that dramatically changes the city and our quality of life. Then get the state and federal gov't to pay for it. A few billion dollars to transform Palo Alto is chump change. You guys gotta think big here.


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Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 1, 2017 at 3:39 pm

"I know cost is an issue"

You could raise taxes on Palo Alto's vast inventory of $3-million homes.

"Then get the state and federal gov't to pay for it. A few billion dollars to transform Palo Alto is chump change."

I'm sure the Trump administration loves California so much that it would jump at the chance to write the check.

The state is less certain. Jerry Brown is a lame duck so who knows what will happen to HSR?


4 people like this
Posted by stanhutchings
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2017 at 12:19 am

stanhutchings is a registered user.

Traveling by train in Japan, I see elevated tracks on which trains travel at high speed. Indeed, the famed Bullet Train is elevated for much of its route. In some places, there are several layers of elevation, trains passing above and below each other. The stations have escalators and elevators in addition to stairs. The stations are public transportation hubs, from which bus lines, taxis, cars and bicycles fan out in every direction. Roads cross freely, without having to stop for trains. Suicide by train is unheard of. Much of the property under the tracks in cities are shops, open to both sides in places. Stations are "anchored" by major department stores in the cities. These graceful elevated structures did not bankrupt the rail companies or the government. Fares are reasonable, with passes for students and seniors. Is this something the US can't do? If not, why? If so, why are we not doing it?


3 people like this
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2017 at 2:15 am

Extremely sensitive topic, risking deletion here. But cannot let the above assertion about life on the tracks of Japan go uncorrected: e.g. "Japan has a high suicide rate. It’s one of the highest in the world. And one Tokyo train station, a known suicide spot, is doing what it can to stop people from taking their lives." Trust me, you don't want to Google the issue.


Like this comment
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2017 at 5:16 am

"Is this something the US can't do? If not, why? If so, why are we not doing it?"

All you have to do is pay for it.

How much more tax are you willing to pay?


4 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2017 at 7:55 am

I tend to think (but no evidence) that the reason other countries are able to spend more on infrastructure is that their tax dollars (or equivalents) actually goes on things the people need and use rather than bloated government expenses, legal fees, administration expenses and bonuses, and so on and so forth. I have my suspicions that government spending on the business of government and its bureaucracy, takes away from all the money that could be spent on basic infrastructure. And then of course there's all the money wasted (sorry spent) on elections and other government feel goods.

I just wonder how much is being spent to cover up and pay for legal defense in all the sexual harassment issues at present.

Whether at the local, State or Federal level, if government put curbs on their own expenses there would be a lot more money for things like public transportation, roads, bridges and train tunnels.


11 people like this
Posted by Why is Caltrain not responsible for the cost?
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 2, 2017 at 8:10 am

Why is Caltrain not responsible for the cost? is a registered user.

I don’t understand why individual cities are responsible for the cost of the crossings, why isn’t Caltrain paying for a consistent solution at ALL of the crossings?


18 people like this
Posted by Because
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 2, 2017 at 8:48 am

@ Why is Caltrain not responsible for the cost?

The train always has a green light - so the grade separations aren't actually a benefit for the train - they are a benefit for the cars.

Each time a train comes, it just continues on, while it is the traffic signals for cars that are interrupted (this is known as a "pre-emption event", in our case, a train pre-emption). In transit terms, grade separations help relieve ROAD congestion - they are not for trains.

However, it is reasonable to ask why we aren't working together for more regional funding. There are 42 grade separations between SF and San Jose that need to be completed. The Bay area has the 3rd worst commute traffic in the United States. We should be seeking federal and State funding to help pay for these improvements.

We have a unique problem in our area - our Caltrain is actually full. This is actually a good thing - Caltrain at rush hour is the equivalent of 2 lanes of traffic on the 101 in EACH direction according to a recent SPUR report. The goal should be to expand Caltrain - so that we can have better service.

Imagine being able to walk up to the station and getting a train every 5-7 minutes to head to SF - any time of day - or a least up until about midnight. Then more people would take Caltrain right? Now imagine Caltrain extends all the way into the financial district? It's future home will be near the Salesforce tower at TransBay terminal. A lot more people will take the train.

