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Editorial: Can NIMBY Menlo Park, Atherton stop HSR juggernaut?

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  • 8/13 Menlo Park Almanac
    Published Wednesday, August 13, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac Editorial Can cities stop a juggernaut? It was a no-brainer for the Menlo Park and Atherton
    Message 1 of 1 , Aug 13, 2008
      Published Wednesday, August 13, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac


      Can cities stop a juggernaut?

      It was a no-brainer for the Menlo Park and Atherton city councils to
      join a cost-free lawsuit challenging the route chosen for the high-
      speed rail project that will be on this November's state ballot.
      What local resident wants the impact of 220-mph-trains in his or
      her backyard? [BATN notes: the HSRA has never proposed trains
      anywhere near those speeds on the Peninsula.]

      The two cities have made no secret of their strong opposition to the
      project, which would require grade separations that would rip up
      Menlo Park's downtown and create gigantic intrusions into several
      Atherton neighborhoods. Menlo Park council member Kelly Fergusson
      backed taking a strong stance for the city's interests, saying the
      city has seen no indications that the high-speed rail authority has
      even considered the concerns of Peninsula communities. "We've been
      shown no respect," she said.

      But whether either community or the ad hoc group formed by Menlo Park
      residents can stop approval of the $9.95 billion bond issue is open
      to question, given that recent polling test suggests the bond measure
      will pass. Opponents say that result was a fluke, but given the
      smooth green sales pitch for high-speed rail, which is playing
      especially well among young Californians, we wonder if this
      juggernaut can be stopped.

      Joining the lawsuit by a group of nonprofits may not cost anything
      for Menlo Park and Atherton, but it also won't remove the measure
      from the November ballot. If successful, the suit's only impact would
      be to force the state to conduct more extensive environmental studies
      if voters approve the project on Nov. 4. Such studies could be a
      nuisance, but if high-speed rail is approved statewide, we doubt
      that additional environmental studies would knock it off the rails.

      Even more problematic is the thinking in some Peninsula communities
      that an Altamont Pass route, as advocated by the lawsuit, would
      alleviate any impact from the high-speed trains. Possibly, but most
      maps show that either route would provide San Jose-to-San Francisco
      service, which would create the same impact as trains coming over
      Pacheco Pass through Gilroy and San Jose. [BATN notes the Altamont
      route would split near Fremont with branches to San Jose and San
      Francisco. The SF branch would follow the Dumbarton Bridge rail
      corridor skirting eastern Menlo Park and bypassing Atherton
      to join the Caltrain line in Redwood City.]

      There is no doubt that conversion of Caltrain's Peninsula rail
      corridor to carry high-speed trains would create a tremendous
      disruption of downtown and residential areas in Menlo Park and
      Atherton, as well as many other cities up and down the line. The
      grade separations required at Ravenswood, Oak Grove, Glenwood and
      Encinal avenues in Menlo Park and, Watkins Avenue and Fair Oaks
      Lane in Atherton would cut huge gashes in these areas.

      Unfortunately, unless voters learn more about this costly project
      and act responsibly in a year when the state is facing huge deficits,
      the $9.95 billion start for the project could win acceptance based on
      the popular green sales pitch that electric trains could lower the
      state's carbon footprint. These are powerful arguments when airlines
      are sinking under tremendous increases in fuel costs, and prices at
      the gas pump exceed $4 a gallon.

      Last week it appeared that legislation to update the high-speed rail
      measure on the ballot was headed for the governor's desk, but it was
      unclear if he would sign it, given his pledge not to sign any bills
      until the Legislature passed a budget. Proponents of the rail plan
      said Gov. Schwarzenegger would come through, since his own staff
      helped with the revision of the old bond measure, which was written
      in 2002.

      But regardless of whether the rail bond measure is updated, it now
      appears that opponents are fighting an uphill battle against a well-
      financed group of high-speed rail advocates, who see thousands of
      construction jobs, millions of dollars worth of increased business
      and a lower carbon footprint from the project. Such a supportive
      coalition could run over Menlo Park and Atherton opponents without
      even blinking.
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