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Opinion: The infamous ‘Palo Alto Process’ must go

Original post made on Sep 28, 2023

Projects coming before the Palo Alto City Council and its committees take ages to get done. Current case in point? The grade separations of Caltrain tracks from the city's roads.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Thursday, September 28, 2023, 7:38 AM

Comments (10)

Posted by Richard
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2023 at 10:24 am

Richard is a registered user.

No decision will be perfect and whatever decision is made some will be displeased. I agree with everything Ms Diamond has said. We elect people to make decisions but the council seems to think it is elected for endless debate. This city is bogged down in process in many areas and this needs to stop.

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2023 at 11:46 am

stephen levy is a registered user.

Thanks Diana and Richard,

The delays add to costs, which are rising faster than our revenues and, in some cases, make projects and infrastructure investments infeasible.

I think there are two difficult to overcome causes.

We have passionate, vocal and often opposing and uncompromising views on issues. To me it feels like council feels stuck between opposing forces ands spends time and money searching for an acceptable to most solution, which often does not exist.

As Diana and Richard said, sometimes we just have to make a decision.

The second obstacle relates to investment issues like grade separation and other infrastructure. My sense is that unlike our willingness to tax ourselves (by passing a bond) for school investments, mostly now we are asking someone else (developers, tech companies, Stanford) to pay without our putting much money in as residents.

Re this I think of Oakland that last year passed an $800 million bond split between housing for low-income residents and transportation and climate investments. Compared to Palo Alto, Oakland residents have much lower incomes and assessed value per capita. I think the PA equivalent to what they did would be a $200 million bond.

Besides helping to pay for what we want, having real skin in the game sends a signal to others like HCD and potential grades separation funding partners that we are serious about moving forward rather than just only asking others to pay for what we want.

Posted by revdreileen
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Sep 28, 2023 at 12:40 pm

revdreileen is a registered user.

Agreed! My biggest frustration about the analysis paralysis about grade separation is the safety concern, especially with our history of suicide clusters at the tracks. We know the options. We know that no option is ideal. Pick one (for each crossing) and get it done.

Posted by Sunshine
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 28, 2023 at 3:16 pm

Sunshine is a registered user.

This is Palo Alto. We never decide anything because each is certain that he is smarter than anyone else and has the BEST idea of how to proceed.
The result is that each individual has a view to present and presents it ad nauseam.
We never make decisions in Palo Alto--we just discuss them to death.
The result is that on grade crossings which have been discussed since I first arrived in town (1965) are still being discussed, but nothing concrete has been done.
Please get on with it. A less then perfect decision that is completed is better than infinite discussion.

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 28, 2023 at 4:38 pm

Mondoman is a registered user.

@stephen levy
re: "...that we are serious about moving forward rather than just only asking others to pay for what we want."

As far as grade separation goes, many of us *don't want it*. Circumstances have changed and there is no need for it now, especially at a cost to Palo Alto of 100s of millions to a billion dollars. There is no realistic prospect of Caltrain increasing its train frequency (the original justification) -- in fact, Caltrain is requesting a waiver from the Feds to not repay electrification funding even though it won't be increasing train frequency.

Perhaps we can move another Palo Alto Process project forward as a result, and fund Cubberley Community Center construction with the hundreds of millions of dollars freed up by not doing grade separation .

Posted by stephen levy
a resident of University South
on Sep 28, 2023 at 6:58 pm

stephen levy is a registered user.


For grade separation, my point is to make a decision including possibly doing nothing.

For investments that do go forward, I support having residents share in the funding—skin in the game.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 29, 2023 at 8:27 pm

Anonymous is a registered user.

Re: grade separation at the track crossings, I read Sunnyvale is proceeding with a project at their level crossing at Mary Avenue.
I don’t have details in hand, but read about this several months ago. I really think the city of Palo Alto is TOO SLOW on decisions.
We have vehicle traffic and many of us need to get across town, much as certain government officials pretend otherwise and try to obstruct us.

Posted by kludged
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 2, 2023 at 7:03 am

kludged is a registered user.

While we dither, electrification will increase the volume of trains and Charleston will become very hard to cross during commute hours. This has been known for 10 years. Get on with it!

Posted by Mondoman
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 2, 2023 at 9:09 am

Mondoman is a registered user.

I think your info is out of date. Caltrain has no realistic prospect of enough money/ridership to increase its train frequency. It is in the process of applying for a waiver from the feds so it does not have to repay the electrification funding even though it will now not be increasing train frequency.

At its current burn rate, Caltrain will exhaust its reserves in about 2 years, even ignoring the "funding cliff" of $500 million it must find to pay over the next decade.

Posted by Jerry Underdal
a resident of Barron Park
on Oct 3, 2023 at 10:26 am

Jerry Underdal is a registered user.

"Do nothing here because we don't need it" seems to be trending on this thread. Is Palo Alto going to take the lead in arguing that cities the length of the Peninsula should follow us and do nothing unless and until a crisis comes up in 2, 5,10,15... years into the future that would meet the standard of urgency that some would set?

That, I expect, would be a hard sell.

It will be many years before whatever option is chosen will be completed. Right now, there's not a crisis and we can make the best choice, with time study all remaining strong options before making the call. Let's give the Rail Committee time, space and support to research, discuss and decide what to put in its final report to to the City Council on how to deal with grade separation. That's where serious public debate should kick in. The Palo Alto process has been a disappointment to this point, but here's where our traditional respect for data and objective analysis has to be a key factor in what will inevitably be a political process to get community buy-in for whatever the City Council decides after it receives the Rail Committee's report.

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