Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Andrew Bogan on Palo Alto City Council and HSR

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Note from Robert: The below post is by Andrew Bogan, who was in attendance at last night's meeting and offered this very perceptive look at the council and its approach to the HSR project. I'm especially thankful to Andrew for posting this since all I have to go on from here in Monterey are news reports which are not always accurate or useful (I'm looking at you, Gennady Sheyner).

In Defense of NIMBYs?

The Palo Alto City Council met on March 30, 2009 for their second major discussion of High Speed Rail (HSR). The specific focus of the meeting was to approve the HSR scoping letter from City Staff to the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) for the Peninsula's Project Level EIR/EIS scoping comment period, which expires on April 6 (this date was previously extended one month by CHSRA in response to a written request from the City of Palo Alto). In addition to amending and approving the scoping letter, the City also amended and then formally approved the agreement for their participation in the Peninsula Cities Coalition, which was largely organized by Palo Alto Council Member Kishimoto. The third decision related to Palo Alto's planned letter with comments and objections to the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (PCJPB) with regard to the Caltrain and CHSRA Memorandum of Understanding that will most likely be adopted on Thursday by Caltrain's board. After the public meeting session ended, the City Attorney addressed Council in a closed session to update them on the details of the Atherton lawsuit against CHSRA that is trying to invalidate the completed Program Level EIR/EIS. The statute of limitations to become a plaintiff has expired, so the discussion was on whether the City should or should not file an amicus curiae brief in support of the plaintiffs, which includes the Town of Atherton, the City of Menlo Park (the two towns north of Palo Alto on the Caltrain corridor) along with myriad environmental groups and some "rail supporters". The Palo Alto Daily News had some of the best local media coverage of the meeting.

The Council heard brief comments from City Staff, from Lee Lipert of the Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission, and from the Palo Alto Historic Resources Board. Dominic Spaethling and Rod Young from the CHSRA attended the meeting, but did not speak. Mayor Drekmeier stated that CHSRA Commissioner Rod Diridon had apologized that he was in Los Angeles and could not attend and that Quentin Kopp was hospitalized with an unspecified ailment. In addition, 14 members of the community (your correspondent included) spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. This was significantly fewer public comments than the 35 or so made at the first HSR council meeting in early March. The tone of public comments were also significantly more constructive, with the prior session's rantings largely absent. A majority of speakers specifically stated their support for HSR, although most voiced objections or concerns about how or if it should come through Palo Alto. Two speakers were expressly in favor of HSR and supported having the proposed mid-Peninsula HSR Station located in Palo Alto (including your correspondent).

The Palo Alto Planning and Transportation Commission added 26 items to the 36 existing items in Palo Alto's scoping letter, for a total of 62 points for CHSRA to address within the EIR scope. The Commission was not asked to take a stance on HSR in general or on the amicus brief and did not do so, though some members of the Commission clearly support the project. The Palo Alto Historic Resources Board provided a list of historic properties in Palo Alto near HSR's proposed route, starting with our City's ancient tree, El Palo Alto, and continuing to include the Southern Pacific Depot (aka University Ave Caltrain Station and underpass), the Green Meadow neighborhood (with its mid-century modern design and architecture), and the possibility of Southgate being a "potential historic district" (whatever that means). Green Meadow's historic homes were described to be a few hundred feet from the tracks at their closest point, so the concerns are mainly with regard to noise and vibration. A speaker from the Green Meadow community stated that "not a single household in Green Meadow supported HSR above ground". So the NIMBY concerns have moved beyond Southgate, Palo Alto's NIMBY capital.

Many of the residents who spoke said the train tracks were adjacent to their property (mostly on Mariposa in Southgate or on Park Boulevard), so as Council Member Burt said, when people complain about Palo Alto NIMBYs, they need to understand the tracks are "literally in their backyard". Jim McFall's architectural rendering of an elevated structure for HSR at Churchill was shown briefly, again, though his remarks last night focused on differing views of the width of the Caltrain right of way alongside Southgate and whether or not the correct figure is 75.3 feet wide with a 6 foot rear lot line easement. Some pictures from CHSRA show Southgate's backyard fences within the defined right of way, suggesting that they might be removed without compensation through eminent domain. In his excellent rendering, McFall should space out the catenary supports correctly and add trees and vegetation to mitigate the structure's visual impact. William Cutler had the best new visual of the evening, a large cardboard pyramid, representing the size of the ones in Giza, Egypt that showed the amount of dirt needed for a mile long elevated HSR structure. His point was to emphasize that any above ground HSR solution would entail massive scale construction in and around existing homes, probably for several years. Mr. Cutler supports HSR, but is very worried about elevated structures of any significant size in Palo Alto. A petition with about 100 signatures in support of filing an amicus brief alongside Atherton was also presented, although that is a surprisingly small number of signers in a city of more than 50,000 people more than a month after they began collecting signatures. One of the NIMBY speakers stated she was "for high speed rail, but not here, not now". It was unclear what being "for high speed rail" meant to her, perhaps she likes trains to be safely on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Another NIMBY called HSR an "airport runway in my front yard". One of the few new opinions shared last night was an older gentleman who spoke strongly in favor of HSR and reminded Council that having a HSR Station in Palo Alto would significantly slow down the speed of many of the trains passing through our city, greatly reducing the total noise produced.

