PCC Calls For HSR To Be Suspended

Jul 6th, 2010 | Posted by

Well, we could see this one coming from a mile away. The Peninsula Cities Consortium, after spending the better part of a year criticizing the HSR project, is now calling for it to be suspended, despite the will of the voters, including at least 60% of Peninsula residents, for the project to go ahead, and despite the enormous costs of suspending the project. From the Sacramento Bee:

Five cities on the San Francisco Peninsula called today for suspending planning for the state’s high-speed train project until vexing environmental and economic issues are resolved.

The demand by the Peninsula Cities Consortium – Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Burlingame and Belmont – follows a report by the University of California’s Institute of Transportation Studies that’s highly critical of the High-Speed Rail Authority’s projections of ridership on the proposed bullet train that would link Northern and Southern California.

I am shocked, shocked to hear that the PCC would seize on the flawed Berkeley ITS report to use to justify their demand to stop the HSR project.

Seriously, this move should be no surprise to anyone following the project. PCC members, including Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt and Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline, have been using an unrepresentative planning process to ignore the widespread public support in their communities for HSR and advance their own anti-HSR agenda. Pat Burt called for project planning to be suspended all the way back in January.

The cost of this move would be enormous. Despite the fact that the cost of both borrowing and construction are at their lowest in decades, and despite high unemployment on the Peninsula, and despite the availability of federal stimulus funds, and despite the need to provide sustainable, affordable passenger rail service to promote economic recovery, the PCC apparently believes that everyone can afford to not build the HSR project until it is done exactly the way the PCC wants – which is apparently “not at all.”

This is made worse by the fact that the PCC statement is based on flawed principles:

In a statement issued July 6, the five cities – Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame – announce, “High speed rail should be built right or not at all. By ‘right,’ we mean that the rail line should integrate into our communities without harming their current livability. The best design and community values, rather than finances, should determine the alignment.”

In other words, these cities, among California’s wealthiest, are saying they want the rest of the state to pay for their gold-plated trains. Although the current plans do call for the tracks to be integrated into the community and enhance livability by reducing traffic, reducing noise, and reducing the number of suicides and deaths along the tracks, the PCC has been taken over by a small and unrepresentative group of homeowners who are convinced, against the available evidence, that the HSR project will undermine their property values. These NIMBYs believe it is the job of everyone in California to subsidize their already-considerable property values.

Unfortunately, the PCC takes a disingenuous approach to the issue of planning and cost:

PCC Chair Richard Cline, mayor of Menlo Park, explained that the five cities are concerned that key problems with the project may not be resolved because of the intense pressure being exerted by the Authority’s desire to qualify for federal stimulus funding. Construction needs to begin on the project by September 2012 and finish by September 2017 in order for California to qualify for a $2.25 federal grant.

There’s no argument that there are some issues that need to be resolved, and CA4HSR has identified several of them. But those can be addressed without undermining the project in this fashion.

“Common sense is absent from the high speed rail discussion. Right now the Authority plans to select a final alignment and release its draft environmental impact report by December of this year under an extremely rushed project schedule that is dictated solely by the desire for federal funds,” Cline said.

This is not true. There is plenty of common sense in the HSR discussion. But the PCC has shown a systematic desire to undermine that common sense in the interests of slowing or stopping a project they don’t like. The project schedule is not “extremely rushed” – it is a sensible and standard timeline used across the state. Federal funds are important – without them the trains cannot be built, and the Peninsula will continue to stagnate in the depths of a recession.

He added, “The project is suffering from an enormous credibility problem, due to its widely criticized business plan, faulty ridership numbers and the absence of funding to carry out the project statewide – let alone offer realistic alternatives for the section planned on the Peninsula. There also is no stated plan for paying to operate high speed rail once it is built, and we fear local taxpayers may be left holding the bag.”

This is also untrue. It is as if Cline called someone a liar and then told the press “that person has been accused of lying.” The ridership numbers are not faulty – the Berkeley ITS report did not say that – and there is a stated plan for paying to operate HSR once it is built. Cline may not agree with the business plan, just as he may not agree with the project, but his disagreement alone does not invalidate either the plan or the project.

As to “local taxpayers left holding the bag,” Cline instead seems to believe that Californians as a whole should be paying for the gold-plated system that his city wants. This does not strike me as appropriate.

Cline explained, “Our cities have been frustrated with the Authority’s inability to answer questions and a contradictory message that we should select the alternative we most prefer while, at the same time, being told by board members that our cities will have to pay for anything other than the cheapest alternative.”

That is not a contradictory message. It is consistent – if the cities prefer a more costly alternative, they should pay for it – and it is also realistic considering the need to exercise fiscal responsibility on this project.

Instead, the five PCC cities say high speed rail should be part of a comprehensive regional public transit plan and that the California High Speed Rail Authority should:

* Provide a valid business and financial plan that supports the full range of alternatives proposed and satisfies the requirements of the state Legislative Analyst’s Office

This is already under way.

Demonstrate to state leaders that the plan will not require operating subsidies from local taxpayers in the future

This has already been demonstrated.

Provide ridership studies to support the project that are validated by an independent peer review body that is responsible to the state Legislature

Next time, let’s select a peer review body that is not headed by a known project critic, shall we?

Increase and enhance local Caltrain service and improve Caltrain infrastructure as a condition of using the Caltrain corridor

This definitely needs to happen, but it has been inherent in the proposal all along. The PCC could help by brokering meetings between CHSRA and Caltrain staff. Instead they appear to prefer sniping from the sidelines.

In the statement, the five cities also ask that local communities be empowered in the decision-making process by giving transportation goals and community goals equal weight, and by affirming that the best design with the least impact on communities, rather than finances, will determine the alignment chosen for each section of the rail line.

But who defines “community goals”? A small and unrepresentative group of NIMBYs? These nebulous “community goals” cannot be allowed to undermine a statewide project of this importance. And unless these cities plan to pay for the project, they cannot seriously expect the state of California or anyone else living in it to agree that cost should be no object.

They ask for sufficient time to evaluate proposed alternatives and environmental impacts and to carry out the Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) community consensus-building process. While high speed rail officials have endorsed using CSS for the Peninsula section of the project, Cline noted, “CSS is not working. The sped-up timeline for the project has short-circuited and compromised this very thorough eight-step process.”

From my perspective, the PCC has not been willing to participate in CSS in a truly open and engaging fashion. Their frequent statements against the project undermine the spirit of CSS.

The cities also ask for funding that “will allow the full range of alternatives to be considered without expecting local cities to contribute substantially to the cost” and request reimbursement for city expenses related to evaluation of project proposals.

Again, the PCC – which includes some of the state’s richest cities – wants everyone else to pay their bills.

Cline credited the PCC for calling attention to many of the problems with high speed rail that the state Legislative Analyst’s Office, the state Auditor’s Office and numerous state legislators are now focusing on. “Congresswoman Anna Eshoo said it well in a recent editorial,” Cline noted, “when she said, “The High Speed Rail Authority has to hit the reset button, improve its reputation and assuage Peninsula residents, who have every reason to fear that this project will be a nightmare.”

In fact, the PCC is the source of many of these claims that have been regurgitated without question by these offices and individuals. So it’s disingenuous for the PCC to cite those as independent validators when the PCC itself has generated much of what those “validators” have said.

Once again, we see the PCC acting in an inappropriate manner, unrepresentative of their constituents who still support HSR, and willing to undermine the project and saddle everyone else in California with the costs of either their gold-plated preference, or the cost of delaying the project, or the cost of not having HSR at all.

To be clear, I’m not opposed to a tunnel, never have been. But we’ve never seen any clear business plan for how it will be paid for come from the PCC. In fact, while the PCC is levying charges at the HSR project, those charges can be turned right around on the PCC:

• If cost is to be no object, how will costs above the current budget be paid? Where is the financing plan for this?

• If federal stimulus money is abandoned as the PCC proposes, how will that funding gap be closed?

• What is their justification for making the rest of California pay for the preferences of five of California’s richest cities?

• Can the PCC specify “community values” that are to be used in the planning?

• Will the PCC support a truly inclusive community outreach process, or will they continue with their unrepresentative and exclusive process?

It is very unfortunate that the PCC has chosen to take the path of obstruction, when a path of collaboration remains open to them. But then, the path of obstruction is the one you’d expect a group that has never really supported HSR to take.

  1. wu ming
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 11:28

    perhaps it is time for the peninsula cities to hold a non-binding referendum, to see what its citizens actually think about HSR. my hunch is that unless it was worded all twisted, that it would pass again.

