Published Saturday, February 21, 2009, by the San Jose Mercury News
Peninsula cities may unite in bid to shape high-speed rail plans
By Will Oremus
Daily News Staff Writer
Seeking strength in numbers, officials from several Peninsula cities
are looking to form a consortium to negotiate with state authorities
on the design of the planned Los Angeles-to-San Francisco high-speed
Mayors and council members from Palo Alto, Mountain View, Menlo Park,
Atherton, Burlingame and other cities in the rail line's path have
been meeting informally for weeks. Now they're moving toward an
official agreement that would allow them to speak for their cities
collectively in discussions with the California High Speed Rail
Backers envision a group with enough credibility and clout to make
sure the rail line isn't built in a way that blights the surrounding
neighborhoods. For instance, it might push for the trains to run
underground in certain areas, or, failing that, for the above-ground
tracks to be designed with a low profile. As an example of the format,
Palo Alto Council Member Yoriko Kishimoto cites the Bay Area Water
Supply and Conservation Agency, or BAWSCA, which represents 25 cities
and water districts that buy water from the San Francisco Public
Not everyone is on board, however. In a Feb. 9 study session, Redwood
City officials indicated they would rather work through existing
regional bodies such as the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board,
which operates Caltrain. While the ad hoc consortium was meeting
Friday, Caltrain was in the process of crafting its own agreement
with the high speed rail authority, which is expected to share its
"I guess my question is, what are these other cities looking to do
separate and apart from what already exists," said Redwood City Mayor
Rosanne Foust. "I think we really need to be very careful and very
conscious that we have a unified voice going forward. I would hate
to see another body out there which could potentially hurt our joint
That's not the intent, said Palo Alto Council Member Pat Burt, who
supports the consortium idea. He noted that Peninsula representatives
are a minority on the Caltrain board, which also serves San Francisco
and San Jose.
"We recognize we're part of Caltrain and we intend to collaborate
closely with Caltrain," he said. "But the interests of Caltrain are
not necessarily going to be the same as the interests of the Peninsula
cities. We hope we can align the interest, but that's not a given."
He added, "If the Peninsula cities want to have a strong voice,
they're going to have to unify and speak as a group."
There are already some differences of opinion between neighboring
cities. While some, including Redwood City, have endorsed the high-
speed rail plans, Menlo Park and Atherton have joined a lawsuit
challenging the decision to run the trains up the Peninsula rather
than through the East Bay.
But Richard Cline, vice mayor of Menlo Park, said not everyone has
to agree on every point in order for the consortium to be helpful.
"Clusters of cities within the group will have certain concerns, and
others will have different ones. We all still need to work together
to get the attention and the appropriate emphasis on our needs."
For instance, Cline said, almost every Peninsula city has poured
money into efforts to make their downtowns and neighborhoods easy for
pedestrians and bicyclists to navigate. By working together, they
could help make sure that the new rail line doesn't undermine those
plans by closing off cross streets.
Stephen [BATN: Dan] Leavitt, deputy director of the rail authority,
said his organization would welcome a chance to work with a group of
cities at once rather than negotiating with all of them individually.
"We'll be working with cities and communities throughout this entire
process. When they're able to come together like this, it makes that
a lot easier."
In order to make the consortium official, the city councils of the
member cities will have to sign off on a memorandum of understanding.
At a meeting Friday, organizers drafted a letter that they'll ask
their respective city councils to endorse in the next few weeks. If
that happens, they'll send the letter on to the high-speed rail
authority and ask for formal recognition.
E-mail Will Oremus at woremus@...
[BATN: See also:
HSRA sued by cities, groups supporting Altamont Pass route
HSRA to consider costly tunneling HSR through Peninsula cities
Burlingame council questions SF HSR station, favors tunneling
HSR officials extend SF-SJ comment period 1 month until April 6
Menlo Park starts HSR negotiation campaign, to continue lawsuit
Questions abound over HSR specifics for Caltrain, Peninsula cities
Redwood City, Palo Alto to vie for mid-Peninsula HSR station