Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Spoiling the Bunch

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

One thing that's become clear since the passage of Prop 1A one year ago is that the project's opponents have learned from their defeat. Instead of launching a frontal assault on the concept of high speed rail, which a clear majority of Californians support, they've decided to focus on generating local opposition along the route in an effort to abuse the CEQA process to undermine the project. It's a Gulliver strategy - tie the giant down with dozens of little but potent attacks across the state and maybe, just maybe, you can kill it outright.

Much of this effort has involved a truly stunning amount of disinformation on the part of the HSR opponents. They have learned well how to use what Stephen Colbert aptly described as "truthiness" - where people see something as true because they "feel" it to be true, because a statement comports with their own inherent biases, even though it lacks basis in evidence.

Truthiness has been rampant on the Peninsula. HSR opponents like Martin Engel have been effective purveyors of misinformation, such as the idea that HSR would be some sort of "Berlin Wall" along the Peninsula (it won't), or that it will require mass demolition of housing along the Caltrain corridor (it won't), or that the CHSRA is determined to destroy communities (it isn't). Of course, it doesn't matter that there are no facts behind these claims, because to NIMBYs, these claims "feel" true. Anything that is perceived to alter the aesthetics of their community is seen as a threat. And Engel is very adept at playing on those sentiments.

One major element of their strategy is to paint the HSR project as some sort of Death Star aimed at the Peninsula, and to paint Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon as the Emperor and Darth Vader. Both men have a long history on the Peninsula, and have been involved in their share of controversial projects, so in them Engel has found an easy target. If he can find ways to paint them as mean, out of touch, and unwilling to listen to public input, then he and other HSR opponents will have delegitimized the CHSRA and the HSR project. And that helps them gain ground in the local battles, where most residents want HSR but also want it to be built the right way. Engel doesn't want it built at all, so anything he can do to discredit the CHSRA helps pull more people away from the "sensible compromise" camp and into the "kill it!" camp.

That's the background to the latest controversy manufactured by Engel. At last week's CHSRA board meeting, Rod Diridon said he hoped Ogilvy, the CHSRA's new communications contractor, would do a better job fighting the widespread misinformation on the Peninsula. Engel decided to turn this valid criticism of both the Peninsula opponents and of the CHSRA's public outreach into something else entirely, as explained in the Palo Alto Daily Post:

[Diridon said:]"Misinformation is causing serious media relations problems in the mid-Peninsula -- Atherton, Menlo Park, Palo Alto area especially. That misinformation coming
sometimes from inadvertently our own staff. But then again, it's being presented by opponents, blatantly providing false information to the media and then having no correction. No information being provided that would counter that misinformation and I think you related to that earlier.

Robert here: There is no doubt this is a true statement. Project opponents have been spreading lies and the media has fallen for it. This is a potent attack on the NIMBYs, which is why Engel wants to undermine it. Back to Diridon:

"So would you relate to those two examples, not those two specific cases but those examples as kind of in-the-weeds detail that you really need to be on immediately, so that it doesn't, the kind of thing are like a sore that festers, or the rotten apple in the barrel, if you would like to use another example. And you got to get that apple out of the barrel immediately and please figure out a way and let us know at some time in the future and call us individually or give us a report on how you would be creating kind of flying squads of emergency response to nip those problems in the bud.

"You want to avoid them if you can but if you can't avoid them you need to have a way of countering them immediately so that, misinformation isn't allowed to float around, it's corrected. So please consider that as early tasks."

Makes sense, right? Diridon here is merely explaining what has already happened on the Peninsula. One could use any number of other metaphors here - "poisoned the well," "spread like a cancer," anything to illustrate the point that the lies and distortions peddled by Martin Engel and others have spread on the Peninsula and threaten the project. It makes sense for Ogilvy to figure out how to respond to that misinformation. Nowhere in Diridon's statement did he say he wants to attack individuals - just the untruths they have spread.