Thus, a lot more trains will run on the tracks and if we don't grade separate - we will be stuck in traffic.

Stanford should absolutely be part of the solution as well. It is doubly dependent on a robust Caltrain to carry the amount of passengers they are forecasting to ensure they have "no net new trips" after expanding by 25% as proposed in their General Use Permit. They should be paying money towards grade separations, just as Levi Stadium had to give some money to VTA light rail to improve the platforms there...

The City of Palo Alto needs to do a better job of working on this issue at a regional level...


12 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2017 at 9:25 am

Online Name is a registered user.

@Because, you said "Thus, a lot more trains will run on the tracks and if we don't grade separate - we will be stuck in traffic."

We already ARE stuck in traffic, often by design thanks to the city's traffic reduction goals and lack of coordination with neighboring towns.

We already are devising lengthy workarounds and constantly refining them when the city creates new barriers/impediments to getting where we need to go.


6 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2017 at 9:32 am

Because has got it right. Government money is needed.

One more thing about Caltrain which may or may not be unique is that the trains are full in both directions almost all of the way at commute times. Additionally we have a large sports complex at both ends which are also used for concerts and other events. Both these factors make Caltrain not only extremely useful for commuters, but are ideal for other events which would put a lot of traffic on our roads otherwise. Can you imagine 101 on a Sharks or Giants home game without Caltrain?

We desperately need Government, Federal funding grants for this.


9 people like this
Posted by Eric Rosenblum
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 2, 2017 at 11:29 am

I don't know who "Because" is above, but (s)he got it right. We have a unique asset. Grade separation will allow us to take full(er) advantage, but it is also a regional issue.


8 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Dec 2, 2017 at 12:26 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

I agree with Because and Eric.

Let's find a shared responsibility solution.

Lots of PA residents use the train to go elsewhere and the train helps keep some cars off the highways.

It seems to me that we mostly all benefit by CalTrain expansion and solving the grade separation issue.


2 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2017 at 12:29 pm

"Why is Caltrain not responsible for the cost?"

Because they don't own the cross streets. The cross streets are owned by CPA. The RR right of way, the strip of land where the train tracks are located, is owned by PCJPB (Caltrain). Caltrain has no interest in, say, Churchill Ave. crossing its tracks so it's not going to bear the cost.


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Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2017 at 12:35 pm

Good luck with "shared responsibility".

Other cities, e.g. San Carlos, have already achieved grade sep without shared responsibility. It would be reasonable for, say, San Carlos to ask why they should help finance grade sep. in other cities such as Palo Alto. San Carlos would derive no benefit as they already have grade sep.


2 people like this
Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Dec 2, 2017 at 1:32 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.

Guess What,

I mean by shared responsibility that residents and businesses share.

Are you saying in San Carlos that only one segment of the population contributed. that could not be the case if any public San Carlos money was used because city funds come from residents, businesses and visitors.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 2, 2017 at 1:54 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Let businesses and major non-profits like Stanford and Sutter pay since they're creating 4 times as much traffic as residents, a figure that would rise even more if Stanford's expansion plans get approved.

At the very least, pro rate the fees so businesses and non-profit employers pay 4 times as much as residents.

Of course that approach would need accurate employment counts, something the current CC has adamantly rejected.


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Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 2, 2017 at 3:28 pm

"Are you saying in San Carlos that only one segment of the population contributed."

No, I interpreted "shared responsibility" to mean shared among several different municipalities.


3 people like this
Posted by Anon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 2, 2017 at 7:26 pm

Achievable passenger capacities of light and heavy rail systems range from 10,000 to 50,000 passengers per hour per track.

Web Link

I suggest that local cities design and build this upgrade to take maximum advantage of the existing right-of-way, for example, so that at least a four-track system (two tracks in each direction) be accommodated in future expansion. 100,000 passengers per hour would be roughly 45 freeway lanes in each direction with single-occupancy vehicles (more lanes required depending on number of trucks).

Caltrain, limited as it is, would require another 2-3 lanes per direction freeway to replace its rush hour passenger traffic. It is worth a lot of effort to make rail transit work. Anybody want to live next to a 45-lane freeway?

