After what had been a somewhat slow news week, yesterday brought a lot of HSR news, so you all will get two posts today instead of the usual one. I know, shocking! First up is an emerging split among Peninsula cities trying to draft a "Mayors Letter" to the California High Speed Rail Authority regarding the HSR project. Whereas Palo Alto appears to be moving inexorably toward outright HSR denial alongside Atherton, Menlo Park, San Mateo and Redwood City are resisting such destructive tactics.
The letter will apparently include:
The consortium's letter asks the authority to consider whisking its bullet trains through the Peninsula via tunnels, below-grade trenches and other non-disruptive options. The letter also requests the authority to evaluate a "hybrid" option in which the high-speed rail line would end at San Jose and become a Caltrain baby bullet express line north to San Francisco.
I don't know if the "non-disruptive" term comes from the letter itself or from a biased reporter, but anyone who thinks tunnels and trenches are "non-disruptive" is nuts. Even if the tunnel is bored there will be a lot of disruption in these communities due to the construction process.
It's also unfortunate to see those drafting this letter endorsing the anti-HSR concept of terminating trains at San José. It must be repeated that this is an extremely bad idea that will bleed the system of riders. Intercity travelers are NOT going to transfer to commuter trains at San José that do not have the same amenities, including luggage storage, that the HSR trains offer. Either the people drafting this letter do not know that, which calls into question their basic familiarity with the project, or they DO know this, in which case their letter should be seen as a deliberate attack on the project as a whole.
To make my position clear - it is perfectly justifiable for these cities to advocate for a tunnel. But it is not appropriate to suggest that the system be fatally compromised just because these cities are unhappy. That turns a legitimate disagreement into a desire to kill the entire system - a distinction that some cooler heads on the Peninsula recognize:
But opponents such as San Mateo and Redwood City fear being linked with cities such as Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton, whose leaders are completely opposed to the train. Menlo Park and Atherton have sued the state to stop the rail from going through the Peninsula.
"Why would high-speed rail be open to an agreement with two cities that have filed a lawsuit against their ability to do what they're supposed to do," said Redwood City Mayor Rosanne Foust.
San Mateo Deputy Mayor John Lee agreed, saying, "I'm not going to go to a group that says, 'I hate high-speed rail.' "
Exactly. John Lee nails it here by seeing right through what leaders in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton are trying to pull - using overwrought and often baseless concerns from a vocal minority to try and undermine the entire high speed rail project. San Mateo has not been silent about its own concerns, but alongside Redwood City they represent the realist faction on the Peninsula - people who genuinely want high speed rail to work for both the state and their communities.
In contrast, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton appear to be primarily motivated by classic NIMBYism - a stance taken usually by prosperous white homeowners that says they alone have veto power over any project that they do not like, even if it is tailored to their needs. This interpretation is bolstered by the fact that those three cities seem uninterested in actually giving a voice to all cities in the region:
A third group of Peninsula cities farther from the Caltrain tracks — such as Foster City, East Palo Alto and Los Altos — have had little discussion about the project and apparently will not be asked to join the group.
East Palo Alto is a racially diverse, working class community that may be located across the freeway from Palo Alto but is in a very different economic universe. They would benefit immensely from high speed rail, especially a station at Palo Alto. HSR and an upgraded Caltrain would reduce traffic on 101, and thus reducing pollution. It would help emancipate working-class residents from dependence on the automobile and the airplane. HSR would, in short, be a huge boon to a community that really needs it.
And yet Palo Alto doesn't want to invite them to their group. Why does this not surprise me?
HSR supporters have given Palo Alto numerous opportunities to advocate for this project in good faith. Unfortunately that city's leadership, which unanimously endorsed Prop 1A last year in full knowledge of how it would affect the community, is now siding with conservatives and HSR deniers against Californians and their less fortunate neighbors, against environmental improvement and efforts to fight global warming, and against mass transit.
Kudos to San Mateo and Redwood City for their more reasonable stance, and let's hope that their vision prevails over the regressive and reckless stance of some of their more privileged neighbors.
Later today: What's the future of the California High Speed Rail Authority?