Monday, March 30, 2009

High Speed Rail Update

The Palo Alto City Council met last Monday, March 2, to discuss the proposed High Speed Rail system. Many residents, including many Southgate neighbors, attended and expressed concerns about the planned elevated track system (see conceptual sketch below). Current plans by the High Speed Rail Authority call for an elevated track structure with concrete walls, 15-21 feet above the ground and 75 feet wide, with overhead electrical wires in the existing Caltrain right-of-way, with trains running at 120 MPH, every 2-3 minutes (at peak times.)

The City of Palo Alto has information on its website, at:

You are also encouraged to send your comments and concerns (which will be responded to in the current environmental review process) to the state Authority at: Please make sure to send your comments before the April 6, 2009 deadline.

City Expands List of High-speed-rail Concerns

California High-speed-rail update --

by Gennady Sheyner Palo Alto Online Staff

A century-old bridge, a row of "storybook" houses on Mariposa Avenue and the famous El Palo Alto redwood tree could all be imperiled by a proposed high-speed train system, according to a new city report.

These are three of eight historic sites that staff and the Historic Resources Board (HRB) said could be adversely impacted by the proposed rail line, which California voters approved in November.

The HRB discussed the rail line's potential impact on these sites during a Wednesday morning meeting. The board agreed to integrate its concerns into a letter the city plans to send to the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with building the new system.

Cities and the public have until April 6 to submit questions and concerns that will be included in a comprehensive environmental-impact review of the Peninsula segment of the rail project.

The city's "scoping comments" to the authority list issues the city wants the agency to explore in upcoming Environmental Impact Report (EIR) on the San Francisco-to-San Jose section of the 800-mile line.

The list has been swelling in recent weeks, as residents, City Council members and commissioners have come forth with a myriad of fears and anxieties over the controversial project.

A draft letter, presented to the Planning and Transportation Commission on Wednesday night, included 47 items the city wants the rail authority to explore in its analysis, including the rail line's impacts on traffic, vegetation, the San Francisquito Creek and air quality.

And that's before the planning commission began contributing its own comments.

Both the council and the commissions said the agency should seriously consider the rail line's impacts on El Palo Alto. The draft of the city's letter notes that the tree is 1,100-years-old and that it has a life expectancy of 300 more years.

The tree -- the oldest living California Historic Landmark -- stands close to the Caltrain corridor, through which the agency plans to run high-speed trains at speeds of 125 mph.

"The tree is healthier today than it was 100 years ago," city Arborist Dave Dockter said. "It does, however, hang in a delicate balance.

"Because the rail authority is more than a year away from deciding whether the rail line would go underground or overhead, city officials don't know how the project could impact El Palo Alto or any of the other local historic sites.

But officials said they want to make sure the authority thoroughly explores these possible impacts before it chooses its preferred design.

Dennis Backlund, the city's historic preservation planner, and the HRB also pointed to seven other historic sites that could be impacted by the project: the steel railroad bridge next to El Palo Alto that dates back to 1902; the University Avenue and Embarcadero underpasses (built in 1941 and 1936, respectively); the downtown Caltrain depot, the Mariposa Avenue section of the Southgate neighborhood; a home at 3905 Park Avenue (built around 1905); and the "Hostess House" (designed in 1918 as part of the U.S. Army's Camp Fremont and currently housing MacArthur Park Restaurant) adjacent to the University Avenue Caltrain depot.

On Mariposa Avenue, the rail would threaten a row of storybook-style homes quaint, Tudor-style houses that date back to the 1920s. The rail line passes by these houses and could cut into their yards if the right of way were expanded.

HRB member Beth Bunnenberg said the entire Southgate neighborhood should be looked at as a historical site, not just the Mariposa Avenue stretch near the tracks.

"Southgate, I think, is an extremely important area," Bunnenberg said. "You don't just talk about one street, or one side of the street, being affected.

"Whatever change happens to the pieces along the railroad will affect also all of the district," she said. "The district has context.