  2. political_incorrectness
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 11:35

    They continue to claim they were broadsided and didn’t know jack.

    1) If you want a tunnel, you pay for it, Berkley did it for BART
    2) Berkley ITS did not have any sort of facts to back up their report. Where is the proof that the ridership model is not accurate when by logic, it is similar to the numbers in Spain?
    3) Delaying the project makes it cost more, how about we leave whoever chooses to want a delay holding the bag?

    I’m tired of hearing a Berkley ITS report with a negative result being “condeming”. You might as well replace it with a Hoover Institute piece and it would receive the same amount of press. Anything negative on the project is music to the ears of the media. Talk about completely despicable.

    Nadia Reply:

    For the record, Berkeley paid for their tunnel in the days when CEQA did NOT exist. For better or worse, the rules are different now.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    It wasn’t a CEQA issue, however, but a question of whether the tracks would be above-grade or below-grade. Berkeley, like the PCC, threatened to undermine the entire project, but instead chose to tax themselves to bury the tracks.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The study is nowhere in the vicinity of Spanish ridership. Predictions were 93 million riders per year after 10 years. Spain was 18 million riders after 15.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    After 15 years… to Sevilla. Madrid-Barcelona has been open for two years.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    And for the Record, Sevilla is about the same population as Fresno, and Madrid is slightly larger than San Diego.

    If we get 18m riders per year between Fresno and San Diego 15 years after the line is launched, the 93m number for statewide ridership is going to look conservative.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I’ve been to Sevilla. I’ve been the Fresno.
    You can’t have. You have no idea.

    Bonus easy little exercise for you the numbers are easily found): compare and contrast San Diego and Madrid daily transit ridership.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    No shit? If only someone had spent some time to do a proper study on it…

    My point was that saying Madrid-Seville at 18m riders a year was somehow equivalent to connecting every city in the state of california with a population over 200,000 people is a bit silly, transit share or no.

    Clem Reply:

    Madrid-Barcelona has been open for two years.

    …and gets what, maybe 10 million riders per year?

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    My god, it gets less riders than Madrid-Seville! We should only build High speed lines to cities under 1m. Scrap the whole thing!

    political_incorrectness Reply:


    That was the 2000 business plan. The 2009 business plan states otherwise. at around 43 million. Also, after doing some research from The Annals of Regional Science Sep 2007. Vol. 41, Iss. 3; p. 715 I compared the modal shares of the Madrid-Seville line with current traffic on the San Joaquin, lowest car traffic amounts on the 99 and I-5, air passenger demand, and a 10% inducement of demand. The current model in the 2009 Business Plan is around that area. It might make sense that there will be a major shift after opening up for a few years like in France with the TGV. We shall see what happens.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    The 2009 Business Plan only addresses a partial system (excluding San Diego and Sacramento)., at ramped up prices. I will also note that those numbers are less than official.

    Cambridge Systematics has gone on the record (at a January 2010 TRB conference) and said the numbers were not produced with their model.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The AVE is priced as a premium product; people on a budget take the buses or the slow trains. The projected CAHSR fare is much lower, more on a par with the TGV.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Alon, what precisely are the odds that a rail system in California, constructed at a cost of ~5 times that of Spanish lines, with poor operating efficiency designed in to the network from the start, serving cities with low central population density and extremely poor transit connectivity and use, located in a country with rabid hostility to “people on a budget”, in a state possessing a uniquely over-developed road system, could possibly end up with “much lower” ticket prices than in any European social democracy?


    Alon Levy Reply:

    Richard, the per-km construction costs and the ticket prices don’t have much to do with each other. Spain after all has both the lowest construction costs and the highest fares. The AVE is branded one way, the TGV another. Don’t assume California will automatically follow the AVE route. For what it’s worth, Acela fares are not much higher than TGV fares, measured per hour of service.

    And much of what you say about “poor transit connectivity” is true for France, too. Paris has great transit connections, but most other cities don’t. In Nice, the TGV and TER are timed to just miss each other. The central population density is high by US standards, but outside the central area the PACA urban layout is edge city-style.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    High construction costs imply crushing debt loads. If that is not to be serviced in large part from fares then what? Our good friend the tooth fairy once more? I suggest you misjudge politically if you believe there might be $50 billion more public funding coming down the pike … funding provided or bonded almost entirely by non-users of the system.

    Moving on, as you should recall, I’ve spent time in provincial France (more than in Paris) and know the horror that is SNCF. My good practice examples are usually from further east for good reason.

    I mention night and day differing levels of daily regional transit ridership again to point out the obvious: that a region like San Diego (or Los Angeles, or even dear our old San Francisco Bay Area) will never see a mode split to a CBD rail station anything approaching that of regions such as Ile-de-France (or the imperial city of Madrid, or …) for reasons which are very strongly related to miserable intra-regional transit mode split. The competition is driving to the airport or driving straight out of the sprawl conurbation to a peripheral destination in a different sprawl versus making one’s way into a CBD, the very concept of which is marginal to most US development. Not how I’d design the world, but it’s our local reality. If you have to drive on both ends (at least one of origin or destination is not well served by transit) then airport park-and-fly becomes very hard to beat.

    Now if only somebody has some sort of non-fixed about the outcome, reality-based modelling software to feed into system route planning …

    To and from Paris works; while province to province in France is hopeless — as the national per-capita VMT illustrates. The Paris-serving TGV network looks good because France is Paris-serving and because Ile-de-France has a rather good regional transportation system connecting to the grandes lignes.

    It is seriously delusional to believe that SF-Fresno and Madrid-Barcelona are in any way comparable (hey, people live in both of them, and, uh, they’re both built starting at ground level!), but we hear that sort of equation here over and over again, and you’re dangerously close to the implication.

  3. Tony D.
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 12:31

    Well, let’s see here: PCC vs. City’s of San Francisco/San Jose, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, Senators Feinstein/Boxer and the 60% of San Mateo County voters who SUPPORT high-speed rail? No match fella’s!

    Tony D. Reply:

    By the way, PCC has no real power when all is said in done. They can “Call” all they want, but this project has left the station and will be built. How many lawsuits have been shot down to date? ;o)

    Clem Reply:

    How many EIRs have been certified to date? On the peninsula, the answer is zero. The train ain’t leaving the station without a certified and litigated EIR.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    speaking of EIR, what ever happened with that, I thought they had 90 days to do something… I was busy getting married, so I could certainly have missed it… any update on the EIR & the lawsuit?


    Peter Reply:

    Atherton is up in the air again, the plaintiffs are making a last-ditch effort to reopen the case based on the ridership numbers. Slim chance of it being reopened, though.

    Peterson has been dismissed.

    Brown is in the opening stages.

    Clem Reply:

    The Bay Area – Central Valley Revised Final Program EIR hasn’t yet been re-certified, and I’m not sure that there is any immediate pressing need to do so. When the Board moves to re-certify it, that starts a 30-day window during which new CEQA lawsuits can be filed.

    Those lawsuits are the intended mechanism for enforcing CEQA. In their words: “CEQA is a self-executing statute. Public agencies are entrusted with compliance with CEQA and its provisions are enforced, as necessary, by the public through litigation and the threat thereof.”

    jim Reply:

    But that doesn’t matter. The Central Valley CEQA/NEPA process is on track and construction there will start next summer. The likelihood that the project will be canceled before construction starts is very low. California would not only have to return the $1.85B committed to CHSRA, it’d probably have to return the $400M committed to TBT since TBT wouldn’t then be an intercity rail facility. Once construction has started, there will be an HSR built. Where precisely it will connect might still be in question. I can envisage a 2020 situation where genuine HSR runs between Sacramento and LA, the trains run through to Anaheim (but not on their own tracks), and beefed up conventional trains (90 MPH MAS, maybe 110 in some Surfliner segments) run between LA and SD and Sac and Oakland. Nothing on the Peninsula. No HSR. No Caltrain. That’s not a very likely outcome. It isn’t even the most likely among the couple of dozen possible (the most likely is that HSR Phase 1 gets built as planned). But it’s possible. The PCC needs to think on this. They may turn out to be the holdout building the developer builds around.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    thanks for the replies!

  4. Spokker
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 14:04

    The Peninsula should call for Caltrain and the CHSRA to play nice and build a real railroad instead of this separate but equal bullshit.

    Peter Reply:

    But they don’t want ANYTHING built. They want things to stay the way they are. No matter what happens to Caltrain.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I don’t buy that line of reasoning at all. The Peninsula nixed BART because it felt that commuter trains were superior and they were correct. And they supported an electrified Caltrain to the TBT in tunnel. It was BART, Kopp and Willie L. Brown, Jr. who killed that, not so-called nimbys.