One problem with rail transit is that it can be so efficient that it is too easy to take it for granted. Every car driver benefits from Caltrain and the commute load it carries, even though the drivers are not using Caltrain. Try to picture what 90 new lanes of commuter freeway through the peninsula would look like. Ridiculous? But, the reality is that a maximum-capacity multi-track rail transit system could carry those commuters with low impact (electrified, below-grade).


10 people like this
Posted by SRB
a resident of another community
on Dec 2, 2017 at 9:51 pm

@Stephen Levy

"Are you saying in San Carlos that only one segment of the population contributed."

Wasn't San Carlos funded out of a sales tax measure? Most businesses (specially tech) don't really pay sales tax.
In Santa Clara County, we already have (regressive) a few transportation sales taxes on consumers. Wouldn't a shared responsibility mean businesses should start to pay their fair share (business tax)?


16 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 3, 2017 at 11:04 am

Pat Burt is a registered user.

The voter approval last fall of county Measure B provided over $300 million in sales tax revenue for Palo Alto grade separations. Work on that measure began in 2014 and provides our first major funding for grade separations. San Mateo County had an earlier transportation sales tax which helped fund a limited number of separations in that county.
All of our county transportation taxes over the past 20 years have been sales taxes which are regressive and paid primarily by residents. As Arthur Keller and I have noted above, San Francisco and most large cities in California have either payroll or gross receipts business taxes. Under the CA constitution, only Charter Cities, including Palo Alto and Mountain View, are allowed to enact payroll taxes. A business tax rate lower than what San Francisco charges would provide funding for local transportation that could pay for the balance of our grade separation costs, as well as fully funding a citywide Transportation Management Association that would significantly reduce our traffic and parking problems. This would not only address the needs of residents, but is needed for businesses and Stanford who are facing huge challenges retaining workers due to ever worsening traffic congestion.


2 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2017 at 12:11 pm

"pay for the balance of our grade separation costs"

I would be very cautious about making such a prediction, Pat. The cost of grade sep is going to be awfully steep -- well over $1 billion -- if Palo Alto wants the trains in a trench or tunnel, and double or treble the projected cost when "cost overruns" are taken into consideration (cf. bay bridge). If Palo Alto decides on a "Holly street/San Carlos" approach consisting of hybrid crossings, the cost will be more reasonable. Others have made that same point here.


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Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 3, 2017 at 1:03 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

@Guess What
I agree that the costs are dependent on the design alternative selected as well as the amount generated and bondable from the business tax which is why I included a qualifier in my statement above. In addition, other funds may be available from state and regional transportation taxes.


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Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2017 at 3:14 pm

"as well as the amount generated and bondable from the business tax"

How does the tax revenue affect the cost? They're two different sides of the ledger.


17 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Dec 3, 2017 at 3:51 pm

Online Name is a registered user.

Let's not forget that in addition to the $300,000,000 sales tax we're already paying, most Californians will be paying much higher taxes due to the GOP tax bill working its way through Congress.

The deductible portion of mortgages will be halved, property tax deductions and other deductions for SALT (State and Local Taxes) will be capped at $10,000, etc. etc.

Given the direct hit California and other high-income blue states like NY will face, is anyone factoring in how the new tax bill will effect our local economy -- population growth, jobs growth, housing prices, etc. etc. -- ?


18 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2017 at 5:28 pm

@Because said:

"Imagine being able to walk up to the station and getting a train every 5-7 minutes to head to SF... Now imagine Caltrain extends all the way into the financial district?"

This sounds like Palo Alto residents are paying for something that is a huge economic benefit to the City of San Francisco. Why? Should we imagine Caltrain extending into the financial district above ground or below ground? It is hard to imagine Caltrain above ground in the financial district since even BART is underground in San Francisco.

"Regional cooperation" means Peninsula residents paying for infrastructure that is a huge economic windfall for City of San Francisco. We already have jets servicing San Francisco's tourist industry screeching over Palo Alto every five minutes. Now we are going to have trains servicing San Francisco's financial industry roaring through Palo Alto every five minutes as well?


3 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2017 at 5:50 pm

"Now we are going to have trains servicing San Francisco's financial industry roaring through Palo Alto every five minutes as well?"