"The board unanimously agreed to ask the rail authority to study the proposed rail line's potential impact on these historic sites.

The planning commission, meanwhile, had its own suggestions. At a Wednesday night meeting, commissioners offered a host of comments for the agency to consider in the EIR, including the rail system's potential impact on utilities, aquifers, noise and urban sprawl.

Commissioner Arthur Keller proposed a detailed plan for the line: a combination of trenching and tunneling that ascends around Redwood City.

Commissioner Lee Lippert argued in favor of sending the rail line underground.The city has to submit its comments to the rail authority by April 6. The rail authority expects to complete the EIR by summer or fall of 2010.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Peet's Reopens to Enthusiastic Menlo Park Crowd

Well, our beloved Peet's on the corner of University and Santa Cruz suffered a fire on March 17th and has been closed ever since. What were we to do? some of us tried to be flexible and we tried Starbucks, some made coffee at home, others headed for the Peet's in Town and Country Village...

Yesterday, at long last, OUR Peet's reopened! They even gave $1 off of each drink to show their appreciation for our loyalty. There were balloons, free samples and even a bunch of cute Firefighters coming to the scene of their heroics (the fire was actually in the walls, so it didn't LOOK dramatic).

I think we all have a new appreciation for our favorite morning hangout, which we tended to take for granted. Here is a little bit about the history of Peet's --

On the day Alfred Peet opened his first coffee store on the corner of Walnut and Vine Streets in Berkeley, CA, he quietly began a revolution in the way Americans experienced the taste and quality of their coffee – a revolution that persists to this day.
Born in Holland, Alfred Peet grew up in the coffee trade and moved to America after World War II. Appalled at the poor quality of coffee being consumed by Americans, he became inspired to open the first Peet’s Coffee & Tea store on April 1, 1966. His style of coffee was a radical departure from what was then available, emphasizing smaller batches, freshness, superior quality beans, and a darker roasting style that produced coffee with richness and complexity.
By 1969, Peet’s Coffee & Tea became a gathering place for coffee devotees, and this success attracted other artisan food purveyors to the neighborhood, which soon became known as the Gourmet Ghetto. Alfred Peet further catalyzed the specialty coffee movement when he mentored and inspired a generation of coffee entrepreneurs, including the founders of Starbucks, whom he supplied with Peet’s roasted beans during their first years of operation.
Over the past four decades, Peet’s growth has been fueled by ever-increasing numbers of coffee lovers in the San Francisco Bay Area and across the nation. With each generation of Peet’s leadership, we have remained true to the quality tenets of our founder, inspired by the same unrelenting pursuit of quality. Our purpose has not changed since 1966 – to seek out opportunities to raise the expectations of American coffee drinkers by attracting and serving those who truly love the taste of coffee, for whom a cup of coffee could only mean a cup of Peet’s.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Daylight Savings Time

I don't know about you, but I believe everybody gets in a lighter, more upbeat mood when the days get longer and we convert to Daylight Savings Time. It's not dark when you run into Draeger's to get something to cook for dinner, it's not black when you bring in the mail or take out the garbage. The best part is, the sitting outside again at long last, the coming home without turning on all the lights...
Here is a history of Daylight Saving's Time for you -

Starting in 2007, daylight time begins in the United States on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November. On the second Sunday in March, clocks are set ahead one hour at 2:00 a.m. local standard time, which becomes 3:00 a.m. local daylight time. On the first Sunday in November, clocks are set back one hour at 2:00 a.m. local daylight time, which becomes 1:00 a.m. local standard time. These dates were established by Congress in the Energy Policy Act of 2005, Pub. L. no. 109-58, 119 Stat 594 (2005).

Not all places in the U.S. observe daylight time. In particular, Hawaii and most of Arizona do not use it. Indiana adopted its use beginning in 2006.

In 2009, daylight time begins on March 8 and ends on November 1.

Many other countries observe some form of "summer time", but they do not necessarily change their clocks on the same dates as the U.S.
Daylight time and time zones in the U.S. are defined in the U.S. Code, Title 15, Chapter 6, Subchapter IX - Standard Time.