Of course, Engel decided to continue making stuff up, and used this statement as his way to try and defuse the effort to counter the lies. In a move reminiscent of Sarah Palin's claim about "death panels," Engel spun this as Diridon having attacked himself:

When Diridon told an Ogilvy representative "you got to get the apple out of the barrel immediately," Engel interpreted that as an assignment for Ogilvy to silence high-speed rail dissidents.

Engel said, "Here is Diridon basically saying, 'Take car of these people. Their information needs to be corrected with our information. We need to shut them up because they are a pain.'"

There is no way you can draw the conclusion Engel did from Diridon's quote - unless you place truthiness about actual truth. The quote was very clear: Diridon was referring to the lies, not the people who tell them. Diridon explained as much to the Daily Post reporter:

"What I referred to was that one piece of misinformation will be repeated and repeated and therefore cause a lot of confusion," said Diridon, a former Santa Clara County Supervisor who now sits on the rail authority's board of directors.

But that truth doesn't matter to Engel, who went further in his baseless claims:

Engel said, "Everything they put out is misinformation. That is what's so ironic about this."

"Everything" is misinformation? Ridiculous. What you see here is that Engel is engaged in a classic case of projection, where you take a criticism of oneself and deflect it onto the person making the criticism. And Engel does this for the purposes I laid out at the beginning of this post - to convince the "silent majority" on the Peninsula that CHSRA and its board members are somehow engaged in bad faith and are making mean statements about nice people.

If Engel was confident that he had a solid case against HSR based on the facts alone, he would feel no need to resort to these kinds of manufactured controversies, deliberate misinterpretations of statements, and continued spreading of misinformation. We who support HSR do so on its merits, and we have no hesitation making an honest and factual case for its construction. I suppose that's our weakness, since we aren't willing to embrace truthiness the way HSR opponents will.


Anonymous said...

Question is does the hsr fuhrerbunker plan brainwashing, re-education camps, or the final solution for the rotten apples, nimbys and dissidents?

Next target: thoe who would dare get in the way of sending the last drop of Norcal water to Palmdale.

morris brown said...

I fully endorse all of Martin's remarks and conclusions. Your readers can judge for themselves by viewing Diridon's remarks at:

Diridon's remarks

As written before, if you want to really want to know who is passing around the misinformation, just talk to any Palo Alto City council person to tell you about Diridon's presentation before the 2008 election (after which they voted unanimously to endorse Prop 1A) and his appearance before council after the election, at which time they decided to prepare an amicus brief in support of the lawsuit.

YouTubeFan said...

Here's Diridon just before the election saying there is flexibility in the route:


and here is Diridon saying the route was decided (march 2009)


judge for yourselves

Anonymous said...

Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Matthew 7:1-3

dave said...

@ YoutubeFan

There is a difference between the flexibility in the route (Altamont Pacheco) and then there is flexibility in route (Aerial above houses, at grade through ROW, tunnel under a school, etc.) That's what Diridon said.

The route had alredy been chosen (Pacheco and Caltrain ROW) a year earlier in December 2007, Officially. What did he have to hide? Everyone knew the route choice!

The only reason your cities back your lawsuit is because the outcry of whiners. They don't care about you people, they just want your vote into office! If their was a major rally in support of HSR in your town, your local leaders would be the first to jump in support 'cause they want your vote!

dave said...

It's all a mind game! Opponents of HSR prey on the weak minded and ignorant for there own selfish purpose. If your not weak minded, then you can see through the BS.

I see this project doing good whether you opponents, deniers, nimby's cry your heart out.

Peter said...

Please explain to me how Diridon mislead Palo Alto City Council.

I'm really confused, especially after watching those two videos, how you can claim that he was being misleading.

Bianca said...

