This blog has paid a lot of attention to the debate over high speed rail on the Peninsula here in 2009. So much so that I'm sure folks sometimes wonder whether this is actually the Peninsula HSR blog or whether Clem's is. (In case anyone was wondering - Clem's blog is still the best place for Peninsula HSR discussion by quite a distance.)
That is a function of two basic factors. The first is that I simply don't have as much time to do HSR research as I did in 2008. While I'd like to have had time to develop a new platform for the blog, do some original research, and generate more original discussions, that time simply hasn't existed for me. That's the story of work in 2009 - one is either overwhelmed with it or has none and is desperate to get it. So I remain dependent on other news sources to generate posts here at the blog, with occasional help from folks who send in tips and story ideas (and thanks to you who do that!).
And that leads into the second factor: what remains of the state's media has spent more time on the Peninsula HSR battle than on any other aspect of the project. And that's because squeaky wheels get the grease. Peninsula NIMBYs have worked their media contacts quite well, aided by the existence of several online news outlets in the Menlo Park and Palo Alto communities. Whereas the Innovation Place project struggles to get public attention, the folks filing absurdist lawsuits get plenty of coverage. (And am I the only one who has noticed how these people are working at cross-purposes? If you succeed in giving Union Pacific veto power over the corridor, then a tunnel will never happen.)
Some of this is due to the ingrown bias of the media in this state. Having become familiar with NIMBYism over the decades, they are willing to make it sound as if the only thing that is newsworthy about the HSR project is the folks on the Peninsula who are flipping out about it.
Don't get me wrong - those NIMBYs do have very real power. They represent, alongside State Senator Alan Lowenthal, one of the primary threats to the project's viability. They have the money, skills, and tactics needed to block the project.
But we should not mistake that as a sign of their relevance to the overall project, the mistake John Horgan made in yesterday's Mercury News in his assessment of Quentin Kopp's recent op-ed:
Local folks foresee high-speed rail and Caltrain combining to produce precisely that sort of devastating and grim scenario here, particularly in vital downtown areas, although Kopp and other HSR types have stated that four tracks, not six, would be used on the Peninsula. But even that remains to be seen...
Kopp concluded his essay in a conciliatory tone, noting that engineering and design solutions are "achievable and can be adopted here at home to preserve the character and healthy environment of our communities while supplying California with a sustainable transportation alternative to gridlock."
Let's hope he's right. There is no area of the Golden State with more at stake than this one.
It's that last line which I find so stunning. There are plenty of areas of California with more at stake than the Peninsula. The Transbay Terminal is a key element of downtown San Francisco's transportation plans. San Jose will experience significant new growth - of the desirable centrally located urban in-fill sort. Southern California will have a revolutionized transportation network that will help ease congestion and fuel the growth of more mass transit options.
But if you want to find a part of the state with more at stake than any other when it comes to high speed rail, you need to look not amidst the wealth of the Peninsula. You need to look in the Central Valley. Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield will be utterly transformed by high speed rail. Cities that are struggling with some of the state's highest unemployment rates and some of the world's highest foreclosure rates will have the opportunity to enjoy major and sustained economic growth. HSR will take these cities, currently and unfairly seen as backwaters in a state focused on the two coastal megalopolises, and give them the chance to participate in the 21st century economy. Fresno and Bakersfield will be less than 2 hours away from downtown SF and downtown LA. That's a reasonable commute time, meaning workers in the SF and LA areas can afford to live in the Central Valley, where housing is currently quite affordable. That will in turn bring new jobs and other opportunities to those cities that at present lack other options.
Ultimately, of course, it is the state as a whole that has an enormous amount at stake with the HSR project. It is essential to our future economic security, our energy independence, our strategies to reduce pollution and address global warming, and to our efforts to seed and support urban infill density that we build the high speed rail project as laid out in the voter-approved Proposition 1A.
Squeaky wheels may get all the attention, but it should not lead us to ignore the rest of the train.