This Friday night brings our attention back to the Peninsula, where some of the first battles over HSR are being fought. First up is the frivolous lawsuit filed by Stuart Flashman, Menlo Park, Atherton, and others. Now they are claiming that the CHSRA ignored Menlo Park's letter about potential loss of property along the route:
The California High Speed Rail Authority ignored Menlo Park's comment letter that outlined how their proposed bullet trains would force Peninsula homeowners to lose their property, according to opening arguments filed Thursday in the city's lawsuit against the state....
The most significant claim in the brief was that the authority never received Menlo Park's comments that were made before the Pacheco Pass route was approved. State environmental law requires government bodies to review comments from cities and residents before a planning decision of this kind is made.
Now the fate of that specific comment letter is important, but let's not kid ourselves - it was never any secret that some in Menlo Park were worried about this. The "Derail HSR" crowd was based out of Menlo Park and those activists and the Menlo Park city council had been vocal about these worries. It is not credible to claim that the CHSRA was "never aware" of Menlo Park's concerns, as the lawsuit claims.
Further down the tracks, Palo Alto residents are falling in love with the tunnel:
On Tuesday, residents voiced two clear messages: They want a bigger say in the design process and they would much rather have a rail line that zips through tunnels than one that whooshes past over their heads on raised tracks, which some city officials are calling a "Berlin Wall" dividing Palo Alto.
It would be "the difference between blight and Park Avenue," Judith Wasserman, a member of the Palo Alto's Architectural Review Board, said of the tunnel-versus-elevated tracks alternative.
"If somehow the High-Speed Rail Authority decides to put it above ground anyway, is there recourse or do we all just have to lie down on the tracks?" Wasserman asked the crowd gathered in a Palo Alto Unified School District conference room at 25 Churchill Ave.
This is starting to get silly. "Berlin Wall"? Lying down on the tracks? Are they serious? Have they ever been to San Carlos, which doesn't exactly resemble East Berlin circa 1980? Neither is anyone talking about a concrete-sided structure; it can be landscaped to fit better with the surrounding community. I understand that Palo Alto wants to figure out how to best integrate HSR within their town, but statements like that just make them look ridiculous. They also make it more difficult to have a sensible and evidence-based discussion of how to design and build HSR. Those who refer to a "Berlin Wall" are showing that they see HSR as some kind of ruinous imposition designed to not only divide their community but take away their freedom. It's language intended to harden positions, and not come to sensible compromises or smart design solutions. (Besides, the people who risked and in some cases lost their lives crossing the Berlin Wall might object to this cheapening of their experiences.)
Nor does it help when some reporters make sensational claims that lack evidence, such as the Daily Post's argument that El Palo Alto would have to be chopped down to make way for HSR. Clem at the Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog debunked this claim:
Sounds pretty dire, but so far, nobody has suggested excavation near the tree, excepting a few Palo Alto residents who are advocating the entire railroad be buried in a tunnel. The great alarm over HSR impacts to El Palo Alto is out of proportion with the concrete piers poured in recent years near the tree for a bicycle bridge, and certainly overlooks the pressing need to replace the more than 100-year-old rail bridge over the San Francisquito Creek, regardless of HSR.
It's a ridiculous situation when people have to resort to sensationalism to try and get their point across. Unfortunately stories like "omg they're going to kill El Palo Alto!!!" have a nasty way of becoming zombie lies that everyone believes to be true despite the lack of evidence.
If Palo Alto residents want a tunnel so badly, they can pay for it. If they don't want to pay for it, then they should find ways to constructively pose suggestions to make the project a success. Too much of the NIMBY criticism of the HSR plan on the Peninsula is very thinly veiled HSR denial, as Martin Engel's prominent place in the debate shows. Peninsula residents have every right to make suggestions and proactively try to influence the HSR design and implementation. But they have no place trying to destroy a project California voters approved. HSR will be built and it will use the Caltrain corridor down the Peninsula. It's time the debate on the Peninsula became less hyperbolic and more constructive.