Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Mountain View Won't Join Peninsula Coalition

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

At least not at this time, according to this report of last night's council meeting:

At a study session, council members discussed outreach efforts for high-speed rail and whether it should join the Peninsula Cities Consortium.

The consortium currently includes Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Burlingame and Belmont — cities that have been largely critical of the authority's plans for a major high-speed train running through the state.

Though no formal vote was taken, a small majority of the seven council members — including Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga and Council Members Tom Means, John Inks and Mike Kasperzak — said they were hesitant to join the consortium at this time.

Though consortium cities don't have to follow any particular viewpoint and are free to disagree with the other cities, Mountain View council members said they would rather stay independent.

"I'm not necessarily sure I want to have my voice drowned out or watered down by the other cities," Abe-Koga said.

The current member cities share essentially the same opinion of high-speed rail, Means said, and Mountain View would likely be outvoted on controversial issues.

Reading between the lines here, it sounds like Mountain View doesn't want to get locked into an anti-HSR NIMBY position as is being advocated by the Peninsula consortium. Good for them! It's nice to see cities along the Caltrain/HSR line understanding and welcoming the benefits of electrified, fast passenger trains, instead of blithely assuming in the face of all available evidence that the status quo is just fine and doesn't need to change; or assuming that there will magically appear the money to tunnel from Bayshore to Mountain View.

Not everyone on the Mountain View city council agreed with the inclination to stay out of the consortium, but even those who suggested the city participate did so out of a "rather be inside the tent than outside" mentality.

Still, I think the opponents of joining the consortium have it right. That Peninsula consortium has no real useful or productive purpose and is headed down a blind alley. They don't want an above-grade solution, but they are unwilling to admit the reality that a tunnel will cost too much money. So they'll ultimately be stuck fighting over whether to oppose the whole Caltrain/HSR project or whether to support it, instead of offering constructive feedback.

If that was the goal of the consortium - to explore ways to integrate an above-grade solution with the Peninsula corridor communities in the most effective ways possible - then the consortium would have a lot of value. But we all know that isn't its purpose. Mountain View is better off talking directly with the CHSRA, instead of wasting time on a consortium that is not likely to produce any productive outcomes given its current attitudes and composition.


crzwdjk said...

It's interesting to see how the various cities end up aligning on this issue, and what the HSRA will do about it. If they manage to convince Belmont that the new el won't be any worse than the old one, they can easily build their four track line everywhere except in the complaining cities, which without Belmont account for a total of 9.0 miles of ROW (2.5 miles in Burlingame and 6.5 in Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto). Who knows, maybe it won't be an insurmountable operational obstacle, at least in the initial stages of HSR operation, after which opposition will hopefully die down anyway.

James Jonas said...

It’s good to hear that Mountain View is discussing community outreach efforts and is not joining the Peninsula Consortium at this time.

What we need here is an open process in which CHSRA, Washington and CalTrains provides us (Joe public and Jan council woman) with a much more detail concerning schedules, options, costs and designs which is then organized and distributed in a cohesive format. I’m not saying that this information is not presented inside one of the public forums, or posted somewhere on the web. The shear scope of the project, number of players, shifting priorities and ever changing schedules demand that key agencies do a better job of getting the information to our communities who will be directly impacted by High Speed Rail.

Here in Redwood City, one of the basic confusions is the schedule for the decision process, which decisions have already been made and what options/costs/designs are we confronting at this point in the process. After CHSRA and CalTrain gives us the facts then we need an open two-way dialogue to discuss the issues within our communities and with these key agencies. My personal opinion is that part of the NIMBY backlash is a lack of early public engagement.

Anonymous said...

The Peninsula towns are screwed. The CHSRA is interpreting their disunity as a sign of weakness and will steamroller them accordingly. They should have done their homework and recognized that the CHSRA was planning to shaft them with an elevated. All the media propaganda depicting trenches was simply a bait-and-switch. The Peninsula burgs should have demanded using the 101 corridor as a precondition of their support of the HSR ballot measure.

Even now if the Palo Alto "NIMBYS" cannot ferret out who is protecting 101 and why they should have to give back their Ph.D's. I have to assume that Caltrans is harboring secret grandiose freeway expansion plans.