    Caltrain and hsr are somewhat redundant even if they were designed totally compatible, but totally so if they are segregated. They are making BART, with all its warts, look good, especially since the pricey TBT tunnel and station would be obviated. Kopp has always been against it.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Except that dumping Caltrain’s riders into the BART stations would cause pedestrian gridlock. Pesky passengers on a passenger railroad interfering with your plans.

  5. Nadia
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 14:34

    OT: digging through the archives I found this:


    See page 3.

    I have not been following this project as long – so can someone explain why they were apparently planning a tunnel through RWC, Atherton and MP in 2004?

    Peter Reply:


    Plans change? Different phase of design? Hadn’t studied it in sufficient detail yet?

    rafael Reply:

    In 2004, the funding plan of record was a hike in state taxes. When the Governator shot down that concept, a lot of nice-to-haves fell by the wayside.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    That is an interesting piece of history. Thank you, Rafael.

    rafael Reply:

    Of course, no-one in charge would admit that change in funding strategy is why things are now so contentious. This being California, everyone always wants the very best and “someone else” to pay for it all. See the state’s chronic budget mess for details.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’m perfectly willing to accept a tunnel. But I think the questions I asked of the PCC at the end of this post have merit and should be answered by them.

    JamesJonas Reply:

    Why not drop by their next meeting and ask them in person?

    Peninsula Cities Consortium. Friday, July 9, PCC Meeting in Belmont (NEW LOCATION), 8:15 – 10:15 a.m. Belmont City Council Chambers, One Twin Pines Lane (behind El Camino Real Safeway). Open to the public.

    Perhaps its time to start talking…and just maybe find some common ground.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Might as well get together address concerns and find ways to roll the ball

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Bianca often attends these meetings. It’s very difficult for me to attend given my obligations here in Monterey.

    JamesJonas Reply:

    “Might as well get together address concerns and find ways to roll the ball” – exactly

    I’ve attended these meetings, as well as CA4HSR and most of the community HSR workshop meetings.

    There are solutions out there.

    Nadia Reply:

    I wasn’t in any way suggesting there should be a tunnel there – I was merely asking given you’ve been admittedly following the topic for much longer and I didn’t understand the circumstances.

    Thanks Rafael for your explanation.

    Robert – it is not fair to say the Berkeley tunnel was not a CEQA issue if it didn’t exist then.

    In terms of PCC answers – I’ll bite – obviously, I’m not the PCC – but having attended several meetings – I’ll take a stab at what they might advocate:

    • On cost: I believe their point is we don’t have the money for the bare boned version of this project at $43 billion. We should consider what it takes to do this right STATEWIDE and budget appropriately. If it costs more, it costs more – but let’s admit that. (clearly your opinion will differ on what “done right” means)

    • On stimulus funds: The PCC argued back in January at the Simitian meeting that the Authority should try to work closely with the Obama administration to see if the deadlines for the federal stimulus funds could be changed so it wasn’t creating artificial pressure given the importance of the project.

    You may recall we actually discussed this at that event when we spoke afterward. We agreed it was a long shot since other states and other projects were competing for the money and that the obvious point of stimulus was to inject dollars ASAP. But the PCC’s point was that the deadlines were forcing rushed decisions and a lack of coordination (as is evidenced by CA4HSR’s letter to that effect regarding Caltrain and HSRA). Morshed knew we wouldn’t make the deadlines for this section and the board chose to override him. The Authority knew it was a gamble and they took it.

    • What is their justification for making the rest of California pay for the preferences of five of California’s richest cities? I’m not going to answer that one b/c I’ve never heard them discuss it in these terms. They obviously see things from a different perspective.

    • Can the PCC specify “community values” that are to be used in the planning?

    The community values is actually specified in the CSS process that the entire Peninsula is participating in – you can find them on the PRP part of the site here: http://www.caltrain.com/projectsplans/Projects/peninsularailprogram/Context_Sensitive_Solutions_Toolkit.html

    These values are the culmination of a series of meetings where citizens and elected officials spelled out their concerns and the engineers turned them into design goals.

    • Will the PCC support a truly inclusive community outreach process, or will they continue with their unrepresentative and exclusive process? The CSS process continues to fall apart because PRP had initially told all of the cities that they would identify all the stakeholders and bring them into the process to ensure everyone had a voice. As the process continued, PRP said they wanted the cities to funnel the outreach to them (ie – they were no longer bankrolling the outreach – the responsibilities – including reaching out to all of the identified stakeholders, keeping them informed, sending info, etc. fell on the cities). That was NOT the deal the cities were told and that is why the “community outreach plan” has fallen apart. The cities don’t have the money, time or information to conduct these types of meetings. Also, this was announced right around the time that both the revised program EIR was released and the project level stuff was released. For these reasons, the PCC is saying CSS is NOT working – b/c it was not what they had all been told from the start.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’ll bite too. What does “done right” mean? Why is a tunnel needed on the Peninsula? Why should my tax money go to make property values higher in Palo Alto? Especially if other cheaper alternatives are available?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’d actually be much more inclined to go along with this “we pay for their tunnel” plan if the PCC wasn’t also actively promoting anti-HSR claims and assertions. It is very, very difficult to justify letting these cities off the hook for funding their desired alternative when these same cities and these same leaders have been leading the fight against HSR.

    But then, I’ve never seen any indication that the PCC is interested in compromise or collaboration. From our part, we’ve always been open to it. Always.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    “we” who? If Peninsula towns want to raise their property taxes to fund tunnels let ’em. Or raise sales taxes. Or institute an income tax. Tolls on 101 and 280. There’s going to be lots and lots and lots of Federal money going into this, money that could be used on something other than increasing property values in suburban San Francisco.

    rafael Reply:

    Individual cities cannot levy tolls on the portions of state and federal freeways that happen to lie within their borders.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Depends on the state. Laws can be changed

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Fair enough. My replies:

    • On budgeting: The existing CHSRA includes assumptions about what will be built. There’s a legitimate argument to be made for trying to keep costs down while delivering the service the public voted for. If PCC cities are going to demand something more costly, it makes sense that they also propose a budget for it. It’s not responsible to merely demand a costly implementation but also refuse to help figure out how to fund it.

    • On the stimulus: I do remember that conversation. I too felt it was a longshot, but I also said that I did not support delaying the timeline. Many others spoke that evening about the economic crisis and high unemployment on the Peninsula. The PCC appears to have totally dismissed these concerns. To my knowledge, the PCC hasn’t discussed or considered them.

    • PCC cities are already being framed as saddling the rest of the state with the cost of their more expensive alternatives – recall this Pasadena Star-News editorial. The PCC is going to have to come up with a response to it, even if they reject that framing (and I believe the framing is accurate, if the PCC refuses to explore a local funding source).

    • Community values: that is very helpful. Thanks. I would like to see this specified more clearly in the PCC’s statements, as it is often stated a bit nebulously.

    • Inclusive outreach: That can’t be laid at PRP’s feet. If these cities are going to go against what their residents voted for in November 2008, and if they’ve filed lawsuits against HSR, then it is their responsibility to ensure that they are actually reaching all their residents, and not letting a few NIMBYs shout down supporters, or create an atmosphere where supporters feel unwelcome. As we know, Palo Alto has an existing problem with their unrepresentative planning process.

    Nadia Reply:

    Let me try to explain further

    On budgeting: I think the problem is that the numbers produced so far, for example, in the Prelim AA don’t take into account all the costs (land acquisition, etc.). They are asking for more realistic numbers that show the “real total costs” to fairly compare them. They also contend they can’t even cover the $43 billion. PA, officially still wants it – but argues that if we can’t even cover the basics, then we should consider if this is the right plan.

    On stimulus: Agreed – you did say you didn’t want to delay the timeline. But if I remember correctly the PCC argued two things – one – if SoCal was ready, they should get it (as it turns out, they seem to think we’re more ready than them. Ha!) and second, that since the point was jobs, the money could have been spent on shovel ready stuff for regional transportation which was/is ready to go and would put people to work faster. We don’t even have a Program EIR yet!

    I didn’t read the Pasadena article b/c when I click on your link it sends me to the comments section and when I searched I couldn’t pull it up. Can you resend?

    Community values: I totally agree – totally nebulous – part of the problem with some CSS language. It actually makes reference to specific things, but if you don’t point to exactly where that info lives -the concepts sound totally ungrounded.

