Sunday, October 31, 2010

In my neck of the Menlo Park woods, houses on the market near the rail corridor aren't selling. The threatening high-speed rail hurricane which is creeping toward us makes even home bargains unpalatable to buyers.

If the threat has that effect, guess what actual Caltrain corridor construction for six to ten years will cause. And, if you manage to survive that, the elevated viaduct -- and you have to see existing ones to believe it -- will devastate not only all properties along or close to the rail corridor, there will be a ripple effect outward, like a viral disease, on plummeting home values. And, perhaps more critical than that, expect a total change of ambience and quality of life caused by this concrete swath of four track railyard.

Neighborhoods will acquire a slum patina quickly.

I used to believe that tunneling was actually an option. No longer. It's no longer a question of IF; it's now only a question of WHEN. They will not relinquish their grip on elevated viaducts. Unless this project is terminated in its entirely, it will surely come on the Caltrain corridor. Don't believe me? Read the Mike Rosenberg article below. Van Ark, Ruthless Roelof, makes it clear what their intentions are, and it's non-negotiable.

The point I need to make here is that all those who live comfortably far away from either side of the rail corridor and neither know or care what's coming, are in for a surprise that they will not at all like. It's somewhat like the frog-in-tepid-water story, where, instead of jumping out, it slowly cooks to death.

Isn't denial usually the first symptom of a crisis?

What am I asking for? Confrontation. Public uprising. Do we have a right to defend our homes from reckless government intrusion or don't we?


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Peninsula Cities Fear Property Value Crash During Wait For High-Speed Rail

If construction doesn't start for a decade, critics fear widespread property value collapse along corridor

By Aaron Selverston and Miriam Finder | October 22, 2010

Representatives from Peninsula cities said Friday morning that property values along the high-speed rail corridor are under greater threat of depreciation because the Peninsula segment of the intrastate rail system is unlikely to be built any time soon.

Friday's meeting of the Peninsula Cities Consortium, an organization aimed to inform and involve the public on California High Speed Rail, follows an announcement Monday by the California High-Speed Rail Authority detailing the selection criteria they will use in determining where to build the first leg of the $43 billion system, and conversely which regions of the state will have to wait.

According to that criteria, the Peninsula will have a tougher time being selected to receive nearly $2.25 billion from the Federal Rail Administration for construction due to the litigation against the HSRA being pursued by cities here. And because the HSRA is racing to finish an environmental impact report for the Peninsula segment by December, critics fear the the option of elevated tracks--deeply unpopular among local residents because of its potential to affect properly values--will remain on the table.

"The FRA funds are almost certainly not going to go to this segment," said Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt. "That's why there is no clear reason to rush forward an environmental impact report. And this impact report would include aerial structures that cities of the Peninsula have been very clear are completely unacceptable to their communities."

HSRA CEO Roelef van Ark said in a statement Monday, however, that it is important for cities to not lose sight of the bigger picture when voicing local concerns.

"Regardless of where the line begins construction," said van Ark, "the Authority's ultimate goal remains a statewide high-speed rail system that creates jobs, improves air quality and provides a cheaper, faster and more convenient way to travel for Californians for generations to come."

Despite that vision, however, local opposition remains laser focused, perhaps myopically, on local concerns.

"If the EIR goes through and is approved," said Mayor Burt, "then we would have an approval process for aerial structures that would be sitting there diminishing the value of all the properties along the Peninsula. And we could have a decade or more before anything ever gets built, but the property values have already been diminished for that period."

One local realtor, Leannah Hunt, said the concern is not hypothetical: declining property values can be seen today.

"Obviously it is a great concern, absolutely," said Hunt. She said she has already seen one property deal fall through because an appraiser noted a property along the rail corridor as being in an "area of diminishing value," and that the buyer was subsequently unable to secure a loan for that reason.

"It's the first time I've seen an appraiser in conjunction with an application for a loan for a property in the rail corridor area... that the appraiser stated that it was an area of diminishing value," she said.

Hunt would not provide specifics about the property in question in order to protect the privacy of the buyer and real estate agent.

Nadia Naik, a co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, agreed that if an EIR is adopted in December, but construction is delayed for years, property values would be jeopardized.