In the end there will be so much noise and vibration litigation the CHSRA will wish they opted for the 101 route. They will be forced to lower their operating speeds.

K.T. said...

Anon at 11:47pm

"secret grandiose freeway expansion plans"

When you can find the information on their website?

BruceMcF said...

arcady: "If they manage to convince Belmont that the new el won't be any worse than the old one, they can easily build their four track line everywhere except in the complaining cities, which without Belmont account for a total of 9.0 miles of ROW (2.5 miles in Burlingame and 6.5 in Atherton, Menlo Park, and Palo Alto)."

They can, of course, build inside the ROW and without changing any crossings in Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto by putting a two-track El 30 feet above the existing tracks.

That does not grade separate the Caltrain line in the cities that are lining up against constructive contribution to the design process, but if they were putting a priority on serving the transport needs of their constituents, they would of course make constructive contributions to the design process, so if it were to end up that way, they'd have nobody to blame but themselves.

Anonymous said...

Mountain View is probably far more business minded that the other cities and they recognize the economic benefits. They also would like to have a station and by cooperating with chsr, can probably get them to give the station to MV instead of PA and reap those benefits.

James Jonas said...

BruceMcF “make constructive contributions to the design process”

As quoted from the report:
"City staff also asked the council if it would like the city to participate in a proposed three-day rail design workshop held in July and October by the consortium. Most council members said they would prefer Mountain View to hold its own workshop."

Mountain View workshops, Consortium workshops, maybe even Redwood City workshops...We need more places/events to work on real solutions.

james hanson said...

Good for Mountain View. I hope the other rich and mostly liberal cities on the peninsula will stop this nonsense and let a good thing happen. I remember when the City of South Pasadena opposed the Gold line light rail in LA. Again rich white and mostly liberal. I can not understand them except to say maybe they are not as liberal as they claim

Anonymous said...

I don't know if this is really a liberal conxervative issue. Fresno wants this and they are very conservative out there. This is a business/economic venture that will benefit the california economy. The deniers are just people who are concerned with thier own property values.

Anonymous said...

Sunnyvale does exactly what San Jose/SVLG tells it to do, always.

Mountain View very nearly always does. Good to see its far-seeing council members toeing the line properly once again.

Palo Alto occasionally gets a little uppity. Don't worry, it will be put in its place. After all, think how wonderful BART to lovely Milpitas -- San Jose/SVLG's top and sole monomaniacal priority -- will be for Palo Alto! Not.

Andre Peretti said...

Lately, I listened to an interview of an SNCF top executive who explained that one of the reasons why TGV-Med was completed on time and within budget was that 99% of land takings were obtained by "transaction amiable" (friendly deal).
Eminent domain often leads to litigation and, as judgments are generally appealed, a project can be delayed for years. Meanwhile, nothing gets done but expenses are not suspended and loan interests continue to be paid.
These friendly deals can mean buying land at a higher price than the official real estate rate but also doing work that the SNCF has no legal obligation to do.
In the old days, the SNCF systematically resorted to eminent domain procedures, which caused delays and cost overruns.
Today, its philosophy seems to be: friendly deals cost millions but delays cost billions.
I hope the CHSRA is not following the path of the "old" SNCF.

Anonymous said...

Ah, conflict. Conflict attracts ‘eyeballs.’ This blog is, actually, less about the HSR than about conflict. After all, the train’s extent is to be 800 miles and the Peninsula, that hotbed of NIMBY conflict, is a mere 50 miles.
But, that 50 miles – actually, it’s only 7.5 miles – are ever so much more fun. Why bother with the other 750 miles when every hint of disagreement generates such rich blog material.

Why, if all of California is so enthused about the train and wants it so desperately, are you all so persistently worried about less than a miniscule fraction of the state population that doesn’t want the train in their living rooms?

Why would you want to empower us with your relentless attention, while the rest of the state receives only a glance here and there? You do realize that every piece that is written about us in this blog inflates our importance. That’s how it works in newspapers as well.

Look, look, over here, where someone in Atherton said something critical. And there, look there, another person in Palo Alto objects to something about the train’s plans. Quick, write another opinion piece.

Perhaps this blog has learned its lessons from CNN where they generate conflicts even if none exist, or are trivial. Why? In order to attract eyeballs, of course.

Diridon was dismissive of our three towns and stated that no more than 80 people were involved in all the objections. Kopp never fails to make some off-hand derogatory remark about us. Think, a mere 80 people attracting so much attention.

Have you considered interviewing any of us?

Anonymous said...

Reading between the lines is a dangerous thing ...

How about attending a Peninsula Consortium meeting to see what actually happens? They are open to anyone.

It is interesting that Mt. View doesn't want to join - but they have attended almost every meeting. The same with Redwood City

Clearly, there is some value - otherwise they wouldn't bother.

Come see for yourself!

DaveO said...

The major difference is that, in Mountain View, the Caltrain corridor is essentially adjacent to the Central Expressway for its entire length. An elevated structure probably isn't going to make too many people upset.

In Menlo Park and Burlingame, the Caltrain corridor neatly bisects the commercial corridor from some nice residential areas and an elevated structure in those locations would be very disruptive. I think the Athertonians are overreacting a bit though; so they'll have a slightly higher than normal wall between a few backyards - big deal. In Palo Alto, it's a mix of all of the above - not really a big deal for much of the southern portion of town, where the route parallels the Central Expressway and more problematic further north.

You need to go down the length of the peninsula and honestly try to pinpoint exactly where an elevated structure would be clearly disruptive, where it clearly won't, and were it's a matter of opinion. I don't think this study has truly happened. Afterwards, we might find that the amount of tunnel actually needed to mitigate the worst effects of an elevated structure is actually pretty small.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, what I read is that Mountain View clearly is reserving the right to oppose HSR on its own terms. They don't wanted to get dragged behind the ridiculous idea of tunneling, which will only serve to string cities and residents along for years thinking they have a shot at getting a tunnel.

I think this is a pretty smart strategy for the cities to remain at arms length from each other. Each city will have its own day in court.

There is no real power in the city officials joining a coalition anyway - its the voting public that has the power and no 'coalition'of city officials is going to lock voters in to supporting HSR of one type or another.

HST is SHT said...

Wouldn't it be better to forget about the HSR and use that money to improve and expand existing commuter trains instead? Like Bart to San Jose, to Livermore/Tracy, Vallejo, or commuter trains from Santa Rosa to Marin, from Sacramento to the Bay Area, Across the Dunbarton Bridge? And I'm talking about Northern Cal only, since I'm not too familiar with the Southland. I'm sure they could use some improvements for their commuter systems too. And how about improving and expanding freight rail lines? They would help a lot too to take big rigs off the highways. I bet better metropolitan commuter rail lines and better freight rail lines would do a much better job at relieving traffic than any High speed trains. Just because you guys are fanatics about this HSR, doesn't mean that California really needs it. If you really want to go from SF to LA in 3 hours why can't you take a plane. Are you afraid to fly?

Anonymous said...


What you write make sense. But this HSR project is not about making sense, it about promoting the interests of San Jose, SF, the metro areas of the Central valley, LA and Anaheim.

What would make sense is for the project to go over Altamont, not go through the center of cities like Fresno and take big detours to Palmdale. If the Ahaheim to San Diego extension were to ever get built, what would make sense is a coastal route, not going inland to satisfy the developers in the east.

The project makes no sense, so why write about it>

BruceMcF said...

HST is SHT said...
"Wouldn't it be better to forget about the HSR and use that money to improve and expand existing commuter trains instead?"

Wouldn't it be better to abandon Expressways and put all our money in two-lane highways instead? Wouldn't it be better to abandon major hub airports and put all our money in small regional shuttle airports instead? Wouldn't it be better to abandon Avenues and Boulevards and put all our money in side streets instead?

The question presumes a false choice between local and inter-regional transport. But inter-regional and local transport are not substitutes, they are complements.

Anonymous said...

news from another peninsula city on HSR

Matt said...

I enjoy this blog, but I really dislike the number of Anonymous trolls. It takes away from the good discussion which is going on.

crzwdjk said...