The most elusive part of the meeting, and the most important, was trying to read the positions of individual Palo Alto City Council Members. With one exception, the Council held their views quite closely and were difficult to read, but one observers perspectives are below:

1. Mayor Drekmeier: He generally seems to support HSR, but requested that the 101 corridor be considered again, despite recognizing that CHSRA had already done so and would likely ignore his request. There was no mention of the impossibility of building HSR on 101 since many sections have traffic from sound wall to sound wall with a narrow concrete barrier in between that would not even be wide enough for a pillar supporting an overhead structure, let alone any kind of at grade alignment. 101 would be a good route, except it is not feasible. The mayor is a very rational person and will eventually understand this. His support is critical in Palo Alto for HSR and I hope it continues.

2. Vice Mayor Morton: Our vice mayor was the only Council Member to state his personal positions on HSR openly and it was telling that none of the others did so despite his explicit request to them. Vice Mayor Morton is of the opinion that no above ground solution is acceptable, a tunnel will never get funded, and HSR must terminate at San Jose. He believes a Palo Alto HSR Station would be a disaster and must be stopped. Vice Mayor Morton is prone to odd outbursts, like his public threat to sue the CHSRA at a Community Scoping Meeting last month and his constant inflammatory statements about Stanford University's dirty tricks and bad faith negotiations with the City. Vice Mayor Morton is dangerous, though his droning style and limited interpersonal skills probably do not pose a huge barrier to the HSR project. He does deserve credit for taking a firm stance, even if it is in favor of NIMBYism. He is a reliable opponent of nearly all development.

3. Council Member Kishimoto: She supports HSR in concept and is originally from Japan, where they built the first HSR in 1964, when she was about 10 years old. Her efforts have largely focused on educating the public about the EIR process and she has organized the Peninsula Cities Coalition, which will likely include Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, and Mountain View. Sunnyvale may also join and some other cities like Burlingame, Redwood City, and Belmont have attended some meetings, but may not join in the end. Kishimoto is trying to organize a small conference with the cities, CHSRA, urban designers, engineers, and project finance experts to try to explore all options to fund a tunnel and other HSR issues on the Peninsula. Her position is clearly pro-HSR, but she recognizes that her most vocal constituents strongly prefer a tunneling option at this point and she is prepared to advocate for it. Supporters of HSR should watch Kishimoto's lead closely, she can be a terrific ally for the project--but don't ignore the tunneling option for the mid-Peninsula, or HSR could lose a very savvy and talented supporter. She has plans to run for State Assembly.

4. Council Member Yeh: He seems broadly supportive of HSR, but very poorly informed about the details. He expressed many concerns with the Caltrain/CHSRA MOU and its description of a four track solution. He is also skeptical of Rod Diridon's ambiguous and sometimes contradictory statements to Council in the past, which is only reasonable. The YouTube videos produced by Palo Alto NIMBYs of Diridon's remarks to Council at meetings last year and last month do illustrate confusing double speak from CHSRA that has compounded the distrust of the Authority in Palo Alto and neighboring communities. Then again, how anyone thinks HSR could run on the same two tracks as Caltrain is unclear. It does not take long for a 125 mph train to catch a 79 mph train, ruining the efficiency of the entire system. As Clem would say, this is not rocket science (or biophysics for that matter).

5. Council Member Burt: Despite his usual support for HSR, his position has hardened somewhat in the past month and he expressed explicit support for the NIMBY concerns (NIMBY was his language, and it was not intended to be derogatory). The YouTube videos of Diridon saying nothing is final, then that lots of things could not be changed at this stage with regard to alignments and the number of tracks clearly angered Burt, which is understandable. He asked if anyone could imagine supporting 125 mph trains running 20 feet above existing back yards. He was very discouraged by the response he got from Caltrain regarding their MOU with CHSRA, saying that he was assured the PCJPB would represent Palo Alto's interests, but he felt they had not done so. According to Burt, Caltrain essentially told Palo Alto that it was too late to mention their concerns about 4 tracks and other specifics in the MOU. His statement about the need to build a coalition of cities and to consider "parallel strategies" sounds a lot like growing support for either filing an amicus brief or suing CHSRA in a new lawsuit. The NIMBYs have successfully turned at least one formerly pro-HSR council member into a tunnel or nothing advocate. Rod Diridon's inconsistent comments were very damaging here.

6. Council Member Klein: A skeptic all along, Klein is very concerned about the Caltrain MOU and worries that Palo Alto's concerns may not be listened to by CHSRA. He is not, however, an obstructionist or a NIMBY. Klein's concerns are practical and well thought out, like the need to determine who owns the air rights above the right of way in Palo Alto and who owns the ground underneath. Klein knows this is a long, slow process and that it is very early still. He has talked theoretically about using everything from lawsuits to state legislative action and new ballot initiatives to influence the process in the future, but he is not inclined to do anything rash. He insisted that the language in Palo Alto's letter to CHSRA say that HSR may go "along or below 3.8 miles" of Palo Alto right of way, suggesting that he supports tunneling, but almost nothing else. Overall, Klein would likely support HSR in a tunnel and he does see the value to California of the project as a whole. He will likely be a formidable opponent of anything elevated, as he knows city politics and the law very well (he is a Harvard-educated lawyer).

7. Council Member Schmid: Soft-spoken and razor sharp, Schmid has kept his views on HSR very close to his chest. He is unsure that a Peninsula Cities Coalition will actually benefit Palo Alto and generally views our City as unique, with different interests from our neighbors. He requested careful study of ground water and toxic plumes under the right of way. He also wants CHSRA to explicitly detail any potential above ground eminent domain for all the possible alignments as soon as possible, seemingly so as to understand the costs of that eminent domain to offset the costs of tunneling, at least by a tiny bit. This would probably create a firestorm of protest, but he is correct that it is better to have that now than later. He wants to explore offsetting tunneling costs with air rights and generally prefers tunneling if it is technically feasible. As one of the most logical and rational Council Members, Schmid will not likely take a public stand on HSR until well into the EIR details. My guess is that he will become a valuable supporter if CHSRA takes Palo Alto's concerns seriously and a fierce opponent if they do not. He strongly believes in cost/benefit analysis, since his PhD is in economics from Columbia.

