Published Thursday, March 4, 2010, by the Palo Alto Daily Post
Train threatens 227 homes
* a PA park is in the way;
* so is a San Mateo theater;
* homes in Atherton safe
By David DeBolt
Daily Post Staff Writer
Adding a high-speed railway along the Caltrain tracks could result in a loss of up to 227 homes, but maps obtained by the Post indicate that in most sections between San Jose and San Francisco there is enough room to squeeze in two more tracks.
The maps show that high-speed rail threatens downtown San Mateo buildings, Burlingame's auto row, and 22 homes along Mariposa Avenue in Palo Alto. The new train might reduce the size of Peers Park on Park Boulevard in Palo Alto. But there's also good news. Jeff Barker, deputy director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said that a 100-foot width, or right of way, would be more than enough to accommodate high-speed rail and the two tracks Caltrain requires.
Eighty-five feet could do the trick, Barker, along with other rail authority officials told the Post.
Assuming that's correct, it appears as though the rail authority will not have to take any homes in Atherton -- one of the project's biggest critics and one of two cities that have sued to stop the plan.
"You'll notice we are actually in pretty good shape," said Robert Doty, the director of Peninsula Rail Program, which is under the umbrella of Caltrain and the rail authority.
Another concern in Atherton, noise, will still have to be addressed. Noise is expected to spread 150 feet in each direction.
In the worst-case scenario -- if high-speed rail needed a width of 100 feet -- here's what would happen according to a Post analysis: Sixty-four businesses, a dozen apartment buildings and 227 homes would be hit. The best-case scenario using a 100-foot [BATN: 85-foot] width would still have effects, though they would be less drastic: Twenty-five businesses, 10 apartment buildings and 153 homes would be reduced in size or seized altogether.
The city with the most at stake is Santa Clara, which stands to lose as many as 50 homes, depending on which side of the tracks the authority picks to acquire right of way. Next up is Mountain View, which could say good-bye to 43 parcels in all -- 31 homes and 12 businesses.
The two Santa Clara County cities have been among the quietest when it comes to rail opposition.
The rail authority's "alternative analysis" report, which will have more specifics on the preferred options -- tunnel, trench or elevated tracks -- was due out today, but has been delayed a month.
Menlo Park, which joined Atherton in its lawsuit, could lose up to 34 homes. One of the most vocal critics against high-speed rail is Menlo Park resident Martin Engel, who sends out daily e-mails on topics relating to the project.
Palo Alto trouble spot
A particularly troublesome stretch of the tracks can be found in the Southgate neighborhood of Palo Alto.
On Mariposa Avenue, between Churchill and Sequoia avenues, the right of way is 75.4 feet wide. That leaves two options: infringing upon the properties of 22 homes that back up to the tracks, or moving Alma Street east, affecting homes on Coleridge, Lowell and Tennyson avenues.
Residents there have long feared the state could seize their homes to make way for high-speed rail. An average home, on Mariposa Avenue is valued at $1 million, which means the state could have to pay up to $22 million to grab the homes.
Last February, Southgate residents stormed into a City Council meeting to chide council members for supporting Prop 1A, the initiative passed by state voters in 2008 to build high-speed rail from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
"Eminent domain is not a cool idea," Mariposa Avenue resident Tom D'Arezzo told the council. "I also don't feel that we'll get a fair price."
Since the 2008 election, council's enthusiasm for high-speed rail has cooled, with many members saying they would only support the train if it is "done right."
Another battle could begin brewing at Peers Park, just east of where Mariposa bends to meet Castilleja Avenue. Near the eastern most point of the park, the Caltrain right of way narrows to 60 feet, meaning some of the park land could be needed.
In most cities, that might not be a problem. But Palo Alto has a provision in its charter that requires a vote of people before any park land is taken for another purpose.
City Attorney Gary Baum yesterday the state has a right to take land without the city's consent, though he said he needs to do additional research on the subject.
Emily Renzel, a former city council member and park advocate, agreed with Baum's assessment, but said reducing the size of any city park will hurt the city's quality of life.
"It will just completely change the character of the park," Renzel said.
Downtown San Mateo could be hit hard too. Near the Century 12 Cinema the right of way narrows to a lean 51 feet.
Elevate and tunnel
The San Mateo City Council at its meeting Monday said the train would have to travel in a tunnel through downtown, but the rail authority's business plan, released in December, didn't show any money put aside for tunneling.
In the business plan, the authority acknowledges the risks associated with eminent domain.
"Inability to obtain adequate right-of-way would delay or prevent the system from being built," the plan, released in December, says. "Primarily, any delay would come in the form of lawsuits seeking to prevent the Authority from acquiring a property."
According to the 145-page document, the authority would settle such disputes by offering fair prices for properties along the right-of-way. "While it is not a tool the Authority wishes to employ nor will employ lightly, it should be noted that eminent domain is a tool the Authority has."
But Doty, the Peninsula Rail Director, is confident all four tracks -- two for Caltrain, two for high-speed rail can be squeezed in along 95% of the current right-of-way between San Francisco and San Jose.
Doty refused to speak about specific locations along the route, but said in problematic areas the two train systems could be stacked, either in trenches or on elevated tracks, depending on the terrain.
"We are looking for solutions that impact residential areas least," Doty said.
[BATN: See also:
Daily Post gets long-available Caltrain ROW maps for HSR stories
Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog: Caltrain Right Of Way Maps (6 Jan 09)
HSRA says it cannot yet release Peninsula HSR alignment maps
Palo Alto's attorney says he could sue to get HSR maps, if asked
Peninsula HSR alignment report delayed again until April 1
Editorial: HSRA should not keep eminent domain maps secret
Peninsula NIMBYs push to end HSR in SJ; eminent domain report delay
Peninsula NIMBYs seek HSR eminent domain maps, push SJ terminus
HSRA-hostile Palo Alto officials want more time to review plans
HSRA denies it has eminent domain maps sought by Palo Alto