See, I can't help but infer that by taking the "rotten apples" comment so personally, Morris Brown and Martin Engel believe that they are it as far as opposition to HSR on the Peninsula. Either it's just the two of them, and they're responsible for all the opposition truthiness, or it's not just the two of them, and there might be other folks who are spreading misinformation.

The amount of noise that Morris Brown and Martin Engel are making about this "rotten apples" comment really makes me think they doth protest too much.

Clem said...

What this debate really needs is more righteous indignation.

I propose that Diridon take deep offense at being called a liar by Engel.

Slander lawsuits should be threatened if this story dies down too quickly.

Reality Check said...

This is nothing more than Engel's self-serving spin on Dirdon's words in order to keep himself and his views in the news. The Daily Post associate editor Diana Diamond is no fan of HSR, so they're probably more than happy to run with stories like this. With all the "real" local stories to report, that this manufactured non-story ran as the lead headline story with a big unflattering color photo of Rod Diridon is telling about the Post's sympathies with kill-HSR NIMBYs like Engel.

Anonymous said...

The weak-minded are those who got conned by the prop 1A bs.

Politicians don't cry libel because the last thing they want is to be under oath in court. Remember Iran-Contra, etc., etc. Along with libel goes perjury.

dave said...

No, I think they voted on Prop. 1A because they saw the value of what's being proposed. Wanting an alternative trasnportation option isn't being weak minded, but following liars (Engel) is.

Remember that the Authority has to be carefull with what they say. They can't lie easily and get away with it. But what does Engel have to lose? A little support here and their? A slap on the wrist if you ask me! Who do you think is gonna do the lieing? Mr. Martin Engel, that's who!

Unknown said...

@Clem: quite frankly I'm shocked, SHOCKED that we are so short of righteous indignation around here. I didn't cheat on my taxes by writing off my season tickets to the Dodgers and then scalping the best games to pay for the whole season, just to see the tax money that I should have paid get spent on conciliatory gestures. This is america, dammit, I demand references to '30s germany in everything my government does, except when they're cutting the taxes I'm not paying.

Anonymous said...

Seriously people -

you don't think Diridon's remarks are a *little* out of line? You don't think that there are more important things for Ogilvy to do (like fix the ****ing website) than play man-on-man coverage with Martin Engel and Morris Brown? Seriously?

Anonymous said...

The real heart of the matter here is that the judge overruled the Program EIR, there is no longer a certified EIR, nor a legally chosen or preferred route (by court order) and so everything is back on the table. The next time CHSRA brings a Program EIR to the public, it will contain all the riches of research detail they've been conducting since they tried to pass the Program EIR through devoid of real data the first time. And yes, the judge obligingly has allowed them to continue to study. Just THINK how much more specific data and real information they'll have available for disclosure in the next Program EIR. And will their profile drawings be redrawn? I wonder - because its the profile drawings in the Program EIR that designate the 20 foot wall through much of Palo Alto (at least from border past Paly, going to a mere 8 foot wall beyond that). That's a fact, not a fiction made up by nimby's.

And if the program EIR was supposed to be the gospel according to CHSRA for approved route, then why shouldn't Nimby's look to the only data CHSRA had provided for the facts? (That's neigher here nor there now, the program eir is invalid.)

But for real kicks, the legislatively mandated business plan will (or will fail to) come out on Dec 15th, it will be stated in current dollars, will contain appropriate cost estimates for all that they know now, including costs of not using UPRR ROW, costs of eminent domain and reverse comdenation, and will show us all the sources of funding for the entire project = so we can really see then who's been misleading whom. (Or we can have a field day ripping them a new one when the business plan comes out reading like a comic book). Just think, all that fun, just in time for Christmas.

In the meantime, to be fair to Diridon, watch the entire PR contract presentation at the CHSRA meeting. The CHSRA presenter started the presentation with slides picturing the logos of Palo Alto and Atherton papers singling them as examples of the misinformation sources, and Kopp was the first board commenter to pipe up about getting 'killed' in the media over the lawsuit. So its not just Diridon, it pervasive arrogance at the CHSRA.