8. Council Member Barton: Generally a supporter of HSR and an academic architect and designer himself (at Stanford), Barton has supported HSR strongly in the past and continues to do so. However, his preference is for all the rails to be underground, so that more development can be built using the right of way's air-rights. He did, however, express concerns about CEQA review and if the Caltrain MOU's mention of 4 tracks consists of a change that would require reopening the Program Level EIR. That would almost certainly be a mess and create multi-directional legal battles that could take years to resolve. It was a disappointing comment from an otherwise reliable HSR supporter. Barton, like several other council members, appeared to not understand that the MOU's mention of 4 grade-separated tracks did not rule out tunneling. This misconception is a major problem on the Council, as was pointed out in the Palo Alto Daily article.

9. Council Member Espinosa: Absent last night and always difficult to read. Espinosa, like Yeh, is quite young for a city council member and generally is pretty forward thinking. He seems to be broadly supportive of HSR on the Peninsula and actually asked staff earlier in the month to consider removing any mention of the Altamont alignment from their letter. However, he is politically astute and only did so after midnight, by which time most of the NIMBYs had gone home. It is unlikely that Espinosa would object to HSR if the alignment adequately mitigates Palo Alto's concerns, but his voice is unlikely to sway the whole Council.

In summary, the consensus view last night of the Palo Alto City Council was to continue working closely with CHSRA on the EIR for High Speed Rail, to pressure Caltrain to be more answerable to their constituent cities and three counties, and to organize a louder voice that includes neighboring cities--all constructive actions. Basically, if a tunnel is feasible then HSR will almost certainly have unanimous support on the Council. If the final alignment is an elevated structure, then a majority of Palo Alto City Council will almost certainly try to block it ever being built, which they may or may not succeed in doing since HSR has bipartisan support at the highest levels in Washington and Sacramento. However, opposing tunneling on the mid-Peninsula will be a high stakes game, since it could derail the entire project. On the other hand, a well designed tunnel would likely be supported not only by Palo Alto, but also by Menlo Park and Atherton, essentially removing the only major organized opposition to HSR in California. That might just be worth the cost of a tunnel, even if it is several billion dollars. After all, every year of delay on a $45 billion dollar infrastructure project is billions worth of construction cost inflation (which has been around 5% in recent years) and lost revenues from operation. Appeasing the Peninsula might pay for itself, if the accounting is done correctly.

Andrew A. Bogan, Ph.D.
Palo Alto, California


Anonymous said...

Air rights? Seriously? Air rights? In Palo Alto? It seems they just can't find any way to build any more anything other than by putting it on top of the railroad. I guess they never thought to consider, say, allowing somewhat taller buildings or anything crazy like that. Note to Palo Alto: you're not New York. You're New Brunswick, NJ, but with more money and a much more distorted view of your own importance.

mike said...


Thank you for your very detailed account of the meeting and the council members.

My impression is that most of the members that "support HSR" support it in the sense that they would be accommodate it the entire corridor were in a tunnel that was paid for by other people (e.g., the California taxpayers).

This kind of "support" is equivalent to saying that you "support" donating $10 to a project if you are promised $100 in return. Tunneling HSR would not only eliminate any hypothetical HSR impacts, but would also eliminate all the current real impacts from the louder, more dangerous, polluting diesel Caltrains. Let us be totally clear here: with the tunnel alignment, Palo Alto would be substantially better off than the current state (less noise, less pollution, no grade crossing accidents, large swath of property that could be developed and taxed, etc.).

Given that the communities would derive massive benefits from tunneling, relative to the status quo, then isn't the only fair solution to expect them to contribute a large share of the costs? Why should they get all of the upside while the taxpayers pay for all of the downside? That kind of proposal sounds suspiciously similar to the Wall St bailouts, and we can see how popular those have become...

Andrew Bogan said...


I do think the cities that want a tunnel should bear a significant portion of the additional costs of tunneling (that is beyond the cost of the default above ground solution and the cost of all the necessary environmental mitigations for it).

Berkeley, the other university town in the Bay Area, put BART underground decades ago. They raised federal money and taxed themselves to do so. Nobody in Berkeley wishes BART were above ground.

There is precedent and it is not impossible. If you want to argue that federal money should not support tunneling since it only benefits certain towns, then I'd argue that federal money has no business being spent on a state-wide project either, since 49 states get no benefit. Obviously that is not actually how government funding works.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Anonymous 3:51pm

"Note to Palo Alto: you're not New York. You're New Brunswick, NJ, but with more money and a much more distorted view of your own importance."

I have lived in or very near all three of those cities. The one with the distorted view of its own importance is New York. The Hudson has about 5 bridges and tunnels across it, all but the rail tunnels jam everyday. Not one was built in my lifetime. Seoul's Han River has about 26 crossings, most built in my lifetime.

Clem said...

Thanks for the summary, Andrew.

One technical point that most tunnel proponents seem to have missed: it is possible that building the tunnel may require more eminent domain takings than building at grade or above.

To tunnel or not to tunnel is one issue; how to tunnel is another, and the decision is one of cost-benefit alone--i.e. it will be up to engineers and accountants, not the community.

Cut-and-cover tunneling requires an excavation that is sufficiently wide to accommodate support walls and tunnel evacuation walkways. A four-track tunnel may require far more than 75 feet to build.

