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August 26, 2010


pat giorni

http://www.smdailyjournal.com/article_preview.php?type=opinions&title=From 1960s Berkeley to 21st century solutions&id=139517

From 1960s Berkeley to 21st century solutions
August 26, 2010, 01:28 AM By Charles E. Voltz

In Jon Mays’ recent column, “With high-speed rail, we must help ourselves,” he makes a valid point that the Peninsula communities should help themselves. But what he suggests they do — pay hundreds of millions of dollars for undergrounding HSR’s four tracks through their communities — is way beyond their financial capabilities. Besides, the local communities did not create the problem: It was the High-Speed Rail Authority and our Joint Powers Board (Caltrain) that did, but who nevertheless are in the process of riding roughshod over and through mid-Peninsula communities in the name of “progress.”

We should all be able to agree that the responsibility for solving these problems needs to be shared responsibly by the authority, Caltrain and the affected local communities. This will require creative, out-of-the-box thinking and solutions that involve genuine collaboration among all three parties-something we have yet to see.

At the outset, there needs to be recognition of the tremendous value to high-speed rail of the Caltrain right-of-way, who owns it and who paid for it. Nominally, it was paid for by the three counties (San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara) that comprise the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB). But in fact the right-of-way was paid for entirely by San Mateo County which received IOUs from the other two counties that have yet to be redeemed — because those other counties say they have other priorities. One cannot ignore the egregious irony that it is the communities of San Mateo County that paid for the right-of-way who are now expected to bear the brunt of the proposed four-track elevated freeway “solution” only because it is the least expensive alternative for JPB’s prospective tenant, high-speed rail.

So here’s one creative option that should be explored: San Mateo County can offer to forgive the debt of the other two counties in exchange for our JPB insisting that high-speed rail apply the current value of that debt to the cost difference between elevated tracks and a covered trench in this county. This, of course, would have to be negotiated between the JPB and its prospective tenant, high-speed rail. But it needs to be recognized that high-speed rail is getting a huge bargain from JPB in its current, but not final, arrangement. Our representatives need to do better for the taxpayers who paid for the vital right-of-way. There should be room for compromise, sooner rather than later, since the state estimates that every year of delay boosts the total cost of the high-speed rail project by $1.5 billion.

While the High-Speed Rail Authority’s Peninsula decisions are driven by its construction costs, that is not the case with our JPB that has broader responsibilities to its constituent communities. As stewards of the most valuable stretch of land in Northern California, its board members have a fiduciary duty to preserve and protect the taxpayer investment in that land as well as provide for the operation of Caltrain. Unquestionably, over the next 20-50 years, the air rights above the Caltrain right-of-way will become increasingly valuable, provided the tracks are located underground in a tunnel or covered trench. Over the years, private developers of properties adjacent to such a right-of-way could pay dearly for the air rights above this ground-level open space. It would enable them to build commercial or residential low-rise buildings (four to seven stories) on these adjacent properties, as may be permitted by local planning codes.

But the economic value of these important air rights falls to zero wherever high-speed rail is allowed to build an at-grade or elevated rail structure. How can the JPB simply forfeit these valuable air rights by passive acquiescence in their permanent loss resulting from high-speed rail’s plans for at-grade or elevated four-track structures through Brisbane, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae, Burlingame, San Mateo, Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City, Atherton and Menlo Park — just to mention the directly affected San Mateo County communities. That would be an unconscionable dereliction of the JPB’s stewardship responsibilities that would effectively “mortgage our future” for successive generations.

At the very least, our JPB and county supervisors need to act now to prevail upon high-speed rail to restore the covered trench and/or deep tunnel options on the Peninsula wherever they may be technically feasible, reversing high-speed rail’s recent elimination of these alternatives from the alternatives that will receive a through analysis in its upcoming draft EIR.

That will give the Joint Powers Board the time needed for it and affected communities to make their own thorough economic analysis of the value of air rights above the Caltrain right-of-way, both now and over the next three to five decades. Then and only then can there be a rational decision on the extent to which it makes sense to apply the proceeds of any future Joint Powers Board sale of air rights to reduce the construction costs of a covered trench (or deep tunnel) alternative where it may be most appropriate. Peninsula residents should demand nothing less from its elected and appointed representatives.

Charles Voltz is a retired lawyer active in Burlingame civic affairs. While he is a co-founder and current co-chair of Citizens For A Better Burlingame, this piece represents only his own views.


Charles Voltz raises excellent points that HSR and Sacramento state senators and assemblymen are not considering. Who are these elected officals really representing?
I thought the days of amoral, greedy, railroad land grabbers ended in the early 20th century? Apparently, they're back with a vengance.


Well said, Charles. HSR must go in a covered trench or ideally, a deep-bore tunnel. Thanks for all your efforts to rally the forces!

pat giorni

2 Letters to the Editor published today.........
http://www.smdailyjournal.com/article_preview.php?type=opinions&title= High-speed rail plans moving too fast&id=139993

High-speed rail plans moving too fast
September 01, 2010, 01:28 AM Letter


Opposition to the High-Speed Rail Authority’s fast forward process is widespread and not confined to just “a few rotten apples” or “the same 20 people.” Rather, the concerns and questions are coming from experts such as the Transportation Institute at UC Berkeley and the state auditor. Politicians at all levels are also questioning the accelerated pace embraced by the Authority. U.S. representatives Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo, and Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, have voiced their concerns as have California senators and assemblymembers, both north and south.

Local officials all along the line are urging the authority to consider all points of view rather than the preconceived notion of build it now and build it fast. The authority needs more time to get the alignment, business plan and the other critical factors right before proceeding. As it now stands, the authority is making high-speed rail a wrecking ball of sustainable cities.

I wonder if the Obama administration would want its signature technology initiative to be associated with the creation of urban blight and 1950s elevated freeway design solutions. The authority doesn’t seem to worry about the potential conflict. How would a high-speed rail system to nowhere enhance the legacy of those so intent to build that they won’t even consider “hitting the reset button?”

Jeff Londer


Full-court press on high-speed rail
September 01, 2010, 03:28 AM Letter


I felt that Charles Voltz offered very intelligent and thoughtful suggestions in his guest perspective piece, “From 1960s Berkeley to the 21st century solutions” in the Aug. 26 edition of the Daily Journal regarding the actions that the Joint Powers Board and cities should take with respect to the negative impacts that high-speed rail will have on Peninsula cities. What his comments point out is that there has been a lack of thorough analysis by the counties on how to take the lead to develop a high-speed rail system in California that does not destroy cities and communities as it speeds through Peninsula towns.

The points he made regarding who created the problem presented by HSR should be noted by all. It is the HSR, not the cities and its residents, that wants to build Disneyland-type monorails along the Peninsula, displacing residents and businesses and dramatically impacting property values of homes within view of the aerial viaduct on which the HSR would travel. The HSR’s response is that if cities want to have underground tunnels instead of aerial viaducts, they will have to pay for the difference in costs to build this alternative. This is tantamount to someone setting your house on fire and then demanding that you pay them to put the fire out.

Voltz most importantly points out the the JPB should demand that HSR pays for the air rights above the existing Caltrain right-of-way. This money could then be applied to the costs of putting the HSR underground.

One thing I learned in life is that if someone is throwing grenades at you, don’t just throw water balloons back and expect a positive result.

Peninsula residents deserve a “full-court press” by our elected and appointed representatives to protect our interests.

Richard Benson


Account Deleted

More from the "larger HSR forces at work" series:



Exactly--just one of many looking for a piece of the pie and that is why this will be very difficult to stop.

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