Any thinking person can watch the meeting for themselves and see that the board is clearly hiring a PR firm with the first order of business being Damage Control, the second order of business being controlling the internal messaging in the CHSRA organization. Fact is, they're fighting against the tide and they know it.

I find it amusing though, that Robert continues to be surprised by the tenacity of local opposition. Is not like he wasn't warned that the Peninsula was not the place they wanted to tangle with if they ever wanted to see HSR in their lifetimes.

Joey said...

You ... seriously still think the route could be changed because of a few inadequacies in the EIR.

For the record, I think that Diridon's comments, while having truth to them, were a bit harsh. It's not everyone on the peninsula who is a problem, though the HSR opposers tend to make themselves a lot more audible than those in support. But there is definitely misinformation present (for instance, a recent comment on PA online complained that HSR would mean more noise from train horns).

AndyDuncan said...

"Is not like he wasn't warned that the Peninsula was not the place they wanted to tangle with if they ever wanted to see HSR in their lifetimes."

You guys think you're so special. Get over yourselves.

Tony D. said...


Respectfully, you and I are on the same page when it comes to HSR. But I think to constantly put the NIMBY'S and naysayers in the spotlight (with posts such as today's) is counterproductive and a waste of time. There are those on the Peninsula, and I assume other parts of California, who would be against this project even if people like Engel didn't exist. Fine, that's there right. But the truth of the matter is that HSR WILL BE BUILT on the Peninsula as planned. It doesn't matter what a small minority thinks or what some small-town gazette puts out on newsprint/the web. The majority of Californian's, and overwhelming majority in the Bay Area/on the Peninsula, want this project and it will be built!

Oh sure, the NIMBY's/naysayers were recently granted with a "victory," of sorts (?), by a judge's recent ruling in Sac. So we'll now have to tweak an EIR and put in stone the final ROW from SJ through Pacheco Pass (not really a bad thing in this proponents eyes). But in the end HSR will be built along the Peninsula/Caltrain ROW, through the Pacheco Pass and on to LA/SoCal. As the Sun rises every morning, that's the truth!

anon 11:56,
"The weak-minded are those who got conned by the prop 1A bs."

anon 12:20,
"Blah Blah Blah Blah......"

Boy, are some people going to be absolutely miserable come 2020 (if they're still alive).

mike said...

Wow, talk about much ado about nothing. Diridon actually referenced inadvertent misinformation by CHSRA staff before he even mentioned generic "opponents." Clearly Martin wants attention...not a big surprise.

Anonymous said...

look out for the death star

Bianca said...

@Tony D., I have to respectfully disagree. To leave the the Peninsula opponents to HSR unanswered creates a perception that there's little to no support for HSR on the Peninsula, which is certainly not the case. It's important to call them out, so that people on the sidelines get the whole story.

The way this has been framed by Martin Engel and Morris Brown, you'd think that Diridon had called them out by name. But he didn't. It suits the purposes of the oppostion to portray CHSRA as arrogant, unfeeling bureaucrats with a flimsy grasp on the truth. So they've taken this story and tried to blow it up into "Diridon called us mean names!" when in fact he didn't.

The reality is that there is a lot of misinformation circulating on the Peninsula about HSR. That's a fact, just like the Earth is round and the sky is blue.

It's important that folks on the Peninsula understand that, so that when someone tells them about a 75 foot high wall or six tracks wide or that they heard about somebody getting an eminent domain notice from CHSRA, they don't just believe it unquestioningly.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I'm with Bianca on this. My consistent approach, ever since the blog started, was that it's better to debunk these people and risk giving them more attention than ignoring their claims and hoping they go away. Especially since they're already getting these claims into the local media.