If the "Berlin Wall" is equivalent to one Giza pyramid of dirt, then the tunnel will be equivalent to at least two! Dump truck operators take note.

Alon Levy said...

Andrew: to be fair, the river that has the most traffic is the East River, which has 20 crossings. Some get jammed, some don't - most rail tunnels from Queens to Manhattan do, most from Brooklyn to Manhattan don't.

Clem/Andrew: how much concrete is actually needed for an arched viaduct? Is it even close to the size of the Great Pyramid?

Anonymous said...

Andrew Bogan: importance does not necessarily correlate with ability to get things built, which is definitely a major shortcoming of NYC. It's a measure of how many people live there, and how many people want to visit. Judging by the jammed bridges and tunnels, there's no shortage of visitors. And while no new tunnel under the Hudson has been built in your lifetime, I'm willing to bet that the 63rd Street tunnel under the East River was, and NJT is working on a new Hudson tunnel. Keep in mind, also, that the Hudson is about 2-3 times wider than the Han River, and that NYC has no need for more vehicular tunnels, since it would just move the traffic jams across the river.

But all that is really beside the point. Seoul is a big city. So is NYC. Palo Alto is a suburb, albeit one with some regional importance as an employment center and location of large institutions. It's nowhere near as dense as NYC, and I think it's safe to say that any point in Palo Alto is less dense than the Manhattan average (including all the parks and so on). All of which is a longwinded way of saying that I don't see the need for extreme measures like tunnels or air rights. I do see a need to keep a close watch on the HSRA, though, to make sure they build their improvements in a minimally intrusive fashion.

Morris Brown said...

I saw the entire meeting via the local cable network.

I won't quibble much with Mr. Bogan's remarks, but he should emphasize that only 2 of the 14 speakers were in favor of the project as it now stands, and the others had varying degrees of problems. (he was one of the speakers in favor)

Anyone who wants to watch the meeting can do so on the web at

March 30 webcast

Item F. is the one to click.

In addition a closed session was held at the end of the meeting and the council voted on a 5-3 basis to file an Amicus brief in support of the Menlo Park / Atherton et. al lawsuit against the presently certified EIR.

Andrew Bogan said...


My apologies if this was not clear:

A majority of speakers specifically stated their support for HSR, although most voiced objections or concerns about how or if it should come through Palo Alto. Two speakers were expressly in favor of HSR and supported having the proposed mid-Peninsula HSR Station located in Palo Alto (including your correspondent).

You said:

"he should emphasize that only 2 of the 14 speakers were in favor of the project as it now stands, and the others had varying degrees of problems. "

I don't know that I need to emphasize that, even though I did clearly state it. The sample of a City Hall meeting is always hugely biased in favor of the opposition. Nobody goes to City Hall to say, "You guys are doing a great job!"

My bigger issue is with your characterization of the "project as it now stands". All we know now is that some 4 track solution will run up the Peninsula from SJ to SF. Most of the people who spoke would support just that in a tunnel, however most would not support that as an elevated alignment. I was in the minority not because I personally support both HSR and tunneling, but because I am willing to wait and see the final EIR/EIS to form an opinion on the other options. Most "opponents" claim to support HSR, but only on their terms. I support HSR whether it is on my terms or not, since I recognize that I am pretty insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

Devil's Advocate said...

If you let each little community decide on a project like this, it will neven happen. You might have to build the entire HSR line underground from SF to LA. There are sometimes interests of a state as a whole that should take precedence over the interests of few residents here and there. If we applied the same principles to freeway or airport building, there would be no roads or airports in California and the place would look a lot like the Sahara. Just build the damn rail and let the people deal with it and protest if they want. In every country where the HSR has been built there have been protesters that for one reason or another didn't want it to go through their neighborhood. Some of these protests are still going on, but that is not stopping those plans from going ahead. Reasonable environmental improvements and accomodations are one thing, but not when they render the project economically unfeasible. I also don't understand their concern here. There is already a rail line going through P.A. (Caltrain), so it's not that the city is not already divided by it and there are only a few streets that cross over it (at grade or not), Therefore an elevated alignment would improve things and could be done to minimize the environmental impact. Some rail aerial structures and viaducts I've seen around the world blend perfectly with the landscape. As far as noise pollution, the noise from Caltrain is not any better than the noise you generally would hear from a HST. The problem with America is that individual rights are always unduly taking precedence over the public interest.

Anonymous said...

"There are sometimes interests of a state as a whole that should take precedence over the interests of few residents here and there."

So are you a firm believer in the Kelo decision?

Anonymous said...

" The problem with America is that individual rights are always unduly taking precedence over the public interest."

Well, let's take that a bit further. How about if the so-called "public interest" deemed that your kind should be enslaved. Because, after all, we don't have enough cheap labor -- for the good of the public interest, we need more inexpensive labor, so therefore you should be enslaved.

Are you saying that you should be willing to be subjugated and enchained, just because we need more inexpensive cotton?

Alon Levy said...

Anon, the belief that eminent domain takings are equivalent to slavery is why nobody takes libertarians seriously.

Anonymous said...

Who said I was a libertarian?

political_i said...

Isn't it time for the majority to list our opinions and get them out there to flush all the vocal minority stuff down the drain to show support of this system? If they can be vocal, so can we. What would be the best way to promote the pro-HSR. The battle lies ahead and the opposition is getting in plenty of early hits.

Alon Levy said...

Who said I was a libertarian?

Your argument is very libertarian. If I rant incoherently about moral relativism, atheism, and homosexuality, does it really matter if I'm really a fundamentalist?

Spokker said...

We're here, we're queer, let's get HSR built!

Anonymous said...

"Are you saying that you should be willing to be subjugated and enchained, just because we need more inexpensive cotton?" From the dumbest post of the day. you've got to be kidding with this.

Anonymous said...

HSR folks are NOT doing a good job job advertising and keeping this plan sold to the california public. they barely did a good job getting 1A passed. With more information it would have passed by a wider margin. When I am working at a passenger railroad and talking to people who are clearly pro rail and finding out that they still don't know anything about high speed rail - clearly the authority is not doing a very good job advertising. If californians who are regular train riders already, don't know about hsr, then how much do you think the rest of the public knows about it? The public are like kids, you have to keep their attention. The attention span is short as this is a state full of folks with ADD ( its part of our lifestyle here) To get and keep their attention, you need something along the lines of Brittney/ Whitney/Brad and Angie along with a full time production crew and publicist. No one on earth knows how to sell an idea like hollywood does - so put them to use. with the public excited and firmly on board they will roll right over any local opposition. but what do I know. I don't have a fancy degree in hoopla-physics or anything. I know what makes californians tick though. you have to work them the right way. Look who we got stuck with for a governor - and not because gray davis was bad, and not because arnold was qualified. but because high testosterone/limited critical thinking skills males and fat girls with tube tops and big gulps went to the mall and saw the terminator and it was "like so cool". Get these "unwashed masses" on board and you will have the train and have ti where you want it. They FAR outnumber the elitist nimbys in this state - you just have to use the right shiny object to get their attention. ( and I don't mean that in any derogatory sense - its just the truth and I'm right there with them -you got to tittilate us, baby)

Anonymous said...

i mean for real - who's gonna sell more hsr, Quentin Kopp or Angelina Jolie?

Alon Levy said...

Well, there are some HSR boosters who could sell the plan on economic and environmental grounds. Thomas Friedman is the best known in the US; he's enamored with maglev, but he's also praised regular HSR. The problem is that the sort of environmentalism that attracts rock stars and actors isn't the same sort that attracts technology boosters.

Anonymous said...

I have to ask, on behalf of all ordinary californians - whoi the hell is Thomas Freidman? Was he the guy who was dating anna nicole?

Morris Brown said...

There is an informative article that appears today in the San Jose Mercury that lays out the Palo Alto council position wery well.

Palo Alto joins lawsuit

Tomorrow the CalTrain board meets in San JOse and will most likely approve a MOU agreement with the Authority. A meeting of the Authority also was to be held on Thursday, but it has been canceled.

I simply don't understand how CalTrain can enter into this MOU with the Authority, when they don't own the rights for inter city passenger rail, but only own commuter passenger rights.

It seems like this is another situation similar to the Authority planning the Sj to Gilroy route, when they didn't have an agreement with the owner of the rights for that corridor.

Anonymous said...

So what's the mystery hospitalization of Kopp all about?

Anonymous said...

If there's an economic case to be made, make it. What's the ROI from the billions to be invested here? All this greenwashing is complete bullshit. The US is not Japan, and it's not Europe. We simply don't have the density that those areas have.

In fact, it will probably contribute to sprawl -- make it easier for someone to commute from small towns to big towns with jobs. You really think there's any other reason to connect Fresno with San Francisco or LA? Gee, like a lot of people in San Fran would like to visit Fresno as a tourist. WIth the arrogance of people like jim in San Francisco, it's clear that this thing is just a boondoogle for a few who want to ride a shiny train to visit friends in LA -- on California taxpayer's dime.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 8:04am -

as opposed to those who use airports and freeways to travel around the state on the taxpayer's dime?

Transportation infrastructure is always subsidized in one way or another. Continued access to cheap oil is arguably the most stupendous subsidy of all, entire countries are laid to waste for that.

California HSR will run on renewable electricity and there is every reason to believe it will attract enough ridership to turn an operating profit within the first five years of operation. That profit will be used to fund network expansions to San Diego, Sacramento and Irvine.

You may be stuck in your ways, but the next generation will enjoy a higher quality of life because of HSR.

Anonymous said...

"California HSR will run on renewable electricity"

How? We don't have enough renewable electricity right now to power any significant percentage of what CA uses today.

"and there is every reason to believe it will attract enough ridership to turn an operating profit within the first five years of operation. That profit will be used to fund network expansions to San Diego, Sacramento and Irvine."

Every reason? And does the "operating profit" include retiring the debt incurred from building it or are you acting as a typical Californian and pretending that bonds are free money and pushing the responsibility to pay them off on future generations?

Andrew Bogan said...

@Anon 8:36am

"Every reason? And does the "operating profit" include retiring the debt incurred from building it or are you acting as a typical Californian and pretending that bonds are free money and pushing the responsibility to pay them off on future generations?"

It is not possible to build infrastructure in populated areas without governmental authority due to the required permitting at the municipal, county, regional, state, and federal levels; environmental review; and eminent domain powers. So the government must be heavily involved in the process. The benefits of improved transportation systems do accrue to the state and the country over the long term through economic growth (which is the underlying source of both California's and America's tax base). It is very sensible for government debt to be issued to pay for infrastructure (unlike many of the things governments pay for, like defined benefit pensions).

Is China building infrastructure faster than any nation in history for their own amusement, or do they recognize the massive economic and social benefits that have been achieved in the United States, Europe, Japan, and Korea through infrastructure investment over decades?

As for profit, Rafael is correct to focus on operating profits, since those are in fact the relevant ones available to a private (or public sector) operator of the infrastructure. The State owns the asset, not the concession operator. Would you pay for 100% of a house you did not own? No, you would pay rent. That does not mean the landlord loses money over the long term, though it is always a possibility.

The private partner should not be expected to fund the entire cost, since they do not receive the social or economic development benefits--the governments and the citizens do.

The current PPP hypothetical model is to fund capital costs of building HSR roughly 1/3 state bonds, 1/3 federal grants (likely backed by new Treasury issues, but could be from the existing tax revenue), and 1/3 private investor funding from the partner or partners involved in the build-operate-transfer PPP. This model has worked well in nearly every country that has used it.

BruceMcF said...

Nobody in particular (at least, they don't seem to think they are anyone in particular, having decided to post without bothering to pick a pseudonym) said:"In fact, it will probably contribute to sprawl -- make it easier for someone to commute from small towns to big towns with jobs."

Making it easier to commute from a central location in a small town to a central location in a big town than it is to commute from the outlying suburban sprawl of the big town is not "contributing to sprawl".

Palo Alto residents asking for the alignment to be moved away from the existing rail alignment that was the reason these small towns come into existence in the first place to some place "where nobody lives", and by implication demanding that the Peninsula station be built outside the center of any existing town ... they are supporting an increase in sprawl.

Indeed, if the Union Pacific gets stroppy about allowing the HSR to have its Fresno station in the middle of Fresno, they are contributing to sprawl.

The more beet field stations, the greater the weight of the "contributing to sprawl" argument ... the more the center of town stations, the greater the weight of the "fighting sprawl" argument.

Obviously, the balance should be on the side of "fighting sprawl", while those NIMBY's of Palo Alto fighting the use of the Caltrain corridor as such are on the side of supporting sprawl.

Andrew Bogan said...


I think Jim has a great idea to get more widely known popular figures involved in outspokenly supporting HSR for California. Unfortunately, the Hollywood Set is not my circle, or I would be pressuring them myself. Our Governor has used his star power to promote HSR on television quite a bit lately, but hopefully that is just a start.

Bay Area Resident said...

It definitely will contribute to sprawl and I think thats the whole point. The Slicon Valley business association under that Guardino person (forgot the acronym for the agency) has lobbied for this train so that bay area companies can import people from cheaper locales like the central valley to work. The high cost of housing here is seen as a major impediment for companies to grow. And the cities, including Palo Alto, are interested in that -despite what they say publicly- because corporate HQs in your town are where the tax revenues come from, not housing. Property taxes don't pay enough to fund services. Virtually every city on the peninsula and San Jose sees this train as a way to morph themselves into SF- a place where everybody works and nobody lives, that is the idea.

Bay Area Resident said...

did any of the train geeks have a response for why DOT is pushing for 3 tracks through San Jose? What is the win there and how would that work? Seems like an accident waiting to happen, to me.

PS- they are feeling the heat over the point to point destination speeds apparently. Diridon is being cut out of some routes to make the promised time schedules work.

Robert said...

Rafael ... you remind me of a conversation I had with a guy at Reagan National airport a few months ago. We were griping about delays ... I said that flying up and down the west coast was a real bother and I was excited about HSR. "Oh, I'm totally against that" he said. I asked him why ... "Public money shouldn't be spent on rail transportation" was his reply. I'm sure my face turned red, and I said, "Dude, public funds built this airport, as well as the highway you drove on to get here. What's the difference?" He sputtered something about limiting government interference with the market, and I thanked the stars for the coming regime change in the capital.

resident said...

HSR running on renewable electricty? Here's what Robert Freehling had to say about that. "High Speed Rail and Renewable Energy" in California Rail News Nov2008-Jan2009.

"Navigant considered several options. Unfortunately, these options ranged from the abstract to the illegal to the unfunded."

By the way, the piece right next to this article is also quite informative about how much CHSRA lied about measure 1A; "Not Competitive with Air Travel, Less than Half the Ridership, Kopps Transbay Tantrum", etc. Love the stuff about Kopps Transbay bait and switch.


I think it was Jim who suggested some renewed effort needs to happen to get real information out about what HSR REALLY IS for California. YES YES YES! I couldn't agree more. Lets start getting all the truth out about what HSR REALLY means for California right away!

Morris Brown said...

There should be a focus here on this project, how it has thus far been presented and designed.

The CHSRA as far as I am concerned has been totally incompetent in the planning and design of this project. They are certainly not incompetent in the political arena, as witnessed by the fact they were able to get a slim majority of the voters to approve Prop 1A.

But how can anyone ignore their blunders on the design side.

They propose, study and certify an EIR which is fatally flawed. How could this organization plan the project around the SJ to Gilroy corridor, knowing UPRR owned the only really feasible ROW, and they do not have an agreement with the UPRR to use that ROW. Last year the UPRR told them quite clearly you can't use this ROW. It is really un-believable. If the leaders of this organization were in private practice they would have been fired long ago. However, they are skilled politicians, they know everyone in Sacramento and on the local levels and they survive (thus far).

Now another major clunker has arisen. Although CalTrain owns the SF to SJ corridor, CalTrain does not own all the rights on that corridor. In particular freight rights belong to the UPRR.

But the really big kickerwith regards HSR is UPRR still owns inter city passenger rights, as opposed to commuter passenger rights on that corridor.

So tomorrow the CalTrain board is most likely going to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that will allow the Authority to use their corridor for an inter city passenger train. They are going to approve a agreement with the Authority involving rigths they don't own and the UPRR in its Feb 23 letter to the Authority has made that clear, they the UPRR own those rights.

The whole conecpt of Prop 1A was to use the CalTrain ROW. CalTrain has never obtained an agreement with the UPRR for an inter city passenger train. It seems to me the whole project falls apart.

Incompetence at the very most top levels.

Joe Vranich last year in testimony before the State T&H committee said it clearly, "I have never seen such incompetence on a HSR project"

Andrew Bogan said...


