Would Palo Alto Reject Caltrain Modernization out of Spite?
The long-awaited Caltrain modernization plan is about to begin, using funding that comes from the Prop 1A high speed rail bond. And that has Palo Alto conflicted. First-term Palo Alto City Councilmember Gail Price was recently appointed to the VTA board. The VTA board recently voted to file an amicus curiae brief in support of the California High Speed Rail Authority’s efforts to get an appeals court to overturn Judge Michael Kenny’s ruling from last year that puts a dent in the ability of the Authority to tap the Prop 1A bonds.
And that has put Councilmember Price in an awkward position in a city where anti-HSR activism is loud enough that they’re willing to jeopardize Caltrain modernization:
“It was my feeling that as a member of the VTA board, it was in our best interests to go along with it,”: Price said.
She called the vote a “difficult choice,” which came down to Caltrain funding.
“If we don’t have the funding source for this, it will fall back on the partnering agencies,” Price said….
Though Price defended her vote as consistent with the council’s support for Caltrain and its acceptance of the “blended system” design in which Caltrain and high-speed rail share tracks on the Peninsula, she acknowledged that it could become a political liability. Price is now in the final year of her first council term and she told the Weekly that she plans to seek a second term in November. She also stressed that to characterize her vote as in support of high-speed rail would be to ignore the complexity of funding Caltrain’s modernization, a project that has been in the works for more than a decade and that finally has a chance to come to fruition.
It’s insane that voting for Caltrain modernization could be seen as a political liability. But then this is Palo Alto, which since 2009 has been working as hard as it can to stop the region and the state from implementing 21st century solutions to common problems. Their opposition to HSR is bad enough. The city’s consistent refusal to support additional growth, particularly in housing density, is also a major factor contributing to skyrocketing housing costs for Bay Area workers.
Palo Alto will benefit significantly from Caltrain modernization as well as HSR. Higher property values, more jobs, lower transportation costs, and lower CO2 emissions are just some of those benefits. I won’t rehash the whole long argument between this blog and Palo Alto’s failed political leaders, longtime readers are familiar enough with them.
But Caltrain modernization is such an obviously good thing that it should be backed no matter how it is funded. I don’t know enough about Councilmember Price to know whether she deserves re-election. Her vote for Caltrain modernization and for the amicus brief are signs that she at least has some sense. And that’s welcome on that council.