As usual, I don't devote this blog to attacks on HSR opponents. When I woke up this morning I thought I'd be writing about the Central Valley maintenance hub debate. Oh well. Maybe tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

On the horns issue, unless there is a rules change, trains passing through but not stopping at a station would be required to sound horns. With number of trains going from 10-40, and the number of trains NOT stopping at places like Palo Alto, going from 0-20ish, some areas are likely to experience increase in horn noise.

Other places where there is a grade crossing but are not near a Caltrain station may have less noise.

Not as open and shut as one might think...

missiondweller said...

Obviously more outreach to the Peninsula needs to be done. The strategy I would employ would be to have public meetings over and over again showing the various options from the previously posted video (elevated, retaining hybrid, trench and tunnel). Let people vent, share their concerns and see the various options. Be consistent in message: HSR is coming. You can have input on which ROW method is used.

Over time people will feel they have been heard and seeing the options repeatedly will make them familiar and focus them on what they can control. Instead of HSR being something unknown to fear they will likely either lose interest as the meeting will all be the same or they will refocus on what type of ROW they want in their community. This takes the power away from the fearmongers as the HSR options become more familiar and "old news".

Anonymous said...

On the horns issue, unless there is a rules change, trains passing through but not stopping at a station would be required to sound horns. With number of trains going from 10-40, and the number of trains NOT stopping at places like Palo Alto, going from 0-20ish, some areas are likely to experience increase in horn noise.

Um, what? Caltrain doesn't blow horns now when it expresses through a station UNLESS there is a grade separation. Ride a baby bullet sometime through San Carlos - no horns.

Anonymous said...

trains passing through but not stopping at a station would be required to sound horns.

No. There is no such regulation or requirement.

Horns are sounded at the engineer's discretion if there is a perceived danger. Passengers standing too close to the tracks do occasionally present such a danger.

Bianca said...

Morris Brown has posted about this "rotten apples" bit in two other threads on this blog and in a couple of different places on the local press websites.

So when Diridon said:

"What I referred to was that one piece of misinformation will be repeated and repeated and therefore cause a lot of confusion,"

It seems to me that by spreading around his first comment repeatedly, and disregarding his clarification, Morris Brown is proving Diridon's point.

Joey said...

Other places where there is a grade crossing but are not near a Caltrain station may have less noise.

There will be no grade crossings on the peninsula once HSR is in operation. Why do you think they chose an elevated alignment in the first place?

Anonymous said...


Tony's argument boils down to BLUSTER

Why do you think they chose an elevated alignment in the first place?

They have chosen no such thing. Kind of ironic that Joey is spreading misinformation too...

Joey said...

Okay, I'll concede that you're technically right in this scenario (not that you'd do the same, but always better to take the higher moral ground). It's true, the exact vertical alignment hasn't been *chosen* yet. To my knowledge, though, an elevated alignment is and always has been, the preferred alignment, simply because a tunnel or trench don't really make sense.

Anonymous said...

Technically the route hasn't been chosen yet. It CAN'T be, by law, because they have no valid EIR at this point.

So technically, its misinfomation to say that IT WILL go down the peninsula, unless you are suggesting the CHSRA is breaking the law by having already determined a route without proper study.

Joey said...

Oh c'mon, now that's just delusional. As I said earlier:

You ... seriously still think the route could be changed because of a few inadequacies in the EIR.

While it may be technically possible, the chances that they will change the route are next to nil. And let's be honest, they have no reason to change the route. Heck, the UPRR issue doesn't even apply to the peninsula, and there are still plenty of options south of San José.

Joey said...

Plus, you act like they have to redo the whole EIR, which they don't.

Anonymous said...

Joey, they have to update the eir -Its just semantics to argue whether they are redoing it entirely or just updating it all with current info. Do you think they'll be allowed to publish a new one and consider it for certification with out of date info in it? Just some parts allowed to remain 'unknown' when in fact they are now known pieces of info? And BTW, UPRR does operate and have an interest in teh Caltrain row on the Peninsula, Do you think they don't have to define the UPRR relationship on the Peninsula before they publish the new EIR?