"SF- a place where everybody works and nobody lives, that is the idea."

I recall a news article from a few years back that said about as many people ride Caltrain southbound in the morning from SF as ride it northbound to SF. Are you sure nobody lives there?

Anonymous said...

Remember, anonymous, despite your views on Fresno, we've already spent billions building a highway to it. We can either spend more billions adding a lane or we can build rail.

And, with something like 6 universities on HSR route, there's a bit more to those cities than you give them credit for.


Andrew Bogan said...

Ridership projections have consistently been questioned for HSR. If a slightly faster Caltrain has generated ridership "beyond anyone's imagination" why is the assumption that ridership projections are always too high? Sometimes they are too low:

"While the success of the Baby Bullet has “been beyond anyone’s imagination,” Caltrain board member and county Supervisor Jerry Hill said it was just the beginning." (Examiner)

Spokker said...

"So what's the mystery hospitalization of Kopp all about?"

What do you mean? He's ancient. He will probably die before the thing gets built.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Morris Brown

Can we all safely assume that you would support HSR on the Peninsula Corridor if Union Pacific eventually comes to an agreement with CHSRA on using their routes?

UPRR wrote:

The construction and operation of HSR in the San Francisco to San Jose right of way
must not cause increased operating costs or operating inefficiencies for Union Pacific. The Authority must assume Union Pacific's liability exposure and risk arising from current and future freight operations in the same corridor as the HSR. The Authority should fully study means to indemnify and insure Union Pacific against all such liability or risk, including liability to HSR patrons.

That sure sounds like Union Pacific does, in fact, anticipate HSR to operate alongside their existing right of ways and areas of trackage rights in the future. Why else would they need to be indemnified?

Your insistence on UPRR being so important to HSR's design is a red herring.

Anonymous said...

Anon-"st. WIth the arrogance of people like jim in San Francisco, it's clear that this thing is just a boondoogle for a few who want to ride a shiny train to visit friends in LA -- on California taxpayer's dime" --Oh really? It so happens that californians are and always have been highly mobile. The majority of us, including myself have friends and family in the valley and do go to the valley on both business and for pleasure. I most certainly would go to fresno - a lot - as I have good friends who live there. As for tourism to fresno - its is only the southern gateway to one of the most popular national parks in the county. Merced is the toher gateway to that park. and as someone who sells train tickets to both fresno and merced I have to tell you that there is a large and daily and year round demand for those tickets. I hope you can hear the tone in my voice. asswipe what do YOU know???

Fred Martin said...

While I hope Kopp's current medical hospitalization is minor and precautionary, there's no getting around the fact the guy is well into his 80s. His complete mishandling of the BART-SFO-Millbrae extension should have prevented him from ever being involved in a major infrastructure project again. Even if he considers this his last harrah or perhaps a shot at redemption, how many more years of public service does he have? CHSRA has an enormous task ahead of it that will take decades to complete, and to be blunt, Kopp simply can't be the visionary leader to see the project through to its completion.

Andrew Bogan said...

@ resident

Thank you for sharing the link to the Cal Rail News articles. Both were worth reading.

I'm not sure the source of electricity is as critical as others imply. Renewable would be ideal, nuclear is a valid option, so is conventional (ideally natural gas turbine generated or hydro). Does anyone argue that you cannot add a lane to a freeway unless it is exclusively for cars powered by bio-fuels?

Spokker said...

Kopp is on my dead pool list for crying out loud, which is why I can't understand why anyone thinks he's in it for the money. The guy will never be able to spend the alleged fortunes he'll make on his corrupt HSR deals.

"But how can anyone ignore their blunders on the design side."

Who is? Clem certainly hasn't. Rafael certainly hasn't. They both distrust them and wish they could design the damn thing themselves.

"How could this organization plan the project around the SJ to Gilroy corridor, knowing UPRR owned the only really feasible ROW, and they do not have an agreement with the UPRR to use that ROW."

What came first, the chicken or the egg? Do we study this alignment first or do we negotiate with UP first? It makes sense to find out if the alignment is even feasible before spending any effort negotiating for it.

Hell, do both at the same time. But this isn't exactly an agency that has been endowed with a lot of resources by the state. They can only do so much while being starved by the state budget.

But as Andrew Bogan says, it's not that goddamn important. If high speed rail is America's number one transportation priority, according to our new glorious socialist regime, then I think freight companies will be treated fairly but sternly when it comes to running HSR on their right of way.

Of course, if endangered owls could get the project killed, you'd suddenly care about owls.

"They are going to approve a agreement with the Authority involving rigths they don't own and the UPRR in its Feb 23 letter to the Authority has made that clear, they the UPRR own those rights."

I take the MOU to mean the two agencies are entering into an agreement to cooperate on a project. This way, they can both go to UP and negotiate together.

"By the way, the piece right next to this article is also quite informative about how much CHSRA lied about measure 1A; "Not Competitive with Air Travel, Less than Half the Ridership, Kopps Transbay Tantrum", etc. Love the stuff about Kopps Transbay bait and switch."

I have that issue and it's sitting right on my desk.

I agree with the Transbay bait and switch. Voters passed a measure that was sold on the train terminating at Transbay, and I think it should. I chalk it up to Kopp playing hardball and/or having one foot in the grave. If anything he should resign based on age.

However, in talking to people who support HSR but don't necessarily follow it with the kind of obsession the OCD-afflicted among us, some don't think it's cost effective to spend so much money extending a route a couple of miles. I don't agree with it, but not terminating in Transbay would make some people happy.