History of Daylight Time in the U.S.

Although standard time in time zones was instituted in the U.S. and Canada by the railroads in 1883, it was not established in U.S. law until the Act of March 19, 1918, sometimes called the Standard Time Act. The act also established daylight saving time, a contentious idea then. Daylight saving time was repealed in 1919, but standard time in time zones remained in law. Daylight time became a local matter. It was re-established nationally early in World War II, and was continuously observed from 9 February 1942 to 30 September 1945. After the war its use varied among states and localities. The Uniform Time Act of 1966 provided standardization in the dates of beginning and end of daylight time in the U.S. but allowed for local exemptions from its observance. The act provided that daylight time begin on the last Sunday in April and end on the last Sunday in October, with the changeover to occur at 2 a.m. local time.

During the "energy crisis" years, Congress enacted earlier starting dates for daylight time. In 1974, daylight time began on 6 January and in 1975 it began on 23 February. After those two years the starting date reverted back to the last Sunday in April. In 1986, a law was passed that shifted the starting date of daylight time to the first Sunday in April, beginning in 1987. The ending date of daylight time was not subject to such changes, and remained the last Sunday in October. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 changed both the starting and ending dates. Beginning in 2007, daylight time starts on the second Sunday in March and ends on the first Sunday in November.

For a very readable account of the history of standard and daylight time in the U.S., see:
Ian R. Bartky and Elizabeth Harrison: "Standard and Daylight-saving Time", Scientific American, May 1979 (Vol. 240, No. 5), pp. 46-53.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Enhancements to my Website

Hey, thanks for visiting my Blog!

I am really excited about recent enhancements to my website -

I've added interactive charts and graphs that allow you, the visitor, to query trends such as Sales year-to-date, Days of Inventory, Market Barometer, Prices and Sales or Sale Price/List Price Ratios. The best part is that you can not only target cities and towns that you are interested in, but actually select specific neighborhoods where you might want to live. You can print the reports, save them or email them to a friend or your spouse.

Included with all these bells and whistles is a current Market Commentary and individual property analysis capability.

All of your playing on my website is completely anonymous...i.e., I will NOT call you and bug you ;)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The "bottom"?

The problem with a "bottom" is that no one rings a bell to mark the precise moment which signals the end of the long ugly fact, no one really knows where the "bottom" IS until months later. So, it is with trepidation that I say this, but I think the tide has turned...Perhaps it is the beautiful weather, maybe it's the fact that the Market has been looking up of late, but I suspect it has more to do with the fact that two multi-million dollar homes have Sold in Menlo Park in the last couple of days!

Oak Tree Post

I love this photograph

A Beautiful Day to Enjoy a Latte

Everyone's favorite spot for coffee is Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park. The Borrone Family are warm and wonderful, as are the treats.They are ideally located next to Kepler's Book Store, a 53 year-old Independent Bookseller.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Bay Area Road and Transit Projects Could Get $1.5 Billion or More From Federal Stimulus

For Bay Area transportation officials, getting their hands on the first wave of $495 million in federal stimulus cash was the easy part.

Now they are trying to scoop up at least $1 billion more.

A delegation of transit and elected officials just wrapped up a whirlwind tour of Washington, D.C., to drum up support for projects in the Bay Area. The U.S. Department of Transportation, which will have broad discretion over where to direct many millions of dollars in stimulus cash, has yet to issue guidelines so cities can apply for money.

Federal discretion

A third pot of money comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Bay Area is seeking at least $450 million for an underground train station at San Francisco’s Transbay Terminal and for Doyle Drive. The region could get even more money once the federal Department of Transportation issues guidelines to determine what projects can apply.

To help coordinate the Bay Area’s efforts, authorities are rushing to put together a regional plan to maximize the amount of federal stimulus cash that flows to the area. Led by the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, the plan is expected to show where the Bay Area could best spend the money. The plan likely will emphasize projects that are ready to start within two years and focus on the region’s infrastructure needs, land use goals and economic development strategy.

