HSR officials extend SF-SJ comment period 1 month until April 6
- Published Wednesday, February 18, 2009, by the Palo Alto Daily News
Rail skeptics win time extension
By Will Oremus
Daily News Staff Writer
Responding to a growing chorus of calls for more public input,
California high-speed rail officials on Tuesday agreed to extend by
a month the environmental planning process for the San Jose-to-San
Francisco portion of the line. Residents and officials worried about
the 125-mile-per-hour trains' impact on Peninsula neighborhoods
will now have until April 6 to lodge their comments, concerns and
suggestions as to what the environmental analysis should take into
The move came on a day when more than 100 Palo Alto residents packed a
school board conference room for a question-and-answer session about
the project. Dozens signed a petition stating they were "unequivocally
opposed to elevation of the tracks in residential neighborhoods" and
calling for a popular vote to ratify the California High Speed Rail
Authority's plans for the Caltrain corridor. A few called for Palo
Alto to join neighboring cities Menlo Park and Atherton in a lawsuit
challenging the authority's decision to run the tracks up the
Peninsula rather than through the East Bay.
Though Peninsula voters generally favored the $40 billion Los Angeles-
to-San Francisco project in a November bond measure, anxiety is
growing among those close to the Caltrain tracks, fueled by rumors of
eminent domain takings and 40-foot-high electrical lines. Some are
pushing for the rail authority to put the tracks underground, others
for the line to stop in San Jose, forcing passengers to transfer to
Caltrain to reach San Francisco.
The authority, meanwhile, is trying to reassure residents that it will
listen to them before making any final decisions. Dan Leavitt, deputy
director of the California High Speed Rail Authority, said the current
comment period is only the first of several on the path to eventual
approval of the environmental documents. He said the authority will
use the extension to sponsor additional information meetings in
"The Peninsula has always been pretty supportive of this notion" of
high-speed rail, Leavitt said. "The key is they want to make sure
it's done in a way that benefits their communities, and we believe
The extension came in response to a formal request from Palo Alto
Mayor Peter Drekmeier. He was echoing calls for more time from
Council Member Yoriko Kishimoto and officials in other cities.
Kishimoto said she was pleased with the authority's decision. "I
think it shows they're being responsive to public concerns. It
will definitely help us with putting together a more comprehensive
response" to the authority's request for input on the scope of the
upcoming environmental study. "Staff is going to be scrambling to put
together a fairly detailed technical response, involving everything
from public works to utilities. I'm sure all the cities face that
In fact, Atherton this week is submitting a 28-page letter detailing
its concerns, including a request to send the tracks through an
underground tunnel rather than lifting them above residential cross
streets. High-speed rail has been the subject of contentious meetings
there and in Menlo Park since early last year, a time when it hardly
registered on the radar of officials and residents in Palo Alto.
In many other cities, there is still no controversy. A presentation
by high-speed rail officials at a Burlingame City Council meeting
Tuesday drew little comment from either residents or council members.
Palo Alto, along with Redwood City, faces an additional question
beyond how to integrate high-speed trains with the residential
neighborhoods: whether to compete for one of two potential Peninsula
stops on the line. Millbrae, with its proximity to San Francisco
International Airport, is a shoo-in for the other stop.
Some at Tuesday's meeting expressed reservations at the prospect of
a major station in Palo Alto, which could require an 800-car parking
garage and serve as a focal point for high-density development. Sara
Armstrong, a resident of the Charleston Meadows neighborhood, worried
a Palo Alto station could endanger El Palo Alto, the historic redwood
tree that gave the city its name.
Leavitt said that while it's good for residents to help shape the
design of the line, they shouldn't forget that it presents benefits
as well as challenges. It will reduce air pollution and traffic, make
the Caltrain line more safe by eliminating crossings, and be quieter
than Caltrain's diesel-powered trains. "I think that's why, if you
look at the vote on high-speed rail, the Peninsula was one of the
most positive in the state," he said.
The next high-speed rail meeting in Palo Alto will be on Feb. 26 at
Mitchell Park Community Center, 3800 Middlefield Road.
[BATN: See also:
Atherton wants HSR underground -- prepares 28-page letter
Palo Alto HSR NIMBYs to march on City Hall
Palo Alto Prop 1A backers horrified to learn HSR may run near them!
Letter: NIMBY Palo Alto HSR foes spreading misinformation
Column: Peninsula NIMBYs raise the alarm over HSR
Palo Alto NIMBYs fear HSR eminent domain
Palo Alto NIMBYs raise alarm on HSR eminent domain fears
Comment: Caltrain meets HSR -- what implications for Palo Alto?
Peninsula residents skeptical about HSR
Menlo Park starts HSR negotiation campaign, to continue lawsuit
Questions abound over HSR specifics for Caltrain, Peninsula cities
HSR bond passes, to the dismay of Menlo Park, Atherton foes
Comment: HSR will disrupt Menlo Park; vote no on Prop 1A
Prop 1A bond would launch plan for HSR along Caltrain corridor
Cities divided; HSR may help Caltrain electrification
Comment: Undergrounding Caltrain in Palo Alto an old idea
Editorial: Undergrounding Caltrain, HSR tracks worth exploring
Palo Alto leaders propose putting Caltrain, HSR underground
E-mail Will Oremus at woremus@...