The other elements are the result of a business plan that was late in being released because the authority was impacted by the state budget crisis. I forgot who said it, but when someone accused the CHSRA of failing to adhere to the law concerning the business plan, he laid the smackdown on Sacramento for failing to decide on a budget before the deadline.

As far as Prop 1A being misleading, listen, is McDonald's going to announce that their food is going to make you fat? Would the Prop 1A opposition have done anything less than announcing that the ballot measure would kill every child that looks at it? No, everybody puts their best foot forward, their most insane arguments on the forefront, supporters and opponents alike.

Prop 10, for example, didn't exactly advertise itself as T. Boone Picken's payday. It looked like a very attractive proposition. But voters managed to see through that and vote it down.

Apparently the details about high speed rail didn't matter to the majority of California voters. Perhaps if there were more details it would have passed with a wider margin. If it made all of your non-sexual dreams come true, maybe it would have passed with a wider margin.

In rail projects both sides crow until a result happens, maybe not the best result, but a result nonetheless. You can't make everyone happy.

Considering how horribly passenger rail has been treated in this country in recent decades, I'm surprised the California High Speed Rail project is anywhere near the point it is now. The cynic in me really expected it to not pass.

The cynic in me also expects 1A to be repealed, the project never built or at best terminate in Fresno, never mind San Jose.

Spokker said...

The newest blog post has a great line that's sort of in the spirit of what's being discussed here.

Rafael said: "I think it's time to let the vocal minority in that town know that the state isn't going to play along with its famously drawn-out "process", in which everything gets studied until all the planners die of old age."

Funny, with the rumors about Kopp.

At one point you just have to move forward. Compromise is the key, even among HSR supporters. Clem and Rafael are both unhappy Altamont wasn't picked. My personal HSR dreams involved 220 MPH between San Diego and LA in the most direct route possible. I'd say that should be phase 1. Maybe Brandon in San Diego agrees. But I also understand that project would never get off the ground.

Studying a project, quite literally, to death, reminds me of people who always wait to buy a computer because it's going to be obsolete in a month. Of course it will be, but if you keep waiting you'll never have a computer.

Anonymous said...

People actually do ant to get to places other than san deigo LA and SF. There's too much poo poo ing of the other stops. I want the hsr to go as far east into the inland empire (i-215) riverside as it gives more access to that part of the state especially the desert. I'd much rather go to PSP than SAN. Places such as FNO and all the other in betwen stations are very important. Most of the ridership WIL NOT be from SF to LA most of the ridership will be a combination of smaller city pairs.

Devil's Advocate said...

Wow. I thought I was going to play the devil's advocate, but there is an Anonymous guy who's doing a better job than me. Well I shared in other posts concerns about the profitability of the train, especially for shorter trips (like Fresno to LA or SF). Primarily because gasoline is very cheap in US, as opposed to EU or JPN. And also because in US once you reach your destination (except for maybe SF), you still need to rent a car to get around, due to poor urban transit, and therefore some people might decide to simply drive from Fresno to LA or SF (and viceversa). However I don't share with Anonymous the notion that these trains will be used by commuters. The experience in other countries shows that the fare for the HST is simply too high to be a viable commuter option. Rather, the most frequent users of HST, at least in EU, have turned out to be business travellers who tend to prefer this mode of travel to auto or air travel, because of time savings and their ability to work very productively while onboard. I believe that the same will happen in California. But commuters?? No way! If you have enough money to travel on those trains every day, you'll probably have enough money to buy a house close to work in LA or SF, and won't bother to live in hellish Fresno.

Andrew Bogan said...

Devil's Advocate is correct that short haul commute traffic is not likely to move onto HSR, especially since a grade-separated and electrified Caltrain will be faster than it is now. Although, I do think at least some commuting on HSR will occur between SF and San Jose, because there is a large wealth base in the Bay Area that could afford the high fares and for whom time is very valuable. It would probably be people taking a HSR train to a meeting in SJ from SF a couple times a week rather than a daily commute, though.

HSR is much less likely to see much daily commuting from the Central Valley, but in terms of occasional inter-city trips, I think Jim is right that a lot of intermediate stations, like Fresno will see considerable use.

Airports are busy every day. Very few people fly every day. It only matters that somebody flies every day.

Anonymous said...


To throw out a wild idea, anyone considered condeming the inner four lanes of 101 -- which may be the entire highway in many places -- and just replacing it with a train line? ;-)

Anonymous said...

"UPRR still owns inter city passenger rights"

If Union Pacific is claiming this, they are wrong. First, the rights to run intercity passenger trains, historically, expire if not used -- unlike many sorts of rights -- and Union Pacific isn't using them and hasn't for many many years. Second, the obligation to run said trains was transferred to Amtrak by Union Pacific (and all of its predecessors) back when Amtrak was formed. The rights probably followed the obligations. In addition, San Jose to San Francisco is an intercity route, so in fact Caltrain excercises intercity passenger running rights.

The chances that Union Pacific has any sort of legally enforceable exclusive right to run intercity passenger trains? Zero percent. At the most they might have a "preemptive" right to run them, but if they decline to run them, they're *OUT*. If they're angling to run the CAHSR operation, I wish them the best of luck. If they're angling for a small payout, they'll probably get it. If they're angling for anything more, they will be swatted down hard.

Morris Brown said...

2 Anonymous 12:06

Sorry old boy. Read the track rights agreement.

They are there forever. The PCJPB knows that as so do a whole lot of other people now, that some legal investigation has been done.

Jim Ausman said...

In addition a closed session was held at the end of the meeting and the council voted on a 5-3 basis to file an Amicus brief in support of the Menlo Park / Atherton et. al lawsuit against the presently certified EIR.Who voted for and who against?