The Bay Area does not have much time to put its plan together. Pressed by federal demands for quick action, first drafts are due April 1 and final drafts by June 1.

In a separate effort, backers of California’s planned bullet train have begun a lobbying effort to snare as much as possible of the $8 billion in stimulus cash aimed at high speed rail. California’s proposed train, which would lay 800 miles of track linking San Francisco, Sacramento and San Diego, does not meet the “shovel ready” definition because construction likely won’t begin until 2012 at the earliest. But the state has the only voter-approved project, giving supporters reason to think that the $40 billion project will get at least a portion of the high speed rail money.

“I think we’re better positioned than any other high speed rail undertaken in the country,” said Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority.

Still, it is difficult to know precisely how well the state’s bullet train is positioned because the U.S. Secretary of Transportation has yet to issue guidelines he will use in deciding which projects to fund. Those parameters are due April 18.

California voters approved almost $10 billion in bonds for the project last year. But the train will need significant private investor and federal money. Kopp joined other prominent members of the state’s high speed rail authoritylike David Crane, a top economic adviser to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, and transportation veteran Rod Diridon Sr. to urge federal transportation officials to direct money to the project.

Source: exerpted from the San Francisco Business Times - by Eric Young

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Palo Alto Officials Want Study of High-speed Train Tunnel

Source: By Will Oremus,
Daily News Staff Writer

State high-speed rail officials should give just as much study to running their tracks underground as above-ground, Palo Alto officials said Wednesday. But they noted that both alignments come with problems.

The city's planning and transportation commission signed off on a letter to the California High Speed Rail Authority that urges a close look at the planned Los Angeles-to-San Francisco line's impact on the residential neighborhoods it might divide. If approved by the city council, it will stand as the city's official input as the authority prepares a required environmental report that will set the stage for final decisions about the tracks' design.

The letter makes it clear the city will not be satisfied with a report that justifies elevated tracks along the Caltrain corridor while glossing over the pros and cons of alternatives. Among those alternatives are not only a rail tunnel but a plan that would cut off high-speed service in San Jose, forcing riders to transfer to Caltrain to reach San Francisco.

Though the majority of Palo Alto voters backed the rail plan on the November ballot, it came as news to many that the trains might need to run atop a 20-foot-high concrete platform to avoid dangerous conflicts with cross streets. Word of a "Berlin Wall" dividing the city and of people losing their yards and homes to eminent domain have sparked a local backlash against the project in recent months.

Many in the city still support the train in concept but are grasping for ways to fit it into a narrow rail corridor that bisects quiet neighborhoods. The first paragraph of the city's draft letter asks that the study "provide a complete analysis of all linear rail corridor elevation options, including at-grade, elevated or depressed including open trench and tunneling."

It goes on, "All options, particularly the tunneling option, should be evaluated to the same level of detail as the elevated track proposal."

That doesn't mean the city considers a tunnel a miracle solution, however. Planning Commissioner Samir Tuma asked that city staff remove the clause "particularly the tunneling option," saying that it's not yet clear that would be the best alternative to raised tracks.

Most opposition to a tunnel so far has focused on the cost, which is presumed to be astronomical. But Commissioner Karen Holman agreed it may not be the answer even if the city can afford it. She said she often tells members of the public, "Don't fall in love with the below-grade scenario. There are all manner of potential impacts to that, and many are the same as above-grade."

Specifically, Holman said, construction of a tunnel or trench could disrupt the lives of those who live nearby and require the state to take people's property. Beyond that, it could pose problems related to underground water, including a toxic plume and an aquifer that serves as an emergency drinking-water supply.

Given that, Commissioner Daniel Garber wondered if the city should ask for more study of keeping the tracks at ground level. That would likely require closure of several cross streets, however, a possibility other commissioners were not interested in considering.