    Inclusive outreach: Let’s be clear – the PCC cities have not filed suit – two of them have. I’d like to read the full report you made reference to (can you post it?) – but without having read it – I can’t comment fairly. I can’t speak for other cities – but you’re welcome to come to any PA meeting on HSR (the sub-committee meets every other week on Thursdays). Supporters are welcome. Anyone can comment. There is no shouting. PA’s are video taped – see for yourself….

    I’d like to second the request that you actually come to a PCC meeting if possible. In fact, I think CA4HSR could make two presentations to the PCC – one based on your letter to Caltrain (which I think they essentially agree with) and the second on your ideas on how to encourage outreach. Anyone can make a presentation – so if others on this blog would like to participate, just ask.

    Perhaps if you can’t make it, then someone else from CA4HSR can do it. Bianca or Daniel?

    Reality Check Reply:

    The no-longer available Pasadena Star-News editorial Robert referred to is available in the BATN archive:

    Editorial: Giving in to NIMBY-demanded cost-bloat will kill HSR

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Thanks for that. I’d checked the link and thought it still worked, but I didn’t check it that closely when I grabbed it for Nadia earlier tonight.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    “On budgeting: The existing CHSRA includes assumptions about what will be built. There’s a legitimate argument to be made for trying to keep costs down while delivering the service the public voted for. If PCC cities are going to demand something more costly, it makes sense that they also propose a budget for it. It’s not responsible to merely demand a costly implementation but also refuse to help figure out how to fund it.”

    I disagree. In this age of CEQA (post Berkeley), it is not a valid argument to pick a cheap and dirty approach (the $43B basically budgets for a berm) to one route while ignoring mitigating the impacts (the Peninsula along Caltrain corridor) and without doing any comparitive cost studies to build along other routes (i.e. 101, 280, Bay, ???) before deciding on that route (the Caltrain corridor). Because the HSRA chose to operate in a vacuum when it certified the original EIR, it is now coming back to bite them because people are waking up (no thanks to the HSRA). It is not valid (I would argue, legal) to come back and say if you want any upgrades you have to pay for them. No, those costs to properly mitigate the impacts should already be factored in. By saying the PCC cities have to pay for something they obviously cannot, after the fact, is tantamount to extortion. They have every right to ask for the reset button to be pushed. You know, a lot of the existing problems which are resulting in delays and added costs that are blamed on NIMBYS and cities like those in the PCC could have been avoided if the HSRA had been up front from the start.

    rafael Reply:

    You’re talking as if CHSRA had operated in a vacuum in the years prior to Nov 2008. While it’s true it couldn’t get much of anything done in 2007 because the Governator put it on a starvation budget of just $1 million to force through his pet idea of private-public partnership funding, there was outreach to the cities and even the general public before then. It didn’t get as much attention as it should have because the project was still a paper tiger at the time, but the decision to use the Caltrain corridor dates back to 2004. The 101 alternative was briefly considered but dropped when it became clear it would be just as expensive as upgrading the Caltrain corridor, with less to show for it. 280 is fairly steep in places and too hard to connect to at the SF end.

    Building anything in the Bay, especially in the south Bay, is a huge red flag for environmentalists. In particular, the salt marsh harvest mouse is an endangered species. Federal judges take the Endangered Species Act very seriously, as evidenced by the ruling to cut the water pumped to the southern CV and LA basin by 1/3 just to protect the Delta Smelt.

    Today, the peninsula cities are bisected by a dual track railroad with numerous grade crossings supporting nearly 100 trains per day. Virtually all of the track is at grade. Owners of properties abutting the right of way suffer massive noise nuisance due to horns and bells at those intersections, plus severe vibrations from super-heavy FRA-compliant Caltrain and Union Pacific equipment. Children attending schools that were built right next to the active tracks must cross them twice a day, breathe in sulfur-laden diesel exhaust, deal with the distracting noise and vibrations during exams and cope with the trauma of having fellow students commit suicide on the tracks.

    That is the reality of the situation today. CEQA requires that CHSRA not make that situation any worse. While quad tracking and increased rail traffic from both HSR and Caltrain will be negatives for some residents, improved rail service plus electrification plus full grade separation will be huge positives for the communities at large. Therefore, all of the vertical alignment options being considered would neutral or positive for the silent majority of peninsula residents.

    Demanding a trench or tunnel, which would generate exactly zero additional passengers for the rail operators, goes well beyond maintaining the environmental status quo. You can dress it up in “community values” and fancy CSS processes all you want, but what these peninsula cities are insisting on amounts to a massive improvement in their strictly local cross traffic situations and already sky-high real estate values, all of it at state and federal taxpayers’ expense. That is the extortion here.

    These five peninsula could have a raised a red flag indicating an elevated solution would not be acceptable well before the Nov 2008 elections. Atherton did. Menlo Park struck a more conciliatory tone, but they did ask for a trench on multiple occasions. Whether by negligence, incompetence or Machiavellian design, Palo Alto and others chose to let CHSRA proceed instead. It is really important to understand that CHSRA is not asking for permission to build tracks through these cities. It does not need to, because the right of way is owned jointly by the three counties and the state has given it powers of eminent domain. The sooner their residents understand these basic facts, the sooner we can have a reasonable discussion about the implementation details and who pays for what. No-one is interested in trashing Palo Alto et al, but neither are taxpayers elsewhere prepared to foot the bill for a gold-plated solution there.

    Peter Reply:

    “CEQA requires that CHSRA not make that situation any worse.”

    Actually, that’s not quite true. CEQA requires that the Authority study and analyze all impacts. In addition, CEQA requires the Authority to take all possible measures to mitigate any negative impacts. If they cannot mitigate, they must explain why not.

    rafael Reply:

    Ok, so they can’t make it any worse unless there’s no other way, technically or economically.

    Peter Reply:


    AndyDuncan Reply:

    “Mitigate” doesn’t mean “completely alleviate” it just means “make not so bad”.

    I can mitigate sound by making it less noisy without making it completely quiet and without being required to lower it to the level of ambient noise prior to my project.

    Mitigate != Zero impact.

  6. hankmeister
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 16:31

    Did any you notice the Bakersfield City council falling all over themselves to get away from any association with the two proposed routes through Bakersfield?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I did not. Is this a recent development? Got a link?

    Peter Reply:


    This is basically what we knew from before: they did not endorse the red or blue line, and asked for further alternatives.

    hankmeister Reply:

    The city’s Planning Commission adopted the blue line based on staff recommendation. Hence all the push back.

  7. Walter
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 17:24

    “What is their justification for making the rest of California pay for the preferences of five of California’s richest cities? I’m not going to answer that one b/c I’ve never heard them discuss it in these terms. They obviously see things from a different perspective.”

    No sarcasm, I appreciate the honesty, Nadia. Unfortunately for the PCC, however, Robert has exposed the crux of the unreasonable nature of the their demands. Clearly, we aren’t going to build the entire system in a tunnel. So why are these five cities so special? Does every city who asks for a tunnel get one? Are we going to build an 80-mile tunnel from Sylmar to Riverside? Is that what “done right” looks like? It would be laughable if Peninsula NIMBYs weren’t a serious threat to a legitimately good project.

    It’s a bummer, too. I think PA should be the site of the mid-peninsula station. Does the city not want visitors coming from around the state for a visit to Stanford or a meeting on Sand Hill Road?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    That’s the greatest tragedy of all, Walter. The Peninsula, and Palo Alto in particular, stand to reap an economic and financial bonanza from HSR. It will catapult Palo Alto into one of the most important cities in the state, and I say that without any exaggeration.

    We’re trying to channel money in their direction, but they don’t seem to want it. Must be nice to be so blithe about economic growth and jobs during the worst downturn in 60 years.

    Nadia Reply:

    Certain PCC cities have had a “tunnel or nothing” strategy. Other cities have had varying messages based on which Council Member gets interviewed. For the record, Palo Alto’s official position has always been below grade (not specifically a tunnel).

    I think the problem with asking any city what they want vs. what the project can afford is basically the same problem as with the propositions on the ballot. Things sound nice – but the average person doesn’t have a clue how they would pay for it.

    I’ll also say this, the Preliminary AA shows costing in the appendix – the minute it came out, CARRD pointed out to the Authority that the numbers for an aerial structure are undercosted (they counted 2 instead of 4 tracks – a mistake carried forward from the 2008 business plan). This mistake was acknowledged at a Policy Working Group meeting held by the PRP. So, when you look at the comparisons, aerial looks *really* cheap as opposed to the others.