To the anonymous who thinks that the focus on the Peninsula is about "conflict". It's not, not really. It's about people, NIMBYs and the bloggers and HSR board alike thinking that the Bay Area and specifically the Peninsula is the center of the universe, the Best Place to Live, etc. etc. That's why there's so much NIMBY complaining, and why it gets to much attention from the blog and antagonistic responses from the HSRA. But the Peninsula isn't the center of the universe, nor of the state or even of the HSR project. Los Angeles is by far the biggest metro area in the state, LA-Bakersfield is the most glaring missing link in the rail network, yet the Peninsula is getting all the attention, I suspect because it lies roughly halfway between the interests of Kopp and Diridon.

Spokker said...

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Brandon in California said...

I suspect some of the non-account and anon posts are from the same person.. speaking to themself.

Anon at 3:34p may not be... and to that post I agree.

Anonymous said...

Redwood City has never appeared at the rail group meetings. Mt. View has.

The group has now organized has a fully compliant "Brown Act" body; notices will be posted etc.

Anonymous said...

@anon "attracting eyeballs" talking about PA on this blog isn't attracting any eyeballs in that there are only a handful of us who even blog here in case you hadn't noticed The governor isn't reading this blog and neither is anyone else. Im sure if there was something simialr going on in socal then the socal bloggers here would bring it up. As of now the bay area nimby's = and the bay area ( and I am a proud san franciscan) are famous the world over for our nimbyism. The only thing thats abusrd are the circular arguments coming from this small group of agitators. first they want this, then they want that, then they want the other. It discredits any real argument they may have had.

Anonymous said...

i think this sums it up nicely: "I'm not sure I want my voice drowned out by all the other cities," said Mayor Margaret Abe-Koga. While many Mountain View residents are concerned about the design of the project, most have not been against the very idea of running high speed rail up the Peninsula.-- By contrast, many residents of cities in the PCC, which have wealthy residential neighborhoods right up against the tracks, want high speed rail to run somewhere else altogether. The PCC appears to be a "very homogenous group," said council member Tom Means. "We are a very different type of town."

Well good for MT View. and he was very generous in using the term "homogenous" to describe the mid peninsula folks. I have another word for it.

BruceMcF said...

Anonymous said...
"What would make sense is for the project to go over Altamont, not go through the center of cities like Fresno and take big detours to Palmdale. If the Ahaheim to San Diego extension were to ever get built, what would make sense is a coastal route, not going inland to satisfy the developers in the east."

I guess this is proof by assertion.

From the perspective of an operating HSR line, an alignment that runs through San Jose to San Francisco is preferable, running through a city the size of Fresno is preferable to a bypass, if you can organize it, and only an idiot would suggest that the massive expense of getting a coastal alignment up to 220mph would be justified.

Wow, proof by assertion is fun, though I goofed and let a criteria for judging the assertions slip in there ... for real high quality proof by assertion, I guess I should just throw the claims out there.

Of course, if I was making assertions I was not prepared to argue through, it would have been tempting to post as an anony-mouse instead.

DBX said...

It's particularly pitiful to see Palo Alto involved with this. You'd think with the Stanford community there, they'd be inclined to favor transportation. Makes me think town-gown relations there must not be all that good.

Also, whoever suggested Altamont and a coastal LA-San Diego route . . . . I have a couple of questions.

1) How do you suppose bypassing inland California makes political or economic sense for this project, either in the Valley or the Inland Empire?

2) Do you really think the Marine Corps is about to allow a high-speed rail line through Camp Pendleton?

The Bay Area is inevitably complicated on this project. There are too many competing jurisdictions and transit agencies. In a rational world, for example, VTA would not extend BART but rather would work with neighboring counties and cities to develop Caltrain into a fast, electrified regional rail system serving the entire Bay Area, with BART dealing with higher density segments in the San Francisco and Oakland area.

But we don't live in a rational world, we live in a political one populated by humans, and while we may not be getting the particular transit operators, track gauges and trainsets we want, we're getting routes where they will serve the most passengers and we're well on the way to getting service that will realistically enable people to use their cars less and get around more conveniently at the same time.