The overriding sentiment was captured by Commissioner Arthur Keller near the end of the four-hour-long session. "There is no completely satisfactory solution to this," he said. "All of the alternatives will have drawbacks. The question is which of the drawbacks are better than others, which of the drawbacks we can live with. And the ones can we live with, the ones Caltrain can live with and the ones high-speed rail can live with might not all be the same."

The Palo Alto City Council is scheduled to discuss and finalize the letter at a meeting on March 30. The high-speed rail authority's environmental study is legally required to address all official comments received before April 6.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Menlo Park Considers Mini-Bailout Plan

Federal government policy wonks aren't the only guys working on a plan to rescue the economy -- local governments are doing their part, too. In Menlo Park, councilman Andy Cohen is pitching an idea that would allow the city to buy, renovate and sell foreclosed homes.

Under Cohen's proposal, the city would allot $2 million, using money from a below-market-rate housing fund, to buy three foreclosed homes at a time. The houses would be renovated using a volunteer/building model similar to that of Habitat for Humanity, and after the houses are upgraded, they would be sold at below-market-rates to qualifying families.

Presumably, the neighborhood that would benefit most from the plan is Belle Haven, an area east of 101 that's rife with foreclosures, and where the median income falls dramatically short of the rest of Menlo Park.

And although it sounds like a worthy idea on paper, Cohen says it hasn't been easy to garner the interest of people who can make it happen.

"Under the best of circumstances, there would be private money, too, but I'm still putting out the feelers," Cohen says. "Our provincial city tends to think first and foremost about themselves and less about others."

Source: Chronicle Real Estate Team, Besty Schiffman reports

Saturday, March 14, 2009

High-speed-rail Agency Strapped for Cash

Source: exerpted from Gennady Sheyner Palo Alto Online Staff

Rail authority looks for a state loan for 800-mile high-speed-train line

Just months after California voters approved the sale of $9.95 billion in bonds to build a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the agency in charge of the project says it's running out of funds and is banking on a state loan to keep the work on track.

So far, several contractors have already halted their engineering work on the 800-mile rail line, which the California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to build and operate by 2020, rail authority officials said last week. According to a report issued last month by the state treasurer's office, the high-speed rail project had about $4.2 million in unpaid bills for work already performed.

Given the tight fiscal situation, the agency's Executive Director Mehdi Morshed said the agency will have to "do the responsible thing and stop work" if it doesn't receive state funds in the next few months, according to an Associated Press report.

"If we do not have any money for the next few months, we can't in good conscience ask people to keep working," Morshed said, according to the AP.

But Judge Quentin L. Kopp, chairman of the agency's board of directors, said this week he expects the project to overcome the temporary financial setback and meet the agency's projected timeline. Though he acknowledged that some contractors stopped working because of the funding shortage, he said he expects the rail authority to soon get an injection of funds from the state's infrastructure fund, which is managed by the Pooled Money Investment Board.

"Only a few contractors slowed their work," Kopp told the Palo Alto Weekly. "Many contractors are continuing to work, on the promise that they will be paid as soon as the treasurer derives proceeds from the Pool Money Investment Fund or we get some other type of financing."

The treasurer's office has placed the high-speed rail project on a list of infrastructure projects that could get a state loan, even if the bulk of the infrastructure fund remains frozen. The loan would then be repaid with proceeds from the $9.95 billion in bonds, which have not yet been sold. But the board has yet to release the money for any of the projects on the list.

The rail authority is banking on a mix of federal funds, private investments, bond money and contributions from local agencies to finance the $45 billion rail line, which would allow passenger trains to reach speeds of 220 mph and travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The San Francisco-to-San Jose section would cut through the Peninsula along the Caltrain corridor. Rail officials are expected to begin putting together an Environmental Impact Review for this section. The document is expected to analyze the various track alternatives for the train (elevated, underground or trenched) and consider locations for rail stations.

The project has stirred controversy in Palo Alto and neighboring cities, some of whose residents are concerned that the Rail Authority will take their properties by eminent domain to make room for new railroad tracks.

Rail officials have consistently warned that delays would add major costs to the rail project. Rod Diridon, who sits on the rail authority's board of directors, told the Palo Alto City Council on March 2 that delays could cost the authority about $2 billion per year.