    Palo Alto hired Hatch Mott Macdonald to do a Peer Review of the Prelim AA and they had questions about the costs listed for tunnels and trenches. I do NOT consider them unbiased in this case – but let’s take it at face value for a moment. Why are the differences so huge? How can you anyone adequately deduce what is really happening?

    I completely understand Robert’s frustration with how asking for anything other than elevated represents an unbudgeted cost that needs to be figured out.

    But look at the Prelim AA process we just went through – most cities that go through neighborhood areas don’t want an aerial or berm for the “visual barrier” and physical divide issues, an at-grade train means this becomes essentially a road project – which is complicated, expensive and usually causes more collateral damage (see CARRD’s site for what would happen in PA as an example) – that leaves trench and tunnel. If tunnel is too expensive, fine, they all want a trench. Now what?

    PCC cities aren’t special – the non-PCC cities have asked for trenches too – they’re just not being vocal – but it is in their comments.

    Walter, do you live in PA? If so, come to an HSR sub-committee meeting and talk about your thoughts for a PA station. CARRD is trying to ensure that the city does a corridor study to consider, among other things, the opportunities and concerns of a station. The PRP folks have told us to expect additional information about stations in August.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So, when you look at the comparisons, aerial looks *really* cheap as opposed to the others.

    And no matter how you slice and dice it tunnels are the most expensive option. People all over the world, some of them in suburbs as rich as Palo Alto et al. live rich and productive lives with four track railroads at grade and above ground.

    Peter Reply:

    If tunnel is too expensive, fine, they all want a trench. Now what?

    Well, then it continues as it has before. The Authority analyzes the technical and financial feasibility of the remaining alternatives. The Authority will complete its analysis, choose an alternative, and then brace for the lawsuits.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yeah but “electric trains are scary” won’t hold up well in court.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    That will be sent into the dustpan and thrown out of court like the last lawsuit.

    Peter Reply:

    If you’ll notice, the only issues that survived in the Atherton lawsuit were the result of an incomplete analysis in the EIR.

    Always remember with CEQA/NEPA suits: It doesn’t matter if the decision was “bad”, as long as the reasonable alternatives were sufficiently analyzed.

    Joey Reply:

    physical divide issues

    Umm, excuse me, but exactly what physical divide issues are you talking about? The whole point of the aerial alignment (as opposed to at-grade) is to preserve if not improve all existing crossings of the corridor. Perhaps there are visual issues, but a berm or aerial will not create any physical divide.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s not so clever FUD. FUD doesn’t’ have to logical.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You must be living in a parallel universe without bums, junkies, drug dealers, muggers, jihadists, taggers and other various and sundry low life that like to hang out in the nether world under elevateds. They will have to be kept out with massive fencing and most likely razor wire. So there will definitely be a physical divide.

    I recall how happy the Hayes Valley neighborhood in SF was when the Central Freeway was torn down. It used to be a big hangout for street hookers.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Hookers in Paly. Yeah. So… being an “upscale” abode under that elevated, they probably would have to have PhD’s (or at least an MA, this is mid-peninsula we’re talkin’ about ) so that they could have “good conversation” with their johns. Hey, at least they can claim to have the entrepreneurial VC spirit!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes people just gleefully frolic thither and yon across the tracks today joyfully connecting to all the places just on the other side.

    …. there’s been a railroad there for almost 150 years. The people who weren’t divided by it were dead a long time ago.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    Walter, you hit the nail right on the head.

    The real question of all this is why should the Peninsula cities get something the other cities are not getting, at the expense of the state?

  8. Daniel Krause
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 20:34

    This is really dissappointing. Tunnel/trench alternatives are still being considered, meaning what many of the PCC folks really want is still on the table. Why can’t they see that the process is still considering their preferred altenatives? Why call for suspension now? How are environmental issues suppose to be resolved if planning stops? It would have been more reasonable if they asked for a longer timeframe for the process to work out the issues they refer to, but asking for a full supension indicates a certain level of disingenousness. I will still keep and open mind to see if they really want to pursue an improved process, but I am not holding my breath. Looks like they have drawn a line in the sand at this point. I believe this will only hurt their position, as they will now be seen a pure obstructionists.

    Ted Crocker Reply:


    Many believe, myself included, that when the judge allowed planning to proceed despite the decertification of the Program level EIR, he inadvertently allowed the cart to be put in front of the horse. Since the judgment, this fact has become even more apparent as details continued to be uncovered, the latest being the ridership study flaws. The PCC has had very little luck obtaining answers to any of their protracted list of concerns and yet has been pressed to respond to the EIR and AA without enough information on which to base sound decisions. With the Draft EIR fast approaching and still no answers, I believe the PCC has justifiably had enough of being fobbed off, and rather than continue to operate without details they have taken to drawing the line in the sand. Personally, I support them in this effort.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    I understand why issues of alignment and whether the tracks are elevated or underground, but all the other issues being so aggressively being pursued by the PCC seem to be just ways to create doubt about the entire project. Please state your true position on HSR. Do you want the entire system killed or not? As I said, it would have been more reasonable if the PCC had asked for a longer timeframe to help remedy their concerns with the planning process, but the action yesterday indicates they may just be out to kill the project. I hope I am wrong, and I still hope they will take a more constructive approach but I am not very hopeful given the hysterics since day one.

    Peter Reply:

    In the PCC’s defense, I believe they did in fact ask for a longer time (double, IIRC).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They’ve had six years.

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    To respond to the AA??

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    Peter is correct. They did ask for more time to respond to both the EIR and the AA, hoping in the interim that the HSRA would provide them with the information they had requested earlier. They never received the information, yet had to respond anyway. Adirondacker, I know you know this, but the PCC only formed in 2009 after recognizing similar concerns between the cities. It’s not like they’ve been sitting on good information for six years. A lot of substantiated bad news has come out since the bond measure passed and it needs to be addressed before a finalized design should be decided upon. There is simply not enough time to adequately address these issues in time to meet the ARRA fund deadlines. I don’t believe the PCC’s intent is to kill HSR unless it doesn’t make sense. Right now, a lot doesn’t make sense, therefore it is only common sense to get the house in order before proceeding, and that is what they are asking.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people in the cities of the PCC weren’t born in 2009. Information about this has been circulating for over a decade. Alternatives were examined years ago. The time to object to the conclusions reached was years ago. Examining them again will come to the same conclusions. 101 is still too curvy and lousy with overpasses. 280 is still too curvy and too steep. Tunnels are still too expensive. It’s unfortunate that you weren’t paying attention.

    Nadia Reply:

    Every time they have asked for more time (because of lack of information), those on this blog have been quick to accused them of delay tactics. I can only guess they have reached the end of their rope. The requests for information from Palo Alto, for example, have been outstanding for about 9 months now ( I think they officially requested in January – but it had been informally requested at various meetings as early as possibly Sept. of last year).

    You can see a letter with the detailed list by going to: http://www.cityofpaloalto.org/depts/pln/transportation/highspeedrail.asp.

    In the center column, look under the heading Alternatives Analysis and click on: Letter to Peninsula Rail Program and HSRA regarding requests for information (June 8, 2010)

    If they won’t give them information and they won’t give them more time – how are they supposed to work on it? Read San Mateo’s AA comments – they, too, complain of lack of info. Again – this is not specific to the PCC.

    BTW – did anyone see the up in SF they are asking that “major or minor” modifications to I-280 be made:

    Peter Reply:

    With all due respect to the PCC, they (should) know full well that the information they are demanding is not likely to be available at the AA stage of the EIR process. The Authority would have to be at a later phase of design, or spend a crappola more on preliminary engineering for alternatives that they don’t even know if they will be advanced.

    This IS a delay tactic.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    We should be entering comments with at least 15% engineering knowledge with which to base them on. This includes the stages of construction for each alternative and the costs. Instead, the HSRA will be basing their final design choices on comments received utilizing only 4% engineering knowledge. Right now, we don’t really know any more than we did two years ago.

    This IS a delay tactic, yes, but it is a justifiable delay. It is a delay not because of the PCC’s inaction, but because the HSRA has not handled this project properly, and therefore any delays are their own doing. The PCC is just calling things what they are – a mess. Look, I may sound like I don’t want HSR, but that is not the case. I just have standards, and I would not conduct my own life or a private business in the way the HSRA has conducted this project. It is not for the greater good if it wreaks havoc in the process. Do you remember CSS – the thing the HSRA “embraced” for the Peninsula? One of it’s guiding terms is that the design on the Peninsula is supposed to be arrived at through an iterative process. No one on this board can say there has been any iterative process here. To date, CSS has only been lip service. A delay would be the first step towards making sure CSS is honored as promised to the communities.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    We should be entering comments with at least 15% engineering knowledge with which to base them on

    Good luck with that.

