by Robert Cruickshank
The East Bay Express, a weekly newspaper serving the Berkeley-Oakland market, had a great feature article last week titled "You're Not An Environmentalist If You're Also A NIMBY". Its focus is the debate over urban density in Berkeley and Oakland, where folks who claim to be environmentalists are also opposing greater urban density, despite the fact that such opposition fuels sprawl, which contributes significantly more pollution and carbon emissions to the atmosphere than urban density:
Global warming is changing far more than just the climate. It's altering the way environmentalists view development. For years, city dwellers who consider themselves to be eco-conscious have used environmental laws and arcane zoning rules to block new home construction, especially apartments and condominiums. In the inner East Bay, liberals have justified their actions by railing against gentrification and portraying developers as profiteers. But the lack of urban growth in Berkeley and in parts of Oakland during the past few decades also has contributed to suburban sprawl and long commutes. And all those freeways choked with cars are now the single biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the region.
The debate on the Peninsula regarding high speed rail has a different focus, and yet the basic details remain similar as this AP article on Peninsula "concern" over HSR explains - one of a number of similar articles that have been written about Peninsula NIMBYism in the wake of the release of the draft scoping report on the SF-SJ segment of the HSR route. As in Berkeley, folks in Palo Alto and Menlo Park are primarily driven by a desire to maintain their communities exactly as they look right now, with little regard for the environmental consequences of maintaining an urban landscape suited to the auto-oriented 1950s.
There is a crucial difference between the urban density debate in the East Bay and the HSR debate on the Peninsula. NIMBYs on the Peninsula have been able to have it both ways, claiming that they aren't opposed to HSR, that they either want it built underground (without explaining how to pay for it, meaning they're not offering a credible proposal) or built somewhere else (without explaining why, if HSR is so awful for communities, it's OK for Pleasanton and Hayward to be stuck with it).
In all this time I've never been unsympathetic to legitimate concerns from community members about making sure that HSR can work in their town. Nobody, myself included, wants to just drop the train in the middle of town. Of course, neither does the CHSRA, despite the frequent hyperbole you hear from some on the Peninsula.
But what you never seem to hear is an honest assessment of the HSR project's place in our broader agenda of environmental and global warming action. Too often HSR is cast as some random project being foisted upon the Peninsula, when in fact it's designed to help them get around their county, their region, and their state more easily and sustainably.