Published Monday, November 9, 2009, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
New gimmick trotted out by rail promoters
By Diana Diamond
Remember when those flip charts came into vogue at community meetings around the Peninsula? They started in the late 1960s but were ubiquitous for years afterward at nearly every public forum.
What I hated about them was that anytime anyone said anything, one of the facilitators would note it by writing with a green or blue marker on this chart, perched atop a clumsy easel.
The problem was that all comments were noted. No screening allowed. If an angry resident said he didn't want one damn new thing in his neighborhood and the city manager would say that the proposed project would bring thousands of dollars to the city treasury, both comments were duly noted on this big flat piece of paper.
Then we would look at these many flip charts stuck onto the walls with masking tape and the facilitator would declare what he discerned was the community consensus. Our work as residents was done.
No analysis of probability or feasibility, no mention of cost, total disregard for any expertise in the room -- the community's consensus was golden and gospel.
Now a new process is being introduced in the debate over the proposed high-speed rail line -- "Context Sensitive Solutions," or CSS.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, CSS is a "collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stake holders to develop a transportation facility ... (it) considers the total context within which a transportation improvement project will exist."
I think CSS is being used as a device to get Peninsula residents to buy into their rail system coming through the middle of all our towns.
However, Palo Alto City Council member and Assembly candidate Yoriko Kishimoto is touting this approach, and spoke highly of it at last week's meeting.
More than engineering
Kishimoto said CSS is a process to lead us away from simply engineering approaches to transportation and instead taking people's concerns about high-speed rail and sensing if they can be transformed into new ways of looking at transportation.
For example, she said, if someone said he preferred the high-speed rail train going along 101 instead of through our towns, he would be asked why he preferred this approach and then see if these reasons can be transformed into goal-oriented solutions.
In other words, everyone has an oppotunity to opine.
Will they listen?
According to Kishimoto, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board apparently has bought into this process. They want to hear our concerns.
But that's only because it's to their PR advantage.
And authority officials will alter say, "We heard the Peninsula residents -- we had a series of CSS meetings."
But whether we will be listened to is the underlying question.
When authority board member Rod Diridon appeared before the Palo Alto City Council several months ago, he flatly stated that the route had already been decided and this was no longer the time for community options.
So to me the board has already decided where they want this high-speed train running alongside Caltrain tracks, most likely on an elevated platform, since that is their present plan.
And while we might prefer tunneling, the decision rests entirely with the authority. I bet they will tell us tunneling is too expensive.
On Thursday, the authority agreed to a $9 million PR contract with Ogilvy Worldwide, to promote the benefits of the high-speed system. But the No. 1 direction from Diridon was to quell Peninsula residens' concerns, which he likened to a "rotten apple" in a barrel (see <http://tinyurl.com/yhzznbs
The CSS approach, which may work sometimes in some places, is being heralded here way too late to make any difference. It's just a "feel-good" gimmick.
Because ultimately, whatever we may decide locally, the authority can reject our concerns and build the high-speed rail system any way it wants -- probably the way it decided back in 2005 to have it go plunk through our cities.
And so much for public input into a project that ultimately could cost at least a conservative $80 billion -- that's a number with a "b."
Diana Diamond is associate editor of the Daily Post. Her e-mail is <Diana@...
[BATN: See also:
Peninsula HSR foes insulted by Diridon's "rotten apples" remark
Planners to use CSS to develop Peninsula HSR design consensus
Peninsula HSR planning to employ context sensitive solutions (CSS)
Peninsula Cities Consortium meetings to introduce HSR CSS process
CSS expert to explain community input process for Peninsula HSR