A new partnership on the peninsula was the only focus of the Peninsula Cities Consortium (PCC) March Meeting. The newly formed group, referred to as the “partnership” is actually called San Mateo Cities Rail Corridor Partnership composed of Burlingame, San Mateo, Redwood City, Millbrae and South San Francisco. The stated mission is to find common ground in relation to High Speed Rail on the peninsula but some founding principles were untenable to PCC Board members and many audience participants. Price of admission is acceptance of the Caltrain route as “the route” for High Speed Rail connecting San Jose to San Francisco.
Part of the reason this group formed was due to Congressional representatives Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo asking that the 17 cities along the proposed route, to come together to determine common goals. Rich Cline, Menlo Park Mayor and PCC Board Member, thought getting all the cities together on the same page was a good thing but questioned why it was so county driven and questioned why Palo Alto was not included. Cathy Baylock explained it came out of San Mateo County City Managers Association and their efforts to come out with a shared statement. The idea was to have Santa Clara county replicate a similar group later.
Cline also questioned the motive of city of San Mateo, a key driver in the formation of this partnership. In the past they had not been supportive and in fact Cline reminded the group the city of San Mateo denounced PCC in public meetings and now suddenly they are in the role of bringing people together. “Biggest city in the county hasn’t had our back, not once. “ Cline suggested this might be more about San Mateo’s best interest. He said he would have had a different feeling if Burlingame had made the call to get the group together.
Jerry Carlson, Atherton council member and PCC board member, stated his city still was of the belief that High Speed Rail should not be on the Caltrain corridor. He points out that the EIR for the Program level is in litigation. He added, this year and next year will be watershed years for High Speed Rail projects in Sacramento and Washington DC, no doubt pointing to the lack of funding and legislation that proposes changes of management of the High Speed Rail Authority.
Carlson pointed out this High Speed Rail Authority still hasn’t agreed to an independent Ridership study and their new business plan is stalled because they can’t get a financial services company. The authority hasn’t done a lot to gain trust since they didn’t meet Senator Simitian’s deadlines and “they thumbed their noses at the Transportation Committee.” He points to legislation that may change the Authority composition or who they report to. “I think we should just wait”, Carlson offered.
Sepi Richardson, newest board member and council member from Brisbane was suspicious, “why are these groups popping up” and “her antennae has gone up and told her to beware.” We have a problem with High Speed Rail not listening. She wanted to bring this newly formed group together with the PCC and work all together.
Christine Wozniak, council member from Belmont and PCC board member, had issue this new group because you have to accept these tenets or they say, “Don’t play with us.” She was against having the Caltrain route as a condition to join. Cathy Baylock confirmed that’s a deal killer for a number of cities and that was discussed with the new group.
Terry Nagel, Mayor of Burlingame, who was acting as a spokesperson, asked the PCC members to come to the table and be part of the newly formed group. Her attempts were to get the cities together so our cities would be recognized and an agreement among them could help to obtain federal funding.
In talks Nagel had with CEO Mike Scanlon of Caltrain, he assured her that there was real progress being made on a phased build out for the Peninsula and according to Nagel, the attorney for Caltrain David Miller was looking at a phased EIR so they wouldn’t be locked into a four track system which is being studied now. Pat Burt said he didn’t know if a phased EIR would be permitted by law.
Russ Cohen, audience member was skeptical and frustrated by forming yet another committee to look at the same issues the PCC was studying. He thought that Terry Nagel had another reason to be involved as the spokesperson. He believes she has political motives since she is running for County Supervisor and he would feel a lot better if she would step aside from being the spokesperson during her campaign. Cohen adds, “She gave lots of nice sound bites, about coming to the table and working together, what she has failed to realize when it’s comes to High Speed Rail, this is the table. [referring to PCC] Why not invite those cities to this table? Why form another committee under the auspices of not dividing and conquering when it is actually pitting that group against this group.
Many other members of the audience spoke against the newly formed organization pointing out that the declaration of CalTrain route as the accepted route was premature. Until new ridership and business plan numbers are published and applied to the EIR process, no finalization of the route should be declared.
Pat Burt, councilman from Palo Alto and PCC board member questioned why the meetings for this new group were closed to the public and wondered if they had changed their guiding principles to say, “IF the Caltrain corridor is chosen,” they might have more support. Burt also stated he sees no reference to whatever planning is done has to be based on an independent ridership and a valid Business Plan. “It’s the cart before the horse,” says Burt.
One of Burt’s real fears is the statement, “doing it right.” He points out that even if the EIR studies or evaluates all the options that the High Speed Rail Authority may not build it right regardless of the outcome of the Project EIR. They have the option of “declaring a statement of overriding considerations.” This means that regardless of what is studied or recommended in the Project Level Environmental Impact Report (EIR), the High Speed Rail Authority will do it their way “for the greater good” if they don’t agree with the conclusions. Burt bases his fear on the fact that both the CEO and the Authority members have consistently said they will not build a below grade option on the peninsula.
Burt also stated that there have been two independent studies pointing to increased costs from $43 billion to $65 billion that the Rail Authority has not disputed. http://www.youtube.com/Alexis Capital costs The CARRD study based on the Authority’s own documents reports that the $65 billion will be the build cost from Anaheim to San Francisco. He continues when you look at our segment, they do not include the “done correctly” part, “so that’s $65 billion to do it wrong.” http://www.calhsr.com/uncategorized/what-will-high-speed-rail-cost/
He believes it’s unrealistic and naive to think that 10’s of billions of dollars will fall into the lap of the peninsula for High Speed Rail. He suggests a parallel study of “what if High Speed Rail doesn’t come up the peninsula. “ His suggestions include a modernization of Caltrain as part of a regional commuter rail system. Burt feels that Caltrain should also come forward with Plan B as well, that is, life without High Speed Rail.