Source: Bay Area News Group
Until recently, the notion of a bullet train from Los Angeles to San Francisco seemed far off to Tom D'Arezzo, a high-tech product manager who lives in Palo Alto's Southgate neighborhood. He knew it was on the November statewide ballot, but wasn't sure of the specifics.
Now that the $10 billion bond measure has passed, however, the project's full impact is beginning to hit home — almost literally. Like his neighbors on Mariposa Street, D'Arezzo has a yard that backs up to a portion of the Caltrain tracks that might have to be widened to accommodate the high-speed electric trains.
D'Arezzo now fears he could lose up to 10 feet of his property to eminent domain. But he's been frustrated in his attempts to find out for sure. Rail officials will neither confirm nor rule out the possibility, repeating a mantra that is beginning to irritate some Peninsula residents even though it's meant to soothe them: "It's early in the process."
Groundbreaking on the planned $40 million line is years away. The California High Speed Rail Authority is in the first stages of public outreach, holding "scoping meetings" in the Bay Area to get residents' thoughts on what should be studied in the environmental reports.
But D'Arezzo, and a handful of leaders in mid-Peninsula cities, worry that by the time they get the detailed information they would need to participate in the decision-making process, the big decisions will
have already been made.
It's that fear that prompted Menlo Park and Atherton's city councils to formally oppose the rail line, joining a lawsuit against the authority for its 2007 vote to run the trains up the Caltrain tracks rather than through the East Bay. Meanwhile, leaders in more transit-heavy cities such as Palo Alto and Redwood City have generally endorsed the alignment, whether officially or tacitly.
Now those cities are starting to take notice of the way the 125-mph trains might alter their landscapes. For one thing, safety regulations will require the tracks to pass either over or under every cross street, meaning either dozens of new overpasses or a pricey tunnel through a fully built-out suburban region.
Yoriko Kishimoto, a Palo Alto city councilwoman who last year led a resolution to support high-speed rail, is taking charge of an effort to get local cities and residents more involved in the planning process. In a meeting Monday with state Assemblyman Ira Ruskin, D-Redwood City, she and other council members asked whether he could help them extend the public comment period for the environmental scoping, which is scheduled to end March 6.
Kishimoto has also met with council members in Redwood City, Menlo Park, Atherton and Mountain View about working together to negotiate more effectively with the rail authority.
"It's going to be a transformational project," she said, "and we have a choice whether it's going to transform the community for better or worse. It's up to us to take control of the situation."
Quentin Kopp, chairman of the high-speed rail authority, said those fretting about high-speed rail's impacts on local neighborhoods are getting ahead of themselves.
"The engineering is far from complete," he said. "People should not apprehend eminent domain until at least that part (of the design) which applies to Palo Alto or Redwood City is complete."
If some cities are interested in tunneling, he added, they should submit a proposal before the current comment period ends.