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HSRA chair Kopp opposes running HSR to downtown SF terminal

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  • 11/19 SF Bay Guardian
    Published Wednesday, November 19, 2008, by San Francisco Bay Guardian High-speed derailment? By Steven T. Jones After navigating a political gauntlet on the
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 19, 2008
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      Published Wednesday, November 19, 2008, by San Francisco Bay Guardian

      High-speed derailment?

      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
      until today).

      "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
      Transbay escalates.


      [BATN: See also:

      HSRA chair Kopp wants to end HSR at SF Caltrain terminal
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39962

      HSRA may not pay to reach downtown SF Transbay Transit Center
      http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/39911 ]
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