Tag Archives: Peninsula

Palo Alto Launches Attack on High Speed Rail

Crossposted from the California High Speed Rail Blog

In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade the hero must choose from a collection of drinking vessels to determine which is Holy Grail and which leads to certain death. When the Nazi-collaborating villainess picks the wrong cup the knight says “she chose…poorly.”

Unfortunately the Palo Alto City Council has chosen poorly as well, preferring to fuel a broad-based attack on the high speed rail project to a more reasonable set of suggestions about how to effectively build HSR in Palo Alto. They adopted the anti-HSR recommendations that this blog implored them to reject, turning an understandable debate over the visual and physical impact of a structure to a more fundamental attack on the concept of high speed rail itself. Palo Alto could have limited itself to asking for a tunnel. Instead they want to buck the will of the voters – including their own residents – and insist that the HSR project be imperiled because of a small handful of NIMBYs and HSR deniers.

As reported by the San Jose Mercury News:

The council responded [to NIMBY protests] by unanimously approving a formal letter to the high-speed rail authority calling for it to study the possibility of building a rail tunnel under the city. Despite Diridon’s comments, the letter will also call for the rail authority to reopen the possibility of running the trains through the East Bay or along the Highway 101 or Interstate 280 corridors rather than along the Caltrain tracks. Another suggestion is to stop them in San Jose, forcing riders to transfer to Caltrain to get to San Francisco.

“That’s not the end of the line,” Council Member Larry Klein said of the authority’s 2008 decision on how to route the trains. “Laws do get changed. That’s what our legislature is for, that’s what the initiative process is for, and that’s what the courts are for, in some cases.”

Larry Klein is basically trying to force adoption of the previously-rejected Altamont Pass routing, and cut out of the HSR project entirely the city of San José, the third largest city in California and the largest city in the San Francisco Bay Area. Failing that he wants to destroy the entire system by forcing it to terminate at San José Diridon and forcing intercity passengers to transfer to a commuter rail service to finish the journey to SF – something most passengers WILL NOT DO. This would weaken the system by reducing ridership below the number necessary for the system to be financially viable.

Klein seems willing to ignore the democratically expressed will of the people and risk the entire HSR project, which he presumably supported when Palo Alto’s City Council endorsed Prop 1A last year, because of a few ignorant people. As we have explained at the HSR blog they believe, in spite of the available evidence, that the tracks will form an unsightly “Berlin Wall” that will make their communities look ugly.

Because of that, they’re willing to destroy the entire project. Consider that for a second, and then read more over the flip:

Rod Diridon called out Klein and other members of the Palo Alto City Council for their hypocritical and reckless stance:

If Palo Alto didn’t want bullet trains racing through town, it should have spoken up earlier, California High Speed Rail Authority Board Member Rod Diridon told the city council Monday. The decision to run the 125-mph trains up the Peninsula via the Caltrain corridor was made in 2008 after years of debate, and revisiting it now could cripple the $40 billion Los Angeles-to-San Francisco project.

Instead, the city ought to focus on how to make the train work now that it has been approved by the state’s voters, Diridon said. The rail authority has heard the city’s desire to study running the line underground, and it will study that possibility, he added. No decisions about the specifics of the tracks’ design will be made until after an environmental review.

This is an eminently sensible approach – but it only works if you are working with people who want to be constructive and sensible. By endorsing these anti-HSR proposals, Larry Klein and the Palo Alto City Council have shown they do not want to be sensible, and instead prefer to try and destroy the HSR system.

Klein shows that he basically doesn’t care about the HSR system at all:

Klein rejected Diridon’s warning that any delay could cause project costs to skyrocket, noting that construction costs have actually declined in the past year. “If this goes forward, it is going to be in existence for 100 years, 200 years,” he said. “So if it gets delayed by a year or whatever, I don’t think that makes too much difference. It’s much more important this gets done absolutely right.”

What Klein willfully refuses to understand is that if Palo Alto is successful in fatally weakening the project, it will be difficult to fund the project. The delay will hurt our chances of getting federal and private sector funding. And Klein conveniently hasn’t said where he thinks money for a tunnel will come from.

Thanks to HSR deniers like Larry Klein, here is what the city of Palo Alto is now planning to oppose:

  • Reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 1.4 million cars from the road, and take the place of nearly 42 million annual city-to-city car trips
  • Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 17.6 billion pounds/year
  • Reduce California’s oil consumption by up to 22 million barrels/year
  • Finally move California away from dependence on fossil fuels and freeways for intercity travel

It is a tragedy to see Palo Alto join the realm of the HSR deniers, especially as they appear to have been swayed by lies, distortions, and ignorance. They have joined Bobby Jindal and Sean Hannity in attacking action to mitigate our climate crisis and now are de facto supporting pollution and sprawl, all because a tiny group of people can’t handle the fact that Palo Alto is going to have some changes and improvements to its community because of this.

The city of Palo Alto is not full of HSR deniers. Neither are Menlo Park or Atherton. But their city councils have chosen to enable those few voices in order to kill a project California voters approved. Palo Alto’s city council deludes itself if they think the rest of the state will go along with their hissy fit. We’re not going to reopen the Pacheco vs. Altamont argument for them. We’re not going to do something so obviously stupid as entertain a routing down freeways. And we absolutely will not terminate the route at San José.

California is going to build high speed rail. Palo Alto will not be allowed to block that. We believe they can and should try to work constructively to implement HSR in their community. But if they choose HSR denial, then we can and will push back against them.