Wow, 70 comments and counting on the last post - hardly any of which were about Sir Richard Branson and private operators! (I'm sure Branson's ego won't mind.) I think I know what's on some folks' minds regarding HSR, and it's the debate over how to build HSR on the Peninsula.
We haven't had contentious discussions here for a while - not since October - and so perhaps some folks have forgotten the rules of etiquette around here. I'll delve into that first, and then offer some more general comments on the debate.
First, I ask that all users post with a username. It can be a pseudonym. Call yourself Ishmael if you want, I don't care. It's impossible to follow which anon said what. Blogger doesn't offer a way to ban just anonymous comments - I'd have to force everyone to register either with Google or with OpenID or something else. I would prefer to not do that, but will do so if necessary.
Second, I ask that comments have some basis in fact and evidence. If someone persists in making stuff up, I'll delete the comments. Same goes for any comments that are abusive or contain personal attacks on other commenters.
Other blog platforms offer more functionality, like WordPress. I'll be honest that I simply do not have the time to implement that system, though if anyone wants to help I'll work with you on that (and I mean that this time!).
Now, the discussion on the peninsula. I think Clem at the Caltrain-HSR Compatibility Blog put it well when he made this comment on his blog's most recent post:
HSR has strong political backing from SF, SJ, Sacramento and Washington DC. I don't believe the city or the developer will be allowed to delay the project. While the process may indeed be acrimonious, I believe it will be short.
Anyone on the Peninsula who thinks they can kill this project is nuts. By "kill the project" I mean cut it off at San José, try and reroute it through Altamont (where cities like Fremont and Pleasanton will put up a huge fight), or stop its construction altogether.
None of that is going to happen. It's not possible. HSR has solid support from the highest level in American politics - President Barack Obama - and is widely supported in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and the Congress. This line will be built and it will be built as is currently routed: along the Caltrain line on the Peninsula.
Let's be clear about what the political effect of trying to kill HSR via lawsuit, street protest, or whining on a blog will be. Californians will look at you as if you've signed on to Bobby Jindal's 2012 campaign. You will be seen as attacking a popular president and a popular project and will very quickly become isolated. I don't know if that's fair, but it's the reality.
Peninsula residents have the right and the responsibility to speak up about this project and seek to work out the best methods for constructing HSR in their communities. But there needs to be both a sense of collaboration, of working for the public good, and supportiveness of the HSR concept. When that is absent, concerns will be ignored. Again, that may not be fair, but it is reality.
There appear to be three camps on the Peninsula regarding HSR. The first is likely the largest: outright supporters who just want this thing built. Over 65% of San Mateo County residents voted for Prop 1A, after all. The second are people who are a bit concerned about this or that aspect of the project, but who are willing to work constructively to ensure the project is built in a way that meets their needs. The third are HSR deniers who never accepted Prop 1A's passage and who are using the fight over how to build it on the Peninsula to try and kill high speed rail outright.
The problem is that the local media on the Peninsula likes to feed the trolls in the third group, and blows the opposition out of proportion. And that's how HSR denial and NIMBYism works - shout really loudly and hope those in power decide to placate you. That isn't going to happen this time. Again, HSR will be built. The question is how to build it the right way.
I would set out some key points for everyone to understand in this debate:
1. HSR is going to be built along the Caltrain route from SF to SJ.
2. We want to build this in a way that works for all the communities affected. But we're not going to give into NIMBYism or HSR denial.
3. If people on the Peninsula want a trench or a tunnel they must pay for it themselves. We're going to focus on raising money to build the entire system and can't devote systemwide funds to give Palo Alto a trench.
4. HSR will benefit all communities along the line by providing faster, safer, and cleaner transportation options that do not rely on the automobile.
Bil Paul's column on trenching is a welcome bit of sensibility on this debate, although he conveniently avoids the issue of payment.
Let's hope that we can have a more reasonable discussion among the first two groups I described above. Those who just want to refight the Prop 1A battle, or the Altamont vs. Pacheco battle (which Bil Paul rightly said is "final" and "futile" to try and reopen) should leave the debate to those of us who actually want to do this thing the right way.
So, get your Peninsula fix in here. Tomorrow I'm writing about something totally different.