Last night the first of the Peninsula HSR scoping meetings was held at SamTrans headquarters in San Carlos. The Palo Alto Weekly has a mostly decent story - once you get beyond the completely inaccurate lede:
The state agency charged with building a high-speed rail system between San Francisco and Los Angeles has yet to convince Peninsula residents about the merits of having electric trains zip through their communities at 125 mph.
But on Thursday, officials from the California High-Speed Rail Authority took a step toward quelling area fears with the first of three "scoping sessions" this month on what should be included in an environment-impact study on the 800-mile project.
That phrase "yet to convince Peninsula residents" lacks merit, as it is directly challenged by the election returns of November 4 which clearly show Prop 1A passing by a wide margin in San Mateo County - 61% yes to 39% no. Since the population of San Mateo County is overwhelmingly located within a few miles of the HSR route, this strikes me as clear evidence that Peninsula residents are convinced of "the merits of having electric trains zip through their communities at 125 mph." Especially when you consider the high profile the issue had on the Peninsula throughout 2008 - voters in San Mateo County well understood what they were getting themselves into.
The ridiculous lede of the article's author, Gennady Sheyner, is further belied by the rest of the article, which describes a fairly uneventful meeting. The following points stood out to me as the most newsworthy:
Some audience members asked whether Palo Alto or Redwood City will end up with a high-speed rail station. Palo Alto city staff is evaluating potential impacts of a high-speed rail station downtown and the city has not come out with an official stance.
The question over which city would join Millbrae as a stopping point between San Francisco and San Jose probably won't be answered for at least a year. The authority is in the "amoeba phase" of putting together its environmental impact report (EIR) for the project. The authority expects to work on the analysis and engineering for the San Francisco-to-San Jose segment until 2011.
I think it's safe to say that the final answer to this question will be determined by a combination of the engineering studies and local support. If Palo Alto comes out strongly against a station and Redwood City is supportive, then the CHSRA will likely find a way to make Redwood City work. If the reverse, then Palo Alto. The ideal situation is that both communities support a station and the engineering and planning work alone determines it on its merits. But that's not likely to happen - politics will play a role in the outcome, primarily the politics in each city.
Quentin L. Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said 28 private companies, including Goldman Sachs, had previously expressed interest in investing in the project.
But he said it's not clear what effect the worsening economy would have on private contributions.
Kopp said the authority's consultant and management group are now reaching out to potential investors to gauge their current level of interest.
I would be surprised if firm answers are received at this time. The economic crisis is starting to dramatically and rapidly worsen and within months we will be in a global Depression. Once that happens things will actually start to shake out and we can get a clearer picture of which companies can participate. It may take until 2010 to get some firm answers on private participation.
Palo Alto City Councilmember Yoriko Kishimoto attended the meeting and asked authority officials about potential parking facilities at the proposed stations. Kopp said the agency has yet to resolve that question, though the answers may lie with the host cities.
"I think in the end it will probably be up to each city," Kopp said. "We may make a recommendation, but I don't personally believe in usurping local authority."
This is a very smart statement by Kopp. It is something that needs to be worked out with each host city, although I think the bias needs to be against providing a lot of parking. Some, but not too much, with the details to be worked out by planners who emphasize sustainability and transit accessibility. It goes without saying Kopp's reply is the diplomatic one, and leaves the question in Palo Alto's lap, where it probably belongs - let them hammer out the question of whether they want to encourage driving or not.
The comments section of the article includes some questions from Palo Alto residents about the impact to the community in terms of HSR's footprint - how many houses may be taken, what about parks and schools along the route? Definitely questions that should and will be answered as the project engineering continues. One resident wonders why they don't just put HSR down the middle of Highway 101, which aside from being a stupid idea in its own right misses the point of HSR on the Peninsula - to help upgrade Caltrain's service capacity as well as connect HSR from San José to San Francisco.
HSR denier Martin Engel has decided that having lost the battle over HSR itself, a tunnel in Menlo Park/Atherton is his new white whale:
CHSRA against tunnels? Not really. They do want a tunnel between S.Tomas Expressway and the Diridon Station. Rafael has pointed this out for us already....
Even though Kopp, in his royal declarations, has denied bond issue funding for the 1.5 mile tunnel to the Transbay Terminal, we all know that it will happen regardless. So, they don’t oppose tunnels and therefore, given that this new rail system will be in business for another 145 years, it should be underground. Not because of NIMBYs like us, but because every major city has its intercity rail systems and commuter subways underground. San Francisco will. The Peninsula should. Major rail systems have no business running down the middle of high-density, high population cities. In 75 years, that's what the Peninsula will be.
By this logic, Martin, the entire system should be built underground whenever it is in or near a major metro area. It is not in fact the case that every major city has its intercity and commuter rail systems underground; there are numerous European examples where this simply is not the case.
Engel clearly does not care about the overall project, since paying for a tunnel on the mid-Peninsula would be a colossal and unnecessary waste of money for the CHSRA, which needs to, you know, build the entire line from SF to LA. Just as in the battle over Prop 1A, now in the discussion over the tunnel Engel believes that the entire state of California's budgetary and transportation policies should be oriented to give him exactly what he wants as a property owner near a rail line that was built a century before he even acquired the property.
Martin Engel may never admit this, but Menlo Park and Atherton should: unless they plan to pay for it themselves there is no chance whatsoever that an HSR tunnel will be built through their communities. None. And maybe that's the point here - Engel is merely trying to whip up public controversy in hopes of derailing the project (his term, not ours). A shame, really - Peninsula residents should come to their own conclusions about the project, instead of catering to a single individual.
The next meetings will be held:
San Francisco: San Francisco State University, 835 Market Street, 6th Floor (Rooms 673-674), San Francisco, California, January 27, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Santa Clara County: Santa Clara Convention Center, 5001 Great America Parkway, Great America Meeting Rooms 1 & 2, Santa Clara, California, January 29, 2009 from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Written comments on the scope of the San Francisco to San Jose HST Project EIR/EIS should be provided to the CHSRA by March 6, 2009, and can be sent to email@example.com with subject line San Francisco to San Jose HST.