Published Thursday, August 12, 2010, by the San Mateo County Times
Cities get ready to battle over bullet train
At least four municipalities to consider formally opposing project
By Mike Rosenberg
San Mateo County Times
At least four San Mateo County cities will weigh whether to follow in a Southern California town's footsteps and formally oppose the state's bullet train project set to come through their communities.
In Belmont, the first Peninsula city to take up the issue, the City Council voted Tuesday to draft a resolution opposing the project, which as planned would add two tracks to the existing Caltrain line to create an 80-foot-wide, at least two-story-high raised structure through town. The council will vote on the resolution at a later meeting.
"I just get tired of this, 'Let's be polite, and let's just wait,' " said Belmont Vice Mayor Coralin Feierbach. "Otherwise, we're just going to be buried with this monster."
Burlingame officials will discuss Monday whether to write a similar resolution, and the Atherton council is set to vote on a declaration of its own on Wednesday. The Menlo Park City Council will take up the issue at its next meeting later this month.
A resolution could also come out of Palo Alto when the council discusses the item at its next meeting in mid-September.
Another community, Redwood City, announced Wednesday that it was "disappointed" with the idea of elevated tracks through town but vowed to work with the state.
San Mateo will discuss the ramifications of the plan in early September, and at least one council member said he will ask the board to reconsider its stance supporting the project, which will cut through downtown.
The discussions come after the California High-Speed Rail Authority last week said it will run the tracks on an aerial structure -- a wall-like berm in some places and a freeway overpass-type viaduct in others -- through much of the county.
Some cities, such as Burlingame, still have a trench option -- which city officials prefer -- on the table. But local officials are beginning to view the trenches as unlikely. They would need to raise hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for the underground tracks, or hope the rail authority is willing to go as much as $1 billion over its budget at a time when it has only have one-fourth of the funding for the $43 billion project.
A state application for federal funding submitted last week includes plans for aboveground tracks from Brisbane to Redwood City. However, the authority announced Wednesday that the configuration cited in the application is simply an example and has no bearing on whether tracks in cities such as Burlingame and San Mateo will be raised on berms or viaducts or submerged in trenches.
Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline said the resolution the city of Orange approved two weeks ago to oppose the project has been passed around the Peninsula to virtually every city. Some cities, including his, will discuss whether to modify the resolution to reflect their own concerns.
The most common complaint is that raised structures will lead to the demolition of homes and businesses along the tracks, including downtowns. The cities also worry the tracks will create too much blight and noise, and create a division between the east and west parts of town.
But San Carlos Vice Mayor Omar Ahmad said the existing plans would be good for his city, which already has a berm that appears wide enough to support two extra tracks.
"The aerial viaducts actually work pretty nicely for us," Ahmad said. "We get rid of the berm."
The resolutions would be largely symbolic since the project is controlled by the state. Rail authority officials have vowed to listen to local officials, but not everyone is convinced they are.
San Mateo City Councilman David Lim said he timed the meeting at which the plans were unveiled last week and found the rail authority board spent just 14 minutes asking questions and giving comments.
"I would like to think our views are being taken seriously, but if you look at the body of that meeting, it doesn't look like there was much discussion," Lim said.
Rail authority leaders said after the Orange resolution passed that they were disappointed the city "declined the opportunity to help shape the historic project." They added that constructive feedback is "vital" at this point in the process.
"In opposing the high-speed rail project, the City Council is opposing the creation of tens of thousands of jobs, opposing improved air quality, and opposing a needed new transportation option that will ease congestion on our freeways and in our airways," the rail authority said in a statement following the Orange vote.
Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation.
Contact him at 650-348-4324.