"Any plan that is hammered out and is not likely to be implemented any time soon is a concern," said Naik. "You don't want to be told you're living next to the great wall of china for the next 30 years and it never gets built."

These concerns come on the heels of a public meeting last week in which an eminent domain attorney detailed how property owners will be affected as the high-speed rail project moves forward.

The PCC is composed of one representative each from Burlingame, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Palo Alto.

As a group, the PCC members also discussed potential further action they can take against HSR. Menlo Park Mayor and PCC Chair Rich Cline said they need to take legislative actions by writing letters on issues they disagree with, such as appointments to the high speed rail authority, and requesting public documents to get more information.

"I just think it's a matter of us getting a little more unified," Cline said. "We need to talk to legislat0rs and not high-speed rail."


High-speed rail boss to Peninsula: forget about tunnels

By Mike Rosenberg

San Mateo County Times

Posted: 10/22/2010 08:04:56 PM PDT

Updated: 10/22/2010 11:15:31 PM PDT

The boss of the California high-speed train project had a clear message to cities on the Peninsula on Friday: The state's bullet trains won't run through a tunnel or covered trench in the region.

In a two-hour meeting with California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark at San Mateo City Hall, the bullet train executive told officials from San Mateo, Burlingame and Millbrae that the covered trenches were not possible for anything other than very short stretches of track, city leaders who attended the meeting said.

The reason? Freight trains that currently run along the line can't be closed off from the surface because they need ventilation.

The tunnels in many cases would cost billions of dollars for just a few miles and were several times more expensive than the above-ground options. But state officials had said that if the cities could raise the money, they could get the below-ground tracks they wanted.

The cities spent most of the meeting pushing for the covered trenches, which they want from Burlingame through downtown San Mateo. Other cities such as Belmont, Menlo Park, Atherton and Palo Alto also say they are opposed to the project unless it is underground through their communities.

The only city in the Bay Area portion of the line slated for a tunnel is San Francisco, where the freight trains will not run along the proposed high-speed rail tracks. It's also possible in San Jose, where the high-speed train tracks will split off from the freight line, but city officials there are proposing above-ground tracks.

Burlingame Mayor Cathy Baylock, who attended, said she didn't get any commitment from van Ark that the authority would study tunnels or covered trenches on the Peninsula, but the city won't stop pushing them to do so.

"We did articulate our arguments," Baylock said. "We continue to ask for that option to be studied. How do you know the environmental benefits of it if you haven't studied it?"

San Mateo Public Works Director Larry Patterson, who was at the meeting, said he was still hopeful that the planners would study putting the trains through a covered trench for small sections of the project, like the downtown part of his city. Although it's currently off the table, officials in the city are striving to have it included in an engineering report due out in December. "That may be something that could be accomplished, but we need to make sure that it's (being studied)," Patterson said.

Another attendee at the meeting, Millbrae Councilwoman Gina Papan -- whose city is in favor of the project and will get a bullet train stop -- said cities still might be able to get covered trenches if some new ideas are put forward.

"You have to understand that freight is going through (the Peninsula) right now," Papan said. "If we can keep that above ground and a high-speed rail in a covered trench, there are alternatives."

Before the meeting, van Ark and two executives for the local portion of the project spent the day having lunch with San Mateo officials in downtown and touring the city's section of track.

Another issue the officials said van Ark raised in the meeting was the lack of a consistent stance among Peninsula cities.

"We came out of this meeting with the hope that we'll bring more cities on board, and we'll be pursuing that actively," Papan said.

Even between the "tri-cities" of Burlingame, Millbrae and San Mateo, there are plenty of disagreements. And the cities that have sued -- Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton -- have created an ever bigger divide in the region, he said, according to officials who were there.

Mike Rosenberg covers San Mateo, Burlingame, Belmont and transportation. Contact him at 650-348-4324.

tunnel tussle developments

Many residents of San Mateo County cities advocate building high-speed rail underground rather than disrupting established downtowns. Here's what happened Friday:

Bullet train executive Roelof van Ark said no to underground rail tunnels in a two-hour meeting with representatives from San Mateo, Burlingame and Millbrae because freight trains would need ventilation.

San Mateo Public Works Director Larry Patterson commented that he still remained hopeful planners would study the possibility of running trains through covered trenches for short distances, an option that van Ark appears to have left on the table.

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