And in particular, with the way the future transit in the Bay Area is developing, it is vital for the future of the Bay Area, and in particular the future of voters who don't want to be on the hook for transit bailouts, that these various systems interconnect. The Peninsula's 101 route obsession explicitly gets in the way of that interconnection by routing HSR away from town centers and jeopardizing Caltrain upgrades, and ironically enough would therefore run the risk of incurring the same kinds of subsidy costs that VTA faces with the BART extension that the Peninsula crowd rightly criticises.

Anonymous said...

Mountain View wants and needs a tunnel in its downtown.

According to its own scoping letter, it does want cateneary or anything else divisive.

If you think I am making this up, read their scoping letter.

They are just hoping if they make friendly overtures to CHSRA that they will be first in line for cash to get their big dig.

James Jonas said...

It’s because of the ‘complexities’ pointed out by DBX that the CalTrain ROW is the strongest contender for the HSR corridor. CHARA still needs to mitigate the eminent domain issues, which will become a major expense, in terms of litigation and delay for this project. Getting more real community input and looking for some common ground solutions in the front end of the project will save in litigation/delays on the backend.

Andy Chow said...

Mountain View can't either have an elevated structure or underground tracks.

Mountain View has plenty of auto overpasses (San Antonio, Shoreline, 85, Whisman, 237). There are only two grade crossings. Mountain View has plans for Rengstorff, and built Shoreline with the possibility to close Castro.

On top of that, Mountain View has overhead catenearies with light rail.

Simply, Mountain View does not need to join that club, and would gladly take a station if given a chance.

Clem said...

What litigation and delay?

The eminent domain process is not the insurmountable obstacle that many people assume it to be. It is swift and efficient, and in the grand scheme of the HSR project the expense is likely to be trivial. Both VTA and SamTrans are well versed in the process.

Of course, the amount of property that will need to be taken this way is trivial since the Caltrain corridor is adequately sized.

- yawn -

James Jonas said...

Views may differ as to the ease of using eminent domain.

"Private property is sacred in the United States and it's very difficult to impose eminent domain to acquire property to build highways and high-speed rail," says Amtrak communications chief Cliff Black.

As for the sizing issue, this is design dependent.

Aaron said...

Even assuming that there are going to be notable eminent domain takings in the Peninsula (there aren't), eminent domain is a fantastically simple concept (so simple that it gave rise to Kelo). Governments can take property for either public use or to transfer to a "better" private use. Now, most states have enacted laws to prevent Kelo "better private use" situations from taking place (California enacted Prop 99 in 2006, which prevents the state from taking owner-occupied residences and transferring them to private hands), but here we have an obvious public use. Once the State shows that CHSRA is a public agency - not exactly a difficult showing - the only question - and literally only question - is the value of the property. Litigation whose sole question is over the value of the property concludes itself rather quickly.

And, quite frankly, I would suggest that in the rare cases where eminent domain is to be used, landowners are going to get a hell of a better deal negotiating to sell a strip of their backyard to CHSRA at a premium, rather than having CHSRA purchase their entire homes under today's depressed values. In many of these cases where the agency in question only needs a small strip of an owner's land, they would rather pay a premium for that strip because that's cheaper than ending up with ownership of your whole property and having to resell it. CHSRA is not a real estate agent.

Cliff Black's quote appears to refer to Acela, where he may be right - straightening out the Acela tracks would involve exponentially more takings than the entire CAHSR project would.

If there's going to be fireworks, it's going to be over the EIR/EIS, where there is a broader cause of action available.

James Jonas said...

Went hunting for some more information on ROW.

Why They Chose the Caltrain Corridor

"Adding up the series of strips with the dimensions above, the grand total amount of land required to widen the entire peninsula corridor to a minimum of 75 feet is less than four acres."

This is great stuff. Thx

NONIMBYS said...

FOUR Whopping ACRES!!!Someone please slap these nimbys!!!

Anonymous said...

Seriously, the mtn view city council wants a tunnel and underground station for downtown. You can read their scoping comments and watch the meetings.

Anonymous said...

If these Peninsula towns want to receive any attention they will have to slip some real cash to the politicos in the form of campaign contributions. Or the promise to deliver votes. That's how it works in California. Rest assured the engineering firms and contractors have been doling out plenty of payola.

If it became a campaign issure that could open some minds to a rethink.