"When you're talking about a $40 billion project, if you lose a year you lose $2 billion worth of buying power," Diridon said.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Staging a Home to Sell

When you’re trying to sell a home in a tough economy, home staging is critical. Home staging is defined as the act of preparing your home for sale with an emphasis on presentation and appearance.

In markets with high foreclosure rates and decreased prices, staging has particular importance because the process results in a higher sales price compared to an unstaged home, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Houston, TX, for example, had a 28 percent increase in foreclosure listings in 2008 compared to 2007, according to RealtyTrac. Median sales prices of single-family homes also decreased 11 percent, or $18,100, to $151,600 in that market between 2007 and 2008 according to the National Association of REALTORS®.

Here’s a rundown of what you can do to successfully stage a home to sell:

First and foremost, clearing out the clutter is key to staging a home. Make sure to avoid crowded kitchens and bathrooms, too much furniture and an overabundance of family photos and knickknacks. Now might be the time to donate items to charity or hold a garage sale.

Overflowing closets should also be avoided. You might try lining main closets with cedar, which is not only a great look, but it will also release a relaxing scent that will help create a good first impression. Cedar panels also protect the items that you store, and prevent insects from damaging clothing, books or important papers.

The rest of the home also needs to have a clean scent. If your client has pets, make sure they are bathed regularly, and deodorize and shampoo carpets that might be in their high-traffic areas. Clean drapes are also an important suggestion.

Also think about emptying trash cans and recycling bins. And, of course, a fresh coat of paint and neat landscaping will always help create curb and Web appeal.

Source: National Association of REALTORS®

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Bay Area Ranks High in Contentment Survey

If you have ever wondered at the high price of Peninsula Real Estate this recent survey might help you sort it speaks to the resilience and entrepreneurial spirit of the special place in which we live!

Source: exerpted from
Carla Marinucci, Chronicle Political Writer
Wednesday, March 11, 2009

In a time of downer headlines and depressing recession news, California's 14th Congressional District - home to Silicon Valley - has something to "wahoo!" about: It is a comparative bastion of contentment and well-being, according to a new Gallup Poll.

The region that stretches from Belmont to near Santa Cruz was ranked as the nation's most contented congressional district in the country in Gallup's latest "well-being" study - a detailed poll that ranks dozens of factors in American life, from emotional health and work quality to job satisfaction and typical body mass index.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, the eight-term representative and the first woman ever elected to represent the district - which includes the cities of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Santa Clara and Palo Alto - said that the news is welcome indeed in a time when, well, happy headlines are hard to come by.

"There's not a shred of good news around - but when I woke up and saw this on my BlackBerry, I let out an 'all right!' right in my bathroom," said an ecstatic Eshoo in an interview on Tuesday.

Eshoo said she has long bragged to her congressional colleagues that "I represent the most distinguished district in the entire nation" - but she noted that the new Gallup survey now confirms that there's more than just bragging rights involved.

"It is an extraordinary place," she said of the region that boasts of Stanford University, the venture capital bastions of Sand Hill Road, Santa Clara University and the Google headquarters. In a region where her constituents include some of the country's most innovative and successful high-tech entrepreneurs, she said, "change is not this year's political promise ... it's a constant requirement and continuing expectation."

Other Bay Area districts also ranked well among the 435. The Peninsula's 12th, represented by Jackie Speier, ranked No. 11 while San Francisco's 8th, represented by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ranked one below that. Northern California Republican Tom McClintock's 4th District ranked 25th overall.

The Gallup Poll, in conjunction with the American Health Insurance Plans and Healthways, created what it calls "The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index" to rank factors that help measure well-being in America's rural and urban communities. The effort, "an on-going daily survey that began in January 2008," polls 1,000 Americans per day, 350 days per year, according to the survey's Web site.

The poll studies "not only the absence of infirmity and disease, but also a state of physical, mental and social well-being," pollsters say.

