Wednesday night's HSR scoping meeting in Merced brought out numerous supporters of a project that promises to bring dramatic improvements to a city that could use sustainable transportation and the jobs it would provide:
Community members at the session were interested in seeing the project get under way. On one comment board, the suggestion scrawled in red marker was simple: "Start digging now." Another person added: "Go for it -- and hire local consultants."
Jim Sutherland, a 63-year-old retired Merced resident said he was "100 percent behind the project."
He even said he would consider working part-time if the Castle maintenance hub goes from blueprint to bricks and mortar.
Now that's the spirit.
The meeting also produced some actual news, which I'm sure Rafael will be glad to hear:
Gary Kennerly, a project manager for the authority, also said the authority considered Castle Air Force Base its first choice for a major maintenance hub.
Still, "There is nothing in stone," he said. "(Castle) will be looked at, as will the other locations."
Other maintenance sites are being considered near Chowchilla and Madera.
"We have the lines already going into Castle," Atwater Councilman Joe Rivero said. "It is centrally located. It would be a good choice for us and a good choice for the system."
Note that this won't be the only maintenance hub for the system, but would be the prime hub for the Central Valley. Merced does strike me as the best choice, but it's worth doing the due diligence on Chowchilla and Madera as well.
One thing it's NOT worth doing the due diligence for is a station at Los Banos, which was specifically forbidden in AB 3034 and therefore in Prop 1A as well. That hasn't stopped some Merced County officials from hoping against reality that such a stop can be revived:
County supervisor Jerry O'Banion said he supported the project, but hoped a stop in Los Banos might be added before the plans become final.
O'Banion noted that much of the information at the meeting was still speculation.
"It is the future. It is not going to happen overnight," he said. "But if you don't start planning sometime, it will never occur."
While that's true in a general sense, it is NOT true of a Los Banos station. It will never happen and that's as it should be. I had the chance to drive through Los Banos two weekends ago on the way to and from Fresno. It's a fairly typical San Joaquin Valley town that had the misfortune to be exurbanized in the late and least sustainable phase of the great housing bubble. On the west edge of town are a couple shopping centers still half-built, with vacant storefronts and big-box stores that are likely having a difficult time remaining profitable. Several newer housing developments in and around town are half-finished with many foreclosed and empty homes. The central part of town is still nice, but future growth in the San Joaquin Valley ought to be channeled into the existing urban centers - Modesto, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield. Not to Los Banos.
Upcoming HSR scoping meetings:
• March 24: Visalia Convention Center, 303 E. Acequia Ave, Visalia
• March 25: Roosevelt Community Center, 901 E. Santa Clara Street, San Jose
• March 25: Fresno Convention Center, 848 M Street, Fresno
• March 26: Rabobank Theater, 1001 Truxtun Ave, Bakersfield
• March 26: Hilton Garden Inn, Monterey Road and US 101, Gilroy
(I'm going to try and attend the Gilroy meeting, but my schedule for that day is still a bit up in the air.)