And I think what we were talking about was technically speaking misinformation. And it is technically against the law for the CHSRA to be making final decisions before they have completed the EIR completed. So technically they are lawbreakers? or spreading misinformation? There really aren't any other choices.

And what about you JOey? They have no reason to change the route? How do you know? They haven't provided an EIR yet. How do you know they don't have a reason to change the route? Are you too spreading misinformation?

Joey said...

Okay, fine, if you want to be completely anal and explicit about everything:

My claim that they have no reason to change the route was an assertion based on the fact that their reasons for choosing the CalTrain route over other routes still hold true. If conditions generally changed fast enough for such major planning work to become obsolete so quickly, I imagine our EIR process would be radically different than it is now. So yes, it is technically possible for them to change the route right now, but the chance of that happening is nearly negligible, unless you can think of some legitimate reason why they should change it that wasn't present at the publishing of the EIR. And even then, it would have to be enough to counter all the favorable characteristics the route has to begin with. In all probability, the route isn't going anywhere. Plus, they've made no indication that they are even looking at changing it.

And yes, I'm well aware that UPRR operates on the peninsula, but to my knowledge, the specific EIR issue had to do with ROW issues south of San José (the peninsula freight trackage rights being a relatively small issue in comparison).

One other thing though - the judge did indicate explicitly that project level work could continue. And while not stated explicitly, this very fact indicates that he anticipated very few changes to the Program EIR - for instance, route changes. If such changes were necessary, I doubt that project-level work would have been permitted to continue.

So yeah, it's technically true that nothing is 100% certain at this point, but we can make educated guesses, and it's not difficult to guess what CHSRA will choose in the end.

Anonymous said...

What you guys need to do is an all out offensive against HSR opponents. Call them traitors who are willing to let the US lose out on the world's competetive edge.

Here's a good argument:

China is currently investing in billions in developing it's HSR network. In fact, the majority of their existing HSR has become so popular, airlines in China are dropping flights and cancelling orders for new planes - Boeing planes. And the guys who are winning those billion dollar contracts are the French, the Germans, and Japanese firms. US competitive edge is losing out to foreign firms because we have no HSR experience.

Are these opponents willing to let the US lose out against foreign firms? As we speak, countries like Turkey, India, Brazil, Mexico, and Vietnam have started expressing interest in developing their own HSR network. Are we to let the French, the Germans, and the Japanese to gobble up all the contracts while we stand alone looking like idiots and do nothing?

Now that's a good attack against HSR opponents. If they consider themselves to be real patriots, they will have to support HSR as an initiative to bring back US competetive edge in the world. That's what they want, right? Bringing back jobs back to America and making us a nation of exporters again. Well, HSR has that benefit!!

Clem said...

To my knowledge, though, an elevated alignment is and always has been, the preferred alignment

Time to study up, Joey!

The panoply of alignments officially under consideration is shown here.

As you can readily observe, elevated alignments are only being considered on certain stretches of the peninsula, and then only among other choices.

Anonymous said...

did everyone see this

Joey said...

@Clem: I am well aware that other options are being considered, and my comment was in the context of that particular area of the peninsula. Does a trench/tunnel really make sense there?

@Jim: Good argument for platform screen doors.

Andre Peretti said...

Exploiting people's instinctive fears and comforting them in their prejudices has always been easier than appealling to their intelligence. Fear is immune to logical arguments. It only disappears when people physically realize there is nothing to be afraid of.
This will happen when a fragment of the line is built and trains are running. Then, the public will realize that HSR is not the monster they were indoctrinated to fear.
Of course, the "Kill-HSR" people will do everything they can to prevent that moment of truth from ever happening.

NONIMBYS said...

Poor nimbys..they can dish it out but they cant take it..Calling kopp/didiron all kinds of things in the media and then they think "rotten apples" terrible..