I seriously doubt Palo Alto can raise the funds to pay for a lengthy 4 track subway. If they manage to extort the money out of the CHSRA the other towns will be outraged at the favoritism.

The noise and vibration issues are sure to be worse than predicted as the FRA is likely to demand trainsets that are significantly heavier than those in use overseas. But the lawyers will do very well.

Spokker said...

If Diridon was so powerful, Pacheco such an awful choice, and Altamont the magic bullet that will fix Bay Area transit that EVERYBODY is for, why don't the people stand up to him?

I mean, TRANSDEF, The BayRail Alliance, TRAC, and any number of groups absolutely vilify this guy, tell the people how it should be, and yet the people still voted for Prop 1A and the Bart-to-San Jose tax. Despite all their genius, all their expertise, the people defied them. Such a transgression by the people cannot go unpunished, and lawsuits must be launched in all directions for the good of the people. If the lawsuits fail, then TRANSDEF et al. are just the little guys being steamrolled by The Man.

Why don't these groups get behind the HST overlay on Altamont? Get behind it and really turn it into something. The beginnings are there. All it needs is some egotistical transit advocates with too much time on their hands who know what is good for everyone else.

Personally, I don't give a fuck which was chosen. Even in their analysis the CHSRA said there wasn't much difference between either alignment in many categories. But we have this form of government where important issues are taken to a vote, and guess what, the people spoke no matter how dumb you think their decision was. But the vote was tampered with and the ballot measures deceiving and all that stuff, unless the election would have gone your way, then it would have been a just election... give me a break.

Anonymous said...

A more honest pre-election simulation of the future HSR would have been a double size BART-style elevated hovering over a street lined with medical marijuana dispensaries, pawnshops, check cashing outfits and massage parlors. And throw in some razor wire as beautification.

Spokker said...

Yeah, put those businesses on the East Bay where they belong!

Alon Levy said...

the FRA is likely to demand trainsets that are significantly heavier than those in use overseas

And Caltrain and HSR are likely to get it to grant them a waiver, since HSR will not share tracks with freight trains at all and Caltrain will have time separation.

Anonymous said...


The people voted for George W. Bush, twice.

Alternative one -> The wisdom of the people prevailed.

Alternative two -> Karl Rove is an evil genius.

Alon Levy said...

Alternative three > Gore and Kerry ran bad campaigns; Kerry in particular couldn't address the terrorism issue well.

Anonymous said...

LOL. This thing isn't happening.

BruceMcF said...

James Jonas said...
"As for the sizing issue, this is design dependent."

Yes, its true that a tunnel could well require substantial eminent domain, but staying on the level where feasible with a combination of full road underpasses, split grade separations, and possibly one or two viaducts, there's very little eminent domain that would be required. There are some parking lots that Menlo Park is ferociously protecting, overlooked by the back end of sprawl retail along El Camino Real, and possibly a couple of place where there are curves that need straightening ... but really, unless they decide to tunnel, very little eminent domain would be required.

Anonymous said...

The FRA is likely to require heavy trainsets out of fear that the overseas equipment is not safe enough in a derailment at speed. Re the hsr wreck in Germany.

Alon Levy said...

Heavy locomotives don't increase derailment safety. To increase derailment safety, the FRA should either copy Japanese safety standards, or demand French-style articulated bogies.

Spokker said...

If the FRA wants to prevent the derailment that happened in Germany all they have to do is make sure not to use the same wheel design that caused it. Deutsche Bahn has since corrected the problem.

Or don't use German trains.

Spokker said...

Better signaling than what exists in the US would prevent crashes in the first place.

Adirondacker said...

If the FRA wants to prevent the derailment that happened in Germany all they have to do is make sure not to use the same wheel design that caused it.

And if the passenger who saw a big chunk of metal come up through his compartment had taken the initiative to pull the emergency stop things would have turned out a lot better. Or if the derailing train hadn't wiped out the supports of the overpass which then fell on the train things would have been very different too.

Anonymous said...

I have see little regarding the landmark tree "El Palo Alto" on the boundry between Menlo Park and Palo Alto.

It is likely that the project could kill the tree perhaps with benign neglect.

If you have not visited the same tree that the Spanish explorers used as a landmark do so. Take a friend, take a child soon as it may be dead in no time.