    The way things work in the real world is that unless you have competent, professional, ethical, knowledgeable and capable insiders creating the correct insider-preferred alternative — and we’re five years past that point — you’re simply wasting your breath making comments once the organization and consultant mafiosi have long settled things to their personal satisfaction.

    “Thank you for your contribution. Comment acknowledged.” Hey! That works just as well in the so-called “CSS process” as it does in the so-called “scoping”, “alternatives analysis” and “environmental analysis” shows. A handy phrase, indeed.

    If you want any change at all post 0.005% engineering design, the only ways are to sue, buy off a Willie Brown level politician, or, in California, to take it to the ballot.

    Feel free to provide a counter-example.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    I’m afraid you’re right, Richard. It sure seems that way.

  9. John Burrows
    Jul 6th, 2010 at 23:13

    A few numbers—-

    Five cities of the PCC:

    Atherton———————-Population (7,000) ————–Median family income(200,000 plus)
    Palo Alto———————————–(59,000)—————————————–(153.000)
    Menlo Park——————————–(31,000)—————————————–(133,000)
    Total population PCC cities————(150,000)

    Other Peninsula cities on HSR route:

    Santa Clara—————-(population-(102,000)—(median family income)——–(99,000)
    Mountain View—————————–(71,000)—————————————-(105,000)
    Redwood City——————————(70,000)—————————————–(81,000)
    San Carlos———————————-(27,000)—————————————–(106,000)
    San Mateo———————————-(92,000)——————————————(96,000)
    San Bruno———————————–(42,000)——————————————(80,000)
    South San Francisco———————–(61,000)——————————————(66,000)
    Total population of cities not PCC

    So the cities that want to stop High Speed Rail in its tracks make up less than 20 per cent of the population of the Peninsula Corridor. Also I wonder if there is a minimum income requirement to become a NIMBY.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Here’s one more:

    Population: 36,961,664
    Median income: $61,021

    I know that the PCC doesn’t want this to be seen as a bunch of rich cities telling everyone to pay for their preferences…but that sure is what it looks like.

    synonymouse Reply:

    You are working from the false premise that the poorer cities of the Peninsula strongly disagree with the PCC. They are simply less militant.

    Jerry Brown looks more and more like a vanilla Ron Dellums – in deep retirement but still deep on the payroll so my presumption is that mega-Meg will be the next governor. I can’t imagine that she will not way more polite attention to the PCC’s arguments than Schwarzie ever would.

    The real question is whether you subscribe to Tim Geithner’s happy days are just around the corner nostrums or not only are we in the double dip but the beginning of a protracted economic stagnation. The only way the current CHSRA scheme will be built out is if the economy makes the miraculous recovery that Geithner predicts. It is just a matter of time before the lumpen realize that not only the 40-some billion is nowhere near enough to build the Bechtel scheme but that profitability is a practical joke on the taxpayers. The CHSRA is a bigger, overbuilt version of BART and will require the same level of public subsidy.

    A great possibility is that it will just get half-constructed and then just sit there for lack of funds, as what little state monies are available redirected to base services.

    JamesJonas Reply:

    Meg Whitman has lived in Atherton since March 1998. Brown has major contributors who live in Silicon Valley.

    All politics is local.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    Many of our great public works projects were built during the Depression.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But where is the equivalent of the 30+ mile Tehachapis detour in the Northeast Corridor? Even then the electrification only got as far as Harrisburg, a very unfortunate and big mistake.

    Peter Reply:

    Where is the equivalent of the mountain range between the CV and LA on the Northeast Corridor? That’s a dumb comparison.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Harrisburg isn’t on the Northeast Corridor. The electrification only went that far because west of there there aren’t many people. Silly Pennsylvania railroad building passenger railroad where there are passengers….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The New Haven-Boston Shore Line is a detour. You’ll find a lot of Northeastern railfans who’d rather Amtrak reactivated the Air Line, which goes from New Haven to Boston closer to the geodesic (though it may not actually have been straighter, due to the terrain – I’m not sure).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It had the astounding speed of 45MPH on the fast parts. It was hilly, curvy and had lots of viaducts. Calling it an Air-Line was p.r. The Shore Line was faster even back when the Shore Line opened. Most of it was never more than single tracked….

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There are other railroads in the world besides BART. The high speed ones, ones that get people places faster than any other mode, make money.

    lyqwyd Reply:

    syn, you are working from the false premise that the poorer cities of the peninsula strongly agree with the PCC. They simply do not.

    You are also working from the false premise that the average citizens of the PCC cities agree with the PCC. As the vote results told us, they do not.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Then you would not fear a re-vote to test this contention?

    lyqwyd Reply:

    not at all.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    Perhaps you saw the June 2010 poll conducted by the “Gilroy Dispatch”? It indicates anything but broad support: 79% now favor abandoning the project while 21% say press on. If we’re talking in generalities, this would seem to back syn’s premise that the “poorer” cities DO back the PCC. I can also tell you that here in Burlingame, the “average” citizens in this town do support their council members, and thereby the PCC, who are unanimous in calling for an underground solution for Burlingame. A poll taken locally showed 97% favored an underground solution (76% tunnel) versus 1% for a raised viaduct (0% for berm) and 2% undecided. I also remember The Daily Journal ran a Quick Poll back in late February/early March that came out strongly against the current situation (sorry I didn’t keep the results and neither did they, so you are welcome to disregard if you so chose). I believe that these are all strong indicators that once people wake up to the realities of this particular project as it presently stands, they are not as enthusiastic about HSR as they perhaps once were.

    rafael Reply:

    Sure, everyone wants a tunnel as long as “someone else” pays for it. Trouble is, there is no-one else. If you want a gold-plated solution, you’ve got to pay for it yourself.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    So it’s okay to spend just enough to satisfy you, but not enough to satisfy others? Because there is so little money available to even begin, you seem to be grasping at straws trying to keep this project alive. I understand that, but we’re talking matters of relatively small degrees here. If you consider the added cost to do this right the first time over the life of the system (100 years?), it would be worthwhile not to ruin these communities along the way. If we do it cheap and dirty the first time, we will only end up ripping it out and doing it over down the road at further expense as has happened time and time again. The Embarcadero keeps coming to mind.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    A nice grade separated electrified Caltrain corridor is much better than you currently have. It will be quieter, cleaner, faster. That’s not good enough for you Federal taxpayers are certainly able to walk away leaving you with the current diesel operated Caltrain.

    Bianca Reply:

    I’ve seen a handful of the same people comment repeatedly that voters were misinformed, or that they voted for Prop 1A without realizing the plan was to run it up the existing ROW on the Peninsula.

    I don’t know any of those people personally. The people I know around here, in large part, support HSR and want it to be built already. A lot of people voted for HSR, stopped paying attention to it, and think it’s moving forward faster than it actually is.

    So no, I would not fear a re-vote. Good luck finding someone to pay for it.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    Bianca, You are to be commended for being on top of this topic from the get-go, but you and yours were the minority. Back in October 2009 I took a poll of over 150 of my Burlingame neighbors living approximately 1/4 mile east of the tracks and found over 95% of them had no idea what was being planned for HSR on the Peninsula (think deer in headlights). Should they have been aware? Of course. That is their duty as citizens. But 95%+ unaware is the reality, and most people simply voted based on what they read in the summary on election day:

    “To provide Californians a safe, convenient, affordable, and reliable alternative to driving and high gas prices; to provide good-paying jobs and improve California’s economy while reducing air pollution, global warming greenhouse gases, and our dependence on foreign oil, shall $9.95 billion in bonds be issued to establish a clean, efficient high-speed train service linking Southern California, the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley, and the San Francisco Bay Area, with at least 90 percent of bond funds spent for specific projects, with federal and private matching funds required, all bond funds subject to an independent audit?”

    Sounds good, right? Nothing there about the Caltrain RoW.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Where then did they think it was going to go? Undersea tubes?

    Bianca Reply:

    Ted, do you really expect that a statewide ballot initiative would go so far down into the weeds as to specify the existing train corridor on the Peninsula? By extension, the ballot measure ought to have specified the route for the entire state, terminus to terminus. Such a detailed description would have made the ballot measure quite a bit longer to read. Then people would be complaining that it was hard to read.

    Also keep in mind that California Law limits arguments for and against ballot measures to no more than 500 words. There’s simply no way to describe the entire route in that level of detail in 500 words. It wasn’t some grand conspiracy to keep people in the dark. The language of the ballot measure was written by the Legislature, not the Authority.