That's high-speed rail. You have Governor Cash-and-Carry Jerry to thank for that.

My prediction is that those HSR trains will be largely empty. HSR is not going to live up to the speeds or the fares sold to the gullible public which voted for it. If you want to go between SFO and SoCal in a hurry, you're going to fly. That's one aspect of HSR that that was never studied: how will HSR compete against other modes of transportation? They were probably afraid of the answer.

HSR is not intended for daily commute. Caltrain is.


10 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2017 at 6:54 pm

Guess What said:

"HSR is not intended for daily commute. Caltrain is"

Wrong. The BART system was intended for daily commute. The Caltrain system was intended for freight.





6 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 3, 2017 at 7:31 pm

"The Caltrain system was intended for freight."

False. The S.F.-S.J Railroad/Southern Pacific were carrying commuters/passengers for decades before BART came into existence. Caltrain has never hauled one shred of freight. Freight is hauled by Union Pacific and its predecessor, Southern Pacific.

True: CA HSR is not intended to be a commute service.


2 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 3, 2017 at 8:49 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

@ Guess What
Sorry, my response was intended to say that the ability for a business tax to pay for the unfounded cost of grade separations is dependent on both the design alternative selected and the tax amount.


8 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 3, 2017 at 11:06 pm

@Guess What,

Caltrain operates on the same rail infrastructure (intended for freight) that Union Pacific still uses to haul freight.

Whether Southern Pacific was using its freight system to haul passengers before BART began operating its system "intended" to haul people is irrelevant. The BART infrastructure was engineered from the ground up to haul passengers. Caltrain's infrastructure was engineered from the ground up to haul freight and only adapted to haul passengers.


4 people like this
Posted by Reality Check
a resident of another community
on Dec 4, 2017 at 1:21 am

Reality Check is a registered user.

Modestly elevating the tracks on a landscaped (shielded by trees and foliage) berm and lowering the roads a bit to duck under the tracks is a fraction of the cost and is exactly what is now in the pipeline for Broadway in Burlingame and 25th, 28th and 31st Avenues in San Mateo. San Carlos did something similar about 20 years ago and grade-separated all 3 of its crossings in a single project. San Bruno recently also completed a similar project — but chose to elevate the train more fully so that the roads could stay at grade (no dip).

Burlingame Broadway approved project info & video simulation:
Web Link

San Mateo's 25th Ave. under-construction grade separation project (includes HSR funding):
Web Link


10 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2017 at 12:28 pm

@Reality Check

The partial dip scenarios have already been studied. Requires sinking Alma and/or taking properties. No dice.


2 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2017 at 12:43 pm

Burlingame has a nice video simulation.

Palo Alto has been at this for years and is not even that far along, with high-tech companies galore and Stanford brain power. I have not seen one artist's-concept drawing of what they plan to build, either from the 2014 H.M.M. study or from 2017.

San Carlos has had this issue licked for years while Palo Alto spins its wheels, flaps its gums and stalls.

As one Burlingame commenter observes, burying the trains in a tunnel or trench will seem like a good idea until you get your first property tax bill to pay for it, or until the trench/tunnel floods. Then those hybrid separations will seem gorgeous, elegant in their simplicity.


2 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2017 at 12:54 pm

"The partial dip scenarios have already been studied. Requires sinking Alma and/or taking properties. No dice."

Full hybrid crossings have NOT been studied for Palo Alto. The city council at the time insisted that the tracks not be raised at all, thus true hybrid crossings were intentionally omitted from the 2014 H.M.M. study.

True hybrid crossings involving no property takings, need to be studied.


4 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2017 at 2:44 pm

Have you read the HMM report, @Guess What? From the executive summary:

This study also evaluated the potential of combining roadway undercrossings with a slight elevation of the rail tracks to minimize the extent of the ROW/traffic impacts along the crossing streets. For every 3’ the tracks are raised, the length of the impacted area along the cross street decreases by 40’-50’ at each end.

In the first scenario, with Alma St at existing grade, the following benefits will occur when the tracks are raised 3 feet:
• 3 parcel impacts will no longer be required at Churchill Ave
• Castilleja Ave closure will no longer be required at Churchill Ave
• 2 parcel impacts will no longer be required at Meadow Dr
• 2nd St closure will no longer be required at Meadow Dr
• 3 parcel impacts will no longer be required at Charleston Rd

In the second scenario, with Alma St lowered to the new elevation of the undercrossing, the following benefits will occur in addition to those listed above when the tracks are raised 3 feet:
• 2 additional parcel impacts will no longer be required at Churchill Ave
• Alma Village Cir closure will no longer be required at Meadow Dr


Like this comment
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 4, 2017 at 5:08 pm

I suggest you familiarize yourself with what a true hybrid crossing is before you start quoting the 2014 H.M.M. study.


8 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 4, 2017 at 10:25 pm

"I suggest you familiarize yourself with what a true hybrid crossing is before you start quoting the 2014 H.M.M. study."

Oh please in teach us you oracle of knowledge. Are you a traffic engineer out here to educate us? If so, your arrogance might be tolerable.

Sheesh.


2 people like this
Posted by Pat Burt
a resident of Community Center
on Dec 4, 2017 at 10:58 pm

Pat Burt is a registered user.

I agree that our alternatives analysis should evaluate the full range of alternatives, even if many of us are currently concerned about one option or another. However, there is no specific definition of a hybrid grade separation. It can range from a more modest elevation of tracks similar to what the HMM report identified to a high track elevation/burn with a shallow road dip like exists in San Carlos.


2 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2017 at 3:09 am

The State of California requires 14 feet of clearance between the roadway and the underside of the rail roadbed. If the tracks are raised by 3 feet, the roadway needs to be depressed by 11 feet. Pick any combination that adds up to 14 feet of clearance.

In San Carlos the tracks were raised by much more than 3 feet and the roadway depressed less than 11 feet. It is worth noting that there are two shopping centers east of the crossing which have full driveway access to Holly Street and Old County Road due to the more conservative depression of these two roads.

The 2014 H.M.M. study did not consider an option such as this for Palo Alto. It is well worth considering.

"high track elevation/burn"

Do you mean "berm"?


6 people like this
Posted by Stuck in traffic on Charleston
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2017 at 2:06 pm

I think that the next "study" should be driving around San Carlos and evaluating how much traffic is held up by their Caltrain grade crossings. They were able to elevate their tracks almost a generation ago. San Mateo has already broken ground on their elevated grade separation project.

Meanwhile, here in Palo Alto, we prefer to spend our decades studying the problem, opting for high cost choices and bemoaning our lack of funding. While we wait for better ideas and funding, we can't get groceries, drop our kids off at school, or even get out of our driveways.

Let's support the option that separates the grades for the least cost soonest. I suspect that, as San Bruno, San Mateo, Belmont and San Carlos have discovered, this option is track elevation.


2 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 5, 2017 at 5:53 pm

Leave the tracks and Alma as they are. Drop the crossing roads under both. Done.


2 people like this
Posted by Me 2
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 5, 2017 at 6:15 pm

@Guess What: "The 2014 H.M.M. study did not consider an option such as this for Palo Alto. It is well worth considering."

Um, read this:

"For every 3’ the tracks are raised, the length of the impacted area along the cross street decreases by 40’-50’ at each end." - (1) H.M.M. study

Math is your friend. For every three feet, you can decrease 40'-50' of impact area on all sides. It all depends on how high you want it.

If you want to sink the roadway crossings, Alma gets impacted. The study goes over that in great detail. To "sink" the roadway enough will get you something higher than the people along the tracks would go for.

It would never fly. It's politically dead. Try again.


Like this comment
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2017 at 10:38 pm

Lower the streets by 3 feet and raise the tracks by 11 feet for your 14 feet of clearance. If this is aesthetically unpalatable to Palo Altans then dig a multi-billion-dollar trench or tunnel. Float bonds, raise taxes, cajole the state and feds as well as Google, Stanford, Facebook et al. for money.

Or do nothing and live with RR crossing gates blocking traffic every few minutes during rush hour.


8 people like this
Posted by Bg
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 5, 2017 at 10:41 pm

San Carlos is elevated largely through an industrial area.

Elevating tracks dump billions of dollars in external costs onto society in the form of increased noise pollution, blight, and a more divided city.

