Why Does The Media Feed the Trolls?
If you went solely by this Mercury News article you might think Palo Alto is full of HSR deniers who are willing to put their ignorance of trains and their narrow conception of property values above the state’s dire need to build mass transit alternatives in order to solve the economic, energy, and climate crises:
California High Speed Rail representatives posed a question to Palo Alto residents Thursday night: “How do we come through Palo Alto?”
“Quiet, and invisible,” one resident answered, to applause.
That man’s sentiments were echoed throughout a community meeting held by the High Speed Rail Authority at the Mitchell Park Community Center. About 250 residents attended Thursday’s public information meeting, many speaking out against the potential of elevated trains running through their neighborhoods and saying they had been intentionally misled when they voted for high-speed rail last November.
If these people believe loud diesel trains that must blare a horn at every grade crossing will be quieter than grade-separated high speed trains, they are out of their minds.
But what really rankles is the claim of “intentionally misled.” That’s a lie and those making those claims should be called to task for willfully spreading misinformation. This blog has been discussing grade separations on the Peninsula for months. It was common knowledge that HSR would use the Caltrain route and that grade separations would be part of the process. Local media was full of reports on this. If these people weren’t aware of that, it wasn’t for a lack of information, and they cannot claim anyone “misled” them why they were just too lazy to pay attention.
The article goes further:
Some residents said that when they voted in support of high-speed rail,they didn’t realize the train was intended to be above-ground. One man called the ballot measure a “conscious deception” that would bring a “corridor of blight down the entire Peninsula.”
“I just assumed it was going to be underground, like everyone else,” he said.
Really? You “assumed” something and so we’re supposed to cater to your ignorant assumption even though there was no reason to maintain that assumption and widely available evidence to the contrary? No, I don’t think so.
Many residents spoke of property values, and one man said he believed houses along the tracks are now “worthless,” because no one living there could sell a house today with the potential of high-speed rail taking away a portion of the backyard.
I wonder if that “one man” was Martin Engel. Sure sounds like it. Can anyone living there sell a house with a loud diesel train running on the other side of the fence? If so, they can sell a house with fast electric trains. Further, there is little evidence to suggest that “backyards” will be taken in Palo Alto, where ample ROW already exists for the bulk of the route through the city.
Resident Hinda Sack, who lives about a half-block from the tracks and joked at the meeting about registering Palo Alto as an endangered species, said she had also attended a recent meeting in Santa Clara.
“It’s very frustrating and very anxiety-provoking,” she said, “because it really feels like there’s some agenda that we can’t really tap into.”
Um, there is: it’s called moving California into the 21st century by building trains that will help solve the economic, energy, and environmental crisis. If you were living under a rock when gas prices shot to $4.50, when Caltrain ridership soared, when global warming led to a severe statewide drought, and when California’s unemployment rate hit 10.1%, then there isn’t really much we can do for you.
Resident Bill Cutler said he lives across the street from the Caltrain tracks. He wasn’t as concerned about the method used to build the train — whether it were above or underground, or used a different route — as long as the rail authority found a way to make it quiet and visually unobtrusive. He said the process hadn’t had enough public input up until this point, and questioned how seriously the rail authority was listening to residents.
Gesturing toward the comment cards provided, he said, “I wonder where all these comments are going to go.”
Well Bill, they go to the California High Speed Rail Authority staff in Sacramento, who look them over and assemble them as part of the final EIR/EIS. They actually get read. And Bill, the Authority held numerous public meetings in recent years and has frequently solicited public comments and input.
These folks quoted in the article certainly sound like they just fell off the turnip truck. But what I find more interesting is why they’re even being given all this space in the Mercury News article – and without any actual reporting from the author. Nowhere does the reporter explain to readers that these residents’ claims have little basis in fact. Instead Diana Samuels just passes it along without comment – as if they have validity, as if they represent the views of a city whose council endorsed Prop 1A last fall.
NIMBYs, as Dennis Lytton has pointed out:
*believe that everyone wants to take away their home values.
* they idealize the status quo or the recent past (they would tell me that they wished the crime would come back to Hollywood to stop development, for example).
* they believe even the smallest incremental, infinitesimal sacrifice by them for the greater good is too much.
But they are also a small minority that the media uses so that they can write articles that have a counter perspective when there really is no valid one.
The media needs to stop feeding the trolls. NIMBYs do not and cannot be allowed to have a veto over whether HSR gets built. It is good and right that all residents have their voices heard. But that’s as far as it goes. If they want to be constructive and help make sure HSR gets built in an effective way for everyone, that’s great. If they want to sit there and take potshots because they were too lazy to pay attention before, then that’s absurd, and the local media should stop enabling their silliness.