    I will be the first to admit that the Authority’s community outreach has been less than stellar. I don’t think anyone actually expected Prop 1A to pass on the first try, and so folks were caught off-guard. But even prior to the November 2008 election, there were plenty of rumblings:

    August 2008, Menlo Park and Atherton join the litigation over the Pacheco alignment. Before the bond measure even passed, two members of the PCC were joining litigation against HSR.

    January 2, 2008, right on the front cover of the Palo Alto Weekly: “High Speed Rail could stop in Palo Alto” (link is to .pdf)

    There have been plenty of articles in the local press discussing HSR and what that meant with regards to High Speed Rail using the existing ROW. Heck, I can find articles not just from 2007 but also going back to 1999!

    Also, it’s not as if the majority of Peninsula residents live within a quarter-mile of the rail corridor. The ROW serves the entire Peninsula, and so even if you showed me a poll that said that 100% of the people who live within a quarter-mile oppose the project, that’s not anywhere near a majority of Peninsula residents.

    Bianca Reply:

    To clarify, the language of the ballot measure itself was written by the Legislature. The arguments for and against the ballot measure that are provided in the Voter Information Booklet sent out prior to the election, those arguments are limited to 500 words. Sorry if that wasn’t clear.

    (and wow would I love a preview feature, Robert!)

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    To your first question; Yes, if it is already known, which it was. It doesn’t take any more words to write “and the Caltrain corridor” instead of the more vague “and the San Francisco Bay Area”

    As you point out, the passage of HSR caught a lot of people off guard, and for that very reason, not a lot of people gave it much attention because, based on past experience dating back to the 1980’s, they (including the HSRA) never thought it would pass.

    My point in bringing up my neighborhood poll was that if people living this close to the RoW didn’t know the details – I didn’t say they opposed it – a year after the vote passed despite the press coverage, it is fair to say those living elsewhere in the state were at least equally ill informed if not more so.

    Lets be honest. Had the HSRA done the type of outreach needed to make those people living along the Caltrain RoW aware, and had the Legislators drawn attention to this in the ballot summary, HSR would not have passed by the narrow margin it did. Instead the HSRA tried to create their own paradigm by expounding “there is broad support, outreach has been successful”, rather than actually chosing to do proper outreach. This is no doubt because they knew what the outcome would be. Whether you call it a conspiracy or a worthwhile gamble, no one can claim this was not a political effort biased towards building HSR. That’s fine. All is fair in love and war…, but now the realities are catching up with the tactics used.

    Yes, I know the language of the ballot measure, including the protections of AB3034, came from the Legislature. The Authority’s sole purpose is to build HSR. It is not to stop the project or slow it down. That is the Legislature’s job. While they owe the project every effort to succeed, I’m thus far deeply disappointed in the Legislature for ignoring their own language.

    Peter Reply:

    Wow, just wow.

    So, your argument is that if CHSRA had done more outreach and involved the communities more, the bond measure would not have passed?

    You accuse the CHSRA of trying to sneak the bond measure past the electorate by purposefully not doing more outreach.

    This flies completely in the face of the fact that the CHSRA had been placed on a starvation budget at precisely the time that it should have been conducting this outreach. They did not have the money to conduct the outreach they would have otherwise been able to do.

    Finally, your argument that had more outreach had been done, the bond measure would have failed is fatally flawed based to the simple fact that the only people, outside of general supporters like those on this blog, who care about where the route actually goes are the people who live right next to the tracks. Other people just don’t CARE. There aren’t enough people living by the tracks to sway the overall vote in CA.

    Bianca Reply:

    Ted, Prop 1A passed in San Mateo county 61%-39%. That’s not a “narrow margin.”

    Keep in mind that the highest average fuel prices ever seen in California hit in June 2008. $4.59/gallon does a lot to clarify the voters’ thinking about transportation infrastructure projects. That factor probably had a lot more to do with Prop 1A passing by such a comfortable margin, much more than any specific language in the ballot measure, any community outreach or lack thereof. Gas was crazy expensive and people wanted an alternative.

    And here’s the rub: as the economy gets back on track, fuel prices are going to increase again. The days of cheap gas are over. The next time (when, not if) gas is at $4.59 a gallon in California, the rest of the state isn’t going to have much patience for people complaining that Prop 1A should have specified the Caltrain ROW as part of that route.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Even stopped clocks are right a couple times a day, and here’s an example where NIMBYism fits that description.

    Fact: HSR SJ-SF is all pain and no gain for all of the communities along the line.
    If you don’t want it in your back yard, you have perfect justification.

    It’s not reasonable to expect a major infrastructure program to come with no costs to anybody and with no local impacts, but to offer only costs and impacts and to provide no local benefits is simply unconscionable: wretched engineering, wretched economics, and above all wretched politics.

    The problem here is the world-beating, criminal-level incompetence of Caltrain (now dba Peninsula Rail Program.) Instead of having any strategy whatsoever to offer, instead of being able to say “yes, there will be more trains passing through your town, but you get 4 fast trains an hour, and good timed connections to express trains, and good timed connections to high speed trains, and better east-west road access all through your town” all they can threaten is “ram this through (with no benefit to you) or we’ll kill all Caltrain (which you don’t use anyway because we only stop once an hour in your town, but whatever.)

    It could have been quite different, given even a trace level of professionalism or intelligence or any sort of planning anywhere at Caltrain. Crucifixion is too kind a fate.

    Ted Crocker Reply:


    Um, Yes and Yes. Outreach doesn’t have to be costly. I’ve been working without a budget and I’ve reached a hell of a lot of people. Besides, money doesn’t seem to be the issue here. Outreach hasn’t been any better since HSRA signed a $9M contract with PR firm Ogilvy.

    Also, I think you’re forgetting the financial piece when it comes to voters who care. Fiscal concerns reach more than those living along the RoW.

    Peter Reply:

    Well, you’re also volunteering your time, Ted. Most people who work for the project would like to get paid.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    That was said with a bit of tongue in cheek to make a point. A lot can be done to spread information using modern technology. Two examples. The HSRA could have produced a poster saying “HSR is coming to a neighborhood near you”, sent it to the various city governments and asked that they send it out to their e-mail lists. They might have sent along some (10?) free posters per city for posting in their public areas while they were at it. During the initial EIR process prior to the vote, they could have done a similar blast in an effort to alert those along the RoW to participate. Simple and cheap, yet it never happened.

  10. Al-Fakh Yugoudh
    Jul 7th, 2010 at 10:56

    I wonder if these detractors would oppose an expansion of the existing freeways (or a new one). In any case governments need to impose their will on NIMBYs otherwise nothing would get done. There was (and still is) a lot of opposition by NIMBYs and other interest groups against high speed rail in Europe. Just google “NO TAV” (“No HST” in Italian) and you’ll find plenty of hits. However those governments don’t give a damn about those protesters. They just give them a taste of some good baton and then they start building. I don’t understand why in America we can’t use some of these old world effective methods to persuade these minority groups. Anyhow. There could be also the Alviso to Dunbarton alignment through the marshes that one could consider. That would bypass and take care of at least 4 of the 5 peninsula towns in this group. Who needs to stop in Palo Alto anyway? Just go non stop from SJ to SF. The Barcelona-Madrid doesn’t stop everywhere along the way. Just Zaragoza and Tarragona and not all trains.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Freeway and general highway projects are enormously popular in the U.S. and have always been, even in the 19th century before the advent of the automobile. Just go back and read some newspapers from around the turn of the century and you will find them full of calls for improved roads. The electorate’s attitude toward roads is a special phenomenon recognized by all politicians. It is a sacred cow and outside of SF you will find no politician in favor of curtailing highway improvements. It is just the way it is. All you can hope to do is enlist support for providing an alternative mode.

    The congestion problem is much worse on the local level and that is why mass transit like BART will get vastly more editorial support than any hsr. No airline competition in urban areas but it is definitely present in long haul. Plus it would be a mistake to think the airline industry is not going to pull out all stops to innovate.

    rafael Reply:

    Oh please. Nobody anywhere built freeways in the 19th century.

    Peter Reply:

    We needed 8-lane freeways in 1870 for the thundering herds of … horse-drawn carriages?

    Bianca Reply:

    Freeway and general highway projects are enormously popular in the U.S. and have always been, even in the 19th century before the advent of the automobile.