That's not the look and feel we paid for to live here.

We should not be subsidizing new developers and businesses by allowing them to degrade our quality of life so they can profit through rezoning and denser development. They need to pay for grade separation or a tunnel.

Why not require them to pay a fee for all employees who commute in from out of town? And use those funds to help finance the tunnel or grade separation. If they don't like the fee, they can pay their employees a stipend to live nearby.


7 people like this
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 5, 2017 at 11:53 pm

Oregon Expressway blocks traffic on Middlefield every few minutes during rush hour.


2 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2017 at 12:03 am

"Why not require them to pay a fee for all employees who commute in from out of town? And use those funds to help finance the tunnel or grade separation. If they don't like the fee, they can pay their employees a stipend to live nearby."

Or they'll move their businesses out of Palo Alto entirely. Then they won't be around to tax.


13 people like this
Posted by Curmudgeon
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2017 at 9:59 am

"Or they'll move their businesses out of Palo Alto entirely. Then they won't be around to tax."

Yippee!!!


3 people like this
Posted by Ralph Eckland
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 6, 2017 at 4:05 pm

An advantage of the Palo Alto underground train approach is that it would distribute the Stanford flood water from the San Francisco Creek to the University Avenue, Embarcadero Road,and the Oregon Expressway underpasses and the surrounding neighborhoods. All of the creeks in town would be able to carry away all of the water.


2 people like this
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2017 at 6:01 pm

"An advantage of the Palo Alto underground train approach is that it would distribute the Stanford flood water from the San Francisco Creek to the University Avenue, Embarcadero Road,and the Oregon Expressway underpasses and the surrounding neighborhoods. All of the creeks in town would be able to carry away all of the water."

Are you building a RR tunnel or a storm drain? Or are you being facetious?


Like this comment
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 6, 2017 at 6:56 pm

Seriously, the behavior of this multi-billion-dollar tunnel/trench in heavy storms is a non-trivial consideration in addition to all of the creeks and aquifers it will have to cross. What kind of pumping/drainage apparatus will it require and how often will it have to be pumped? The underpass at Oregon Expwy. is pumped 24/7 due to the water table.

In addition, what will happen when the tunnel/trench meets a political boundary such as S.F. creek?

A tunnel/trench is a wonderful concept in the abstract but the devil is in the details.


Like this comment
Posted by taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 6, 2017 at 6:59 pm

^ Dewatering Ordinance revisions are on Monday's consent-calendar.


9 people like this
Posted by Ahem
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 6, 2017 at 9:54 pm

We should look to the City of San Francisco for models of how to pay for large infrastructure projects. For decades San Francisco politicians been much more savvy than their Peninsula counterparts about structuring transportation infrastructure in such a way that the benefits accrue to San Francisco's economy and the burdens, and "unintended" consequences, fall on the Peninsula.

San Francisco owned and operated SFO transports people from all over the world to San Francisco's tourist traps and contributes $40 million per year into the City of San Francisco's general fund, but dumps its noise and pollution on the Peninsula.

The biggest transportation bottleneck in the Bay Area is the City of San Francisco. Why? Because San Francisco leaders understands the benefits of being the terminus of all of the Bay Area's transportation infrastructure (all roads lead to Rome?). Ever notice that above ground mass transportation infrastructure stops at the periphery of San Francisco and only ventures into San Francisco underground? Ever notice that highway 280 doesn't connect up to the Golden Gate Bridge but follows the southern border of San Francisco and connects up to the Bay Bridge?

Ever notice that whenever you use the Golden Gate or Bay Bridge you pay a hefty toll to enter the City of San Francisco?

Palo Alto should put Caltrain underground. It should pay for the construction with a bond, and it should pay off the bond by charging Caltrain and Union Pacific a toll to use it.


Like this comment
Posted by Guess What
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 7, 2017 at 12:33 am

"it should pay off the bond by charging Caltrain and Union Pacific a toll to use it."

Caltrain (PCJPB) owns the right of way. How can you charge them a toll to traverse land they own? It would be like Santa Clara county charging CPA a toll to use Middlefield Rd. Not a perfect simile but you get the idea.


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