Menlo Park and Atherton, two of the most affluent cities in the entire state, apparently believe it is their right to make decisions for the other 36 million people in California. At a study session last night in Menlo Park city officials and residents spouted off reasons why HSR was a bad idea for California as justification for their lawsuit and resolution against the project. While one might understand the city's desire to mitigate the impact of HSR on their landscape, the tone of the debate made it clear that HSR's impact on Menlo Park wasn't the issue. Instead the forum was a chance for HSR's few opponents in this state to push their anti-HSR arguments to the media in hopes that they could use Menlo Park residents for their own purposes.
The San Mateo County Times article on the session noted that Menlo Park and Atherton are the ONLY two cities along the proposed route that oppose the project. All others support it. Further, as Rod Diridon noted, the cities along the Altamont route oppose HSR as well - yet Menlo Park wants to saddle them with a line they don't want. Cities like Fremont and Livermore are more middle- and working-class, but the wealthy residents of Menlo Park and Atherton are quite happy to override their objections to keep the trains out of their own backyard.
Menlo Park in particular also seems interested in ignoring the fundamental reality that they are, and have always been, a railroad city. The tracks that currently carry Caltrain cars have been there since before the city was founded. Caltrain runs nearly 100 trains through Menlo Park and Atherton every day. But city staff and elected officials behave as if that doesn't exist:
The staff's consistent point has been that the train should not run through the heart of a residential city, splitting east from west and forcing the removal of old-growth trees and perhaps even city and private property.
That was the argument of Elizabeth Blois, who spoke for members of the Felton Gables Homeowners Association on Tuesday in pleading for the rail association to consider the impact on their homes.
Someone should inform city staff of Caltrain's existence. The other part of this argument should be turned around on Menlo Park - if preserving a residential city is their concern, why do they support dangerous at-grade crossings? Why do they support pollution-spewing diesel trains? The loss of a small part of city and private property seems a small price to pay for safety and clean air.
Blois and others who made similar comments revealed their true motives - classic, dictionary-definition NIMBYism. Not in their backyard - but it's apparently OK to force it onto someone else, someone poorer.
Menlo Park and Atherton also are taking a stand for global warming and against carbon reduction. They are telling Californians that the property and aesthetic values of a small group of people is more important than solving our climate and energy crises. The 160,000 construction jobs and 450,000 long-term jobs that HSR would create don't faze a community that enjoys a unique level of economic security, towns that can afford to reject a green dividend.
Some of the other comments at the meeting were of the usual, uninformed HSR denier sort:
Other arguments from the public were more far-reaching. Jerry Carlson, vice mayor of Atherton, said the high-speed rail project as a whole is a waste of transit resources.
"I think a much better approach would have been to put that money into regional plans," he said.
Now, perhaps I'm missing something, but a train that whisks passengers from SF to SJ in 20 minutes sounds like a regional plan. A train that gets commuters from Anaheim to LA in 30 minutes is a regional plan.
Atherton resident Jack Ringham said the project would probably run far over budget, take years longer than predicted and attract far fewer riders annually than the 117 million the rail authority's consultants predict.
We dealt with Ringham's nonsensical claims back in June - anyone who thinks ridership on HSR will not be high is just demonstrating their lack of knowledge about passenger rail.
Vice Mayor Heyward Robinson conceded the city may not be able to stop the project altogether. If that's the case, he said, it should work with the rail authority to get key concessions. For instance, he suggested the high-speed portion of the line could stop at San Jose, and those continuing to San Francisco could simply take Caltrain.
In other words, Robinson wants to break the entire project and force people to have slow commutes just because he wants to pretend his community is not the railroad town that it has always been.
Some HSR supporters showed up to fight the good fight:
Roxanne Rorhpaugh said "the time has passed'' for debates about the Pacheco vs. Altamont alignments. She said she's certain the train can come through Menlo Park without serious damage to nearby property, but even if there were damage, "It's 12 houses versus 117 million" riders. "Do the math."
Amen to that. Menlo Park is trying to dictate terms to the rest of the state, claiming that the interests of 12 million-dollar homes are more important than fighting high gas prices, global warming, and the energy crisis. Menlo Park's neighbors Palo Alto and Redwood City aren't opposed to the train yet they too have wealthy homeowners who live near the tracks, and Redwood City in particular has a downtown that will be rather directly affected by the trains.
They understand the need to build a sustainable 21st century future that allows all Californians to share in our prosperity, allows all Californians to travel around their state. It's a shame that Menlo Park and Atherton prefer to make the state bend to the will of a few wealthy individuals. If that's not aristocracy I don't know what is.