    This sounds like it was taken from one of those collections of hilarious misstatements students make in essays, like “Sir Francis Drake circumcised the globe in a 100-foot clipper” and “History, a record of things left behind by past generations, started in 1815.”

    synonymouse Reply:

    When I wrote that I had doubts about the phrasing. Road projects enjoyed universal support in the 19th century, especially since the roads the horses were travelling over were little more than cow paths. In particular the horsy set wanted bridges. Think of the Brooklyn Bridge.

    When the automobile appeared the cry for more roads was much greater but the demand and interest had always been there.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes yes, the Via Appia has been paved for two thousand years making it obvious the Romans yearned for automobiles.

    Brooklyn Bridge carried trains in addition to horse traffic, pedestrians and those new fangled bicycles. Another case of them yearning for internal combustion engine driven automobiles.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    On the contrary, in the 19th century roads declined in popularity, as railroads proved faster and more reliable. The good roads movement as we know it only began very late in the 19th century, once roads could be built for bicycles and not just horses.

    Peter Reply:

    Wasn’t the Brooklyn Bridge ridiculed as a boondoggle (perhaps not using that word) at the time it was being constructed?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Went bankrupt and had problems with corruption and embezzling too if remember correctly. Grossly overbuilt because they knew the sub contractors would cut corners shamelessly too

  11. EXCEAR
    Jul 7th, 2010 at 14:01

    Hey Robert,

    Great website! I’ve been following your blog avidly for the last three months. I moved to Los Angeles from Maryland last July, following four years of college at Rice University in Houston. Having grown up with the DC Metro, MARC and Amtrak in the NEC (as slow as they are), I am excited to see CAHSR, a true HSR, in development. It seems to me that the majority of your coverage on CAHSR is relevant to northern Californian cities, mainly in the Bay Area and in the upper Central Valley (barring maybe Bakersfield). Naturally, most of the present controversy/NIMBYism over CAHSR is situated in the Bay Area, over the PCC cities and over the Pacheco vs Altamont routing (I can’t believe the Pacheco routing choice is still being made into an issue, it seems pretty clear to me that it is the superior route for the starter line), and these are also at the forefront of your discussions.

    However, I was wondering if in the next few weeks you might also add some relevant Southern Californian HSR issues into the mix…that is, if there are any issues to mention. Here, it seems we are way more receptive to HSR, and even new transit, than are a lot of cities in the Bay Area (i.e. PCC).


    Peter Reply:

    “However, I was wondering if in the next few weeks you might also add some relevant Southern Californian HSR issues into the mix…that is, if there are any issues to mention. Here, it seems we are way more receptive to HSR, and even new transit, than are a lot of cities in the Bay Area (i.e. PCC).”

    Unfortunately, the squeaky wheel gets the blog grease.

    StevieB Reply:

    The morning anchor for NBC San Diego printed an editorial critical of CAHSR today titled High-Speed Rail Is On a Fast Track to Nowhere.

    EXCEAR Reply:

    yet ANOTHER editorial based on a flawed study…biased news reporting at its finest moment.

    Peter Reply:

    Not even biased, just uninformed and based on how ever the winds appear to be blowing.

    rafael Reply:

    We’ve had over 800 posts on this blog now and a large number of them have dealt with SoCal aspects, e.g. LA-San Diego, Palmdale, Anaheim’s historic district etc. We’ve also addressed Central Valley issues, most recently regarding the alignment through Bakersfield.

    Unfortunately, Peter is right to point out that SF-SJ-Gilroy has turned out to be far more contentious than other parts of the starter line. Since we’re interested in getting the whole thing built, we have had a significant number of posts on the gory details of constructing tracks through Silicon Valley in particular.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Robert has said that he believes that NIMByS are the greatest threat to the project. That is why he spends as much time as he does on them. It’s also true that perhaps the most questionable decision has been to route the alignment through San Jose as opposed to some other choice, most notably Altamont Pass. However it is also true that on certain Southern California topics (Desert Xpress) there have been plenty of posts.

    You also have to understand that this isn’t beanbag. It’s going to much more difficult to build this system than it looks and there are tremendous technical, financial, and political hurdles. The majority of posters here are supporters and want the project to succeed because they feel the cost of “doing nothing” is higher than 43 billion (or whatever HSR might cost).

    But cut Robert some slack. This blog was intended to advocate Prop 1A. Had it failed, that would have been that. But it passed…and suddenly the job of the advocate gets a lot a harder. Now it’s not about should it be done…but how.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    I may be wrong, but I think Robert would agree with me that the greatest threat to HSR, here and throughout the rest of the nation, is the lack of funding, especially the lack of funding from the top. The NIMBYs are part of the checks and balances required for a better outcome. As evidenced by the vote, most are fundamentally not opposed to HSR. But they do want to see some accountability and have it built in such a way that we can all be proud. In California, the biggest joke (sales tool) was to write this bond with the provision that HSR would not need to be further subsidized. This meant that right out of the gate HSR promised a reality where Californians could have their cake and eat it too, and this simply was not a realistic expectation. Blame the NIMBY’s if it makes you feel better, but I think the blame lies elsewhere.

    I do wonder, sometimes, if Robert had [more] skin in the game (i.e. lived in one of the communities directly affected) if he would take a slightly softened stance. Monterey is not exactly threatened by HSR. Can you imagine if HSR was planned to run through the middle of Monterey or Carmel?! Would he still be thinking it is okay because this is for the greater good? That said, even though Robert and I don’t see eye-to-eye on the level of sensitivity needed to mitigate the impacts to the communities, I do thank him for all of his super human efforts and thought provoking discussion. We are all the better for it.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I actually agree with you, the federal funding issues are by far the greatest threat to HSR. If we get reliable, long-term funding, the NIMBY issues will largely go away.

    I totally and utterly reject the frame that HSR “threatens” anyone or any community. That is absurd.

    You might be interested to know I am also very active here in Monterey in support of a light rail project that has been generating some controversy, even though it would be built on an existing ROW that had passenger rail service for 80 years, from 1890 to 1971.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    I know this is where we differ. To me an elevated, 4 track, 79+ feet wide viaduct (112-139′ wide at Caltrain only station) is threatening when compared to the two tracks set 25′ apart along the RoW that exist there now (perhaps comparable to what you are proposing in Monterey?), plus all the destruction it will cause. If I’m going to give up something, I want to get something more than grade separation in the wrong direction. I don’t mind the scale of what we have now, but I do mind the scale of what is likely to be built due to budget constraints.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How is a grade separation in the “wrong direction”?

    Peter Reply:

    Pure hyperbole.

    An army poised to attack is “threatening”. Someone waving a gun at you is “threatening”.

    A non-mobile grade separation that poses no physical danger to you is not “threatening”.

    Tony D. Reply:

    A freight train barrelling towards a pedestrian or automobile is also “threatening.” Are these people like T.C. for real?!!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Not to mention the horns that will make your ears bleed if you are too close. All with diesel exhuast wafting gently on the breeze.

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    Nice counter! Trying to belittle my concerns by being both literal and ludicrous all at the same time. Just in case you truly don’t understand I will try to explain. Just as a change can threaten a way of life (I know you’ve heard the term), so too can change threaten the character of a town if one builds something industrial scale where it does not belong. Even Curt Pringle commented when on his tour that Burlingame reminded him of how Anaheim used to be – quaint. We don’t want to lose that. And grade separation can be in the wrong direction (vertically) if it is elevated, when depressed would be the better choice for hiding the scale while mitigating sound propagation. Is it a perfect solution? No. But it would be acceptable if it could be done within the RoW. As usual, we’ve reached a point of diminishing returns. Later.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There are suburbs as rich and prosperous as those on the Peninsula with two three and four track railroads running through them on elevated structures of one type or another. I do understand what it’s like to live in one because I have. The cows don’t go dry, the baristas still make latte, the hens continue to lay, the salespeople in Neiman’s still hawk overpriced goods. The trains are much quieter because they are electric. Because they are electric there is no locol exhaust. The horns and bells don’t sound because there are no grade crossings. The lack of grade crossings nearly eliminates the possibility of someone being mowed down by a train. On the whole it’s much better than what exists on the Peninsula now, even for people who live hard by the tracks.

    At grade is the cheapest solution. That’s not possible in many places because of the crossings that exist. Next cheapest it to raise the railroad. That is better than the current situation. It’s aan engineering possibility in most places on the Peninsula. Anything other than that would be more expensive, feel free to pay for it.

  12. political_incorrectness
    Jul 8th, 2010 at 00:43

    For those of you keeping track of the Morgan Hill Times, I decided at my expense to post a rebellion to the “Killtrain”


    Peter Reply:


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