Saturday, March 12, 2011

Local politics, spinning its wheels around high-speed rail

There a second grouping of cities on the Bay Area Peninsula.  One isn't enough.  The first group, the Peninsula Coalition of Cities, Burlingame, Belmont, Atherton, Menlo Park and Palo Alto, have been meeting regularly and sending each other emails for some time.  They supported a concept called Context Sensitive Solutions which was intended to be an elaborate negotiating tool, provided by and to be used with the high-speed rail authority.

As it turned out, only the Peninsula Coalition of Cities did all the negotiating. Meanwhile the rail authority played all kinds of games -- the name of the game is 'charades' -- whereby the communities and their elected politicians were deluded into thinking that things were going smoothly and the rail authority was taking community interests into account. Not surprisingly, that didn't happen.

Anyone paying attention would have learned that the California High-Speed Rail Authority doesn't, in fact, give a rat's-ass what the local communities think or want.  It could not be more clear.

Nonetheless, another group of cities, as described in this article below, are starting the process all over again.  When you find yourself in a hole, just keep on digging.  Right?

One of the leaders of this new coalition is Terry Nagel, mayor of Burlingame:  “We’re politically divided,” Nagel said. “As long as our cities are bickering among themselves, as [Reps. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo] have told us, the federal government has been quite clear in saying, ‘We’re going to wait until you folks figure out what you want.’”

When Nagel and the others listened to Speier and Eshoo, and they said that "the federal government has been quite clear," who, exactly, did they mean?  The Obama Administration and the DOT's Ray LaHood?  And who did they mean when they said "you folks?" Did they mean all the residents on the Peninsula and along the Caltrain corridor?  Is the federal government waiting for us on the Peninsula to "figure out" what we want?  That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.  

The federal government isn't waiting for anything or anybody.  They are busy trying to shove HSR funding down the throats of recalcitrant states, three of which have already rejected them.  And, if they don't move quickly to give those available funds from Florida to other states, they might have them rescinded by the Republicans, and we in California can't let that happen, can we?

The people who are so eager for those federal dollars include Democrats Speier and Eshoo.  However it  is certainly the case that the various groups on the Peninsula can't make up their minds about anything.  Some want it this way, others want it that way.  

God forbid that they all should sit down in one room and agree on one thing and one thing only.  For example: WE REJECT HIGH-SPEED RAIL ON THE PENINSULA.  There. That's not so hard, is it?

If all the communities with "one voice" can't say that, then why bother saying anything?

Unless of course, they don't reject it.  And that's the real problem.  It turns out that many of those concerned about high-speed rail actually do want high-speed rail, or at least want the money promised to California for high-speed rail.  They may want HSR only under various conditions such as "do it right," or "no elevated trains" or "put it in trenches or underground." But getting those trains, and the money, into California is at the heart of their position.  I include many of the Democratic leadership, the elected local officials on the Peninsula.  Just to be clear, although a Democrat, they do not represent me. 

At the bottom of this article are four conditions that this new group is proposing to the high-speed rail authority. It's a joke, right?

What it really looks like is not going to benefit the Peninsula as much as it is intended to benefit the local politicians who are maneuvering for the next election cycle, which will include numerous County Supervisor slots, and they need to ingratiate themselves with the State's Democratic caucus, including Speier and Eshoo.  That's what this new group is really all about.

They should realize by now that they don't have a snow-ball's chance in hell to "influence" high-speed rail.  CHSRA CEO Roelof Van Ark has already made that clear many times.  If they want to play this dirty, cut-throat, political game, they need to learn the rules.

Peninsula cities joining forces to influence high-speed rail plan
By: Shaun Bishop 03/12/11 3:00 Pm 
Examiner Staff Writer
A growing group of Peninsula cities are joining together in an effort to gain greater influence over plans for the San Francisco-to-San Jose section of the statewide bullet train system. 

Staff and elected officials from at least seven cities met last week in the latest effort to discuss their shared concerns surrounding the high-speed rail project.

Supporters of the group hope to create a more unified voice for San Mateo County cities about their concerns, despite their differing views on the project and how it should be built. 

For example, while cities like South San Francisco have supported an aerial alignment, other cities like San Mateo and Burlingame want it to be underground, said Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel. 

Officials also hope a coalition will help secure federal dollars for the Peninsula portion, which could fund the more expensive trenching or tunneling work to run the train underground. 

“We’re politically divided,” Nagel said. “As long as our cities are bickering among themselves, as [Reps. Jackie Speier and Anna Eshoo] have told us, the federal government has been quite clear in saying, ‘We’re going to wait until you folks figure out what you want.’”

The ad hoc group, known as the San Mateo County Rail Corridor Partnership, includes Burlingame, Millbrae, San Mateo, South San Francisco and Redwood City, though Belmont and Brisbane also sent representatives to the most recent monthly meeting last week. 

San Mateo Public Works Director Larry Patterson said the cities want to provide an informal forum for discussion. But others are skeptical. 

The separate Peninsula Cities Consortium — made up of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, Atherton, Belmont and Burlingame — formed in 2009 as a local forum on high-speed rail concerns.

Atherton City Councilman Jerry Carlson, vice chairman of the consortium, said the new group seems to make assumptions about the project’s financial viability and its route that not all cities agree with. 

“There are a lot of ‘ifs’ here,” Carlson said. 

Patterson said cities can be involved in discussions and still oppose the Peninsula route. “We’re just saying that’s the current selected route and we should be prepared and participating in the planning of that alignment.” 

Rail officials announced this month that the draft environmental report for the Peninsula won’t be out until October 2012, a delay of almost two years that will give cities more time to communicate their concerns, said high-speed authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall. 

“Our relationships with the cities have not changed depending on if they have partnered up,” Wall said.
Banding together

As part of the effort to share their joint concerns, San Mateo, Redwood City, Burlingame and Millbrae sent a letter last month making requests to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, including: 
1. Study running the train through open trenches, covered trenches and bored tunnels
2. Consider phasing the project so two tracks are built initially with room to expand to four tracks
3. Consider building it with two tracks instead of four tracks
4. Analyze the economic impacts of the project on downtown areas on the Peninsula

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: