HSRA chair Kopp opposes running HSR to downtown SF terminal
- Published Wednesday, November 19, 2008, by San Francisco Bay Guardian
By Steven T. Jones
After navigating a political gauntlet on the way to the momentous
Nov. 4 voter approval of the California high-speed train project
that he set in motion 14 years ago, you might think Quentin Kopp
would savor a moment of conflict-free peace. You'd be wrong.
Instead, he decided to kick a hornet's nest in his native San
Francisco by voicing opposition to plans to bring the trains all the
way into downtown San Francisco's new Transbay Terminal - a proposed
Grand Central Station-style multi-modal hub that would also include
affordable housing and several towers, including the tallest one
of the West Coast -- suggesting the current Caltrain terminus at
4th and Townsend streets would do just fine.
In addition to raising issues of cost (almost $3 billion to tunnel
the bullet trains that final 1.4 miles into downtown), Kopp also
blasted Transbay Joint Powers Authority director Maria Ayerdi-Kaplan
- a one-time protégé of Kopp's old nemesis Willie Brown - for
bungling the project and relying too heavily on Singer and
Associates, the brash crisis communications firm now being sued for
slandering and blaming the victims of the Christmas Day tiger attack
at the SF Zoo.
The myriad San Francisco supporters of high-speed rail - from
business community backers downtown to the alternative transportation
geeks -- are quietly scrambling to try to heal the rift and ensure
that the trains reach Transbay, the terminus envisioned in the
proposal approved by voters.
Kopp's goal has always been to bring high-speed rail into San
Francisco, but he's never been terribly enamored with the Transbay
Terminal project, on which the hopes of many others have been pinned:
Mayor Gavin Newsom and his planning department loves the signature
high-rises, the Chamber of Commerce craves more office space,
housing activists support all the free state land being turned
into affordable housing, and the environmentalists see it as the
linchpin of a seamlessly integrated car-free transportation system.
But Kopp, the influential chair of the California High Speed Rail
Authority, is more interested in stretching this $10 billion bond
far enough to complete his project. So he's bristling at efforts
by the TJPA to ensure that it's first in line for the money. On
Nov. 13 (the day after our article on the bond measure victory),
Kopp responded to that request in a letter to TJPA chair Nat Ford
(who also serves as executive director of Muni).
"Your staff continually seek to insinuate the Transbay Joint Powers
Authority in activity which pertains strictly to the consummation
of the California High Speed Rail Project. Your October 17, 2008
staff report declares that the total cost 'of [your project's] rail
component is $2.996 billion.' It then represents that $2,349,000,000
must be obtained for your project. Please do not attempt to secure
California High Speed Rail Project funds to defray the enormous costs
of the 1.4 mile 'downtown rail extension.' Such effort will not be
welcomed by me. Moreover, as far as I am concerned, and I will so
state publicly, the California High Speed Rail Project can, as
necessary, utilize the terminal at Fourth Street and Townsend Street
in San Francisco effectively and efficiently, and at a cost less
than the aforementioned cost of your moving it," Kopp wrote.
The letter also mocked the expertise of "your executive director,
staff or publicity agents," something Kopp went even further with
a few days later when the Chronicle's Matier and Ross brought the
private spat out into the public (although they didn't reference the
earlier letter, which even Singer and Associates didn't know about
"I am not going to pay $2.5 billion to move a track 1.4 miles," Kopp
said in that article, going on to say Ayerdi-Kaplan "is annoying ...
and she and her flacks need to stay out of our hair."
One of those flacks, Adam Alberti from Singer and Associates, tells
the Guardian that Kopp has his numbers wrong and that TJPA will only
be seeking $700-$800 million in Prop. 1A funds for the extension (the
rest would come from other sources), which is about the same amount
as he said it would cost to renovate the Caltrain station to handle
the millions of new passengers the trains would draw.
"The facility is being designed to be the northern terminus for high-
speed rail," Alberti told us. "Their business plan is predicated on
it coming into Transbay Terminal."
I checked in with some of my sources in the transportation world,
people who aggressively promote alternatives to the automobile but
who are generally critical of expensive but inefficient projects
like the Central Subway, and they all maintain that the downtown
extension is well worth the cost. It allows for the efficient flow
of passengers by foot or other transportation modes, whereas they
say it would be a nightmare to develop connections to Townsend
Street for thousands of new rail passengers each day.
But Kopp is certainly right that the development of the new Transbay
Terminal could be handled better. Ayerdi-Kaplan has been inaccessible
in recent years and has stumbled into unnecessary fights with the
Mayor's Office, members of the Board of Supervisors, and neighbors
of the project. It's also disconcerting that a public agency feels
a need to hide behind one of the most expensive and controversial
PR firms in the city. So there's probably a bit more going on here
than what Alberti labeled "a personality clash with Maria Ayerdi."
Hopefully, this clash of titans can be smoothed over, perhaps with
the help of the many San Francisco institutions that want to see
high-speed trains arrive in the Transbay Terminal, which would be
little more than a glorified bus station and yet another downtown
condo project without them. Because otherwise, this could get really
ugly. Alberti notes that the CHSRA still needs legislative approval
for the authority it'll need to manage the project from beginning
to end, something that Kopp has argued that private investors
want to see (rather than relying on the politically turbulent
Legislature), but which might be tough to get if this fight over
[BATN: See also:
HSRA chair Kopp wants to end HSR at SF Caltrain terminal
HSRA may not pay to reach downtown SF Transbay Transit Center