But Eshoo says other factors - the geographic and environmental factors - are a key reason her district is the nation's standout.

"Is there a better place for magnificent weather - with the bay on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other, and the magnificent parts of the California coast?" she asks, sounding like a proud parent. "People value the land there and they're worked hard for generations to protect it. The environment is not an issue here - it's valued, cherished ... and sustained by each generation."

Mountain View Asks to be Considered for High-speed Rail Station

Source: exerpted from the Daily News Group

Mountain View will ask state high-speed rail officials to consider building a station in Mountain View instead of Palo Alto or Redwood City, the city council decided at a meeting Tuesday.

Like other cities, Mountain View is submitting comments to the California High Speed Rail Authority outlining the city's concerns and suggestions regarding high-speed rail designs before the engineering process begins. Council members said they weren't sure Tuesday if they wanted a high-speed rail station in Mountain View, but this was the only chance to at least have the possibility studied.

"I think we owe it to future generations to at least study the concept," Council Member Mike Kasperzak said. "We're not asking for a station, we're asking to be studied."

In its comments, the city also urges the rail authority to pay particular attention to Mountain View's two at-grade rail crossings at Castro Street, right at the edge of downtown, and Rengstorff Avenue, near the community center, senior center and other major public facilities. The city is asking the authority to study all possible alternatives at these intersections, ranging from putting the tracks underground to elevating them to, in the case of Castro Street, closing off the street.

The Caltrain corridor also already bisects the city, and the city's comments ask the authority to ensure that high-speed rail doesn't "further divide the community with barriers such as berms, elevated structures, catenaries, fences and walls."

Greenspan: Fed Didn't Cause the Housing Bubble

Source: Reuters, 11 Mar 2009

Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan said lower rates on long-term, fixed-rate mortgages and not the Federal Reserve's policies are to blame for the U.S. housing bubble.

"Between 2002 and 2005, home mortgage rates led U.S. home price change by 11 months. This correlation between home prices and mortgage rates was highly significant, and a far better indicator of rising home prices than the fed-funds rate," Greenspan wrote in the Wall Street Journal.

Calling his explanation of the causes far more credible than blaming 'easy money' policies, Greenspan wrote that "it was indeed lower interest rates that spawned the speculative euphoria.

However, the interest rate that mattered was not the federal-funds rate," adding that U.S. mortgage rates' linkage to short-term rates had been close for decades.

The Federal Reserve became aware of the disconnect between monetary policy and mortgage rates when the latter failed to respond as expected to the Fed tightening in mid-2004, said Greenspan, who was the Federal Reserve Chairman from 1987 to 2006.

Given the decoupling of monetary policy from long-term mortgage rates, accelerating the path of monetary tightening that the Fed pursued in 2004-2005 could not have prevented the housing bubble, he said.

"The solutions for the financial-market failures revealed by the crisis are higher capital requirements and a wider prosecution of fraud—not increased micromanagement by government entities," Greenspan wrote.

Any new regulations should improve the ability of financial institutions to effectively direct a nation's savings into the most productive capital investments, he said.

"Our challenge in the months ahead will be to install a regulatory regime that will ensure responsible risk management on the part of financial institutions, while encouraging them to continue taking the risks necessary and inherent in any successful market economy," he said.

$318 Billion Tax Hit Proposed

From the Wall Street Journal

The tax increases would ... [reduce] the value of such longstanding deductions as mortgage interest ... for people in the highest tax brackets. Households paying income taxes at the 33% and 35% rates can currently claim deductions at those rates. Under the Obama proposal, they could deduct only 28% of the value of those payments.

The changes would be phased in gradually over the next few years. For the 2009 tax year, the 33% tax bracket starts with couples with taxable earnings of $208,850, when adjusted for personal exemptions and various deductible expenses. A taxpayer in the top bracket paying $1,000 of mortgage interest, for example, would see a tax break worth $350 reduced to $280.

The mortgage interest deduction is capped to $1 million in mortgage debt.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Public Invited to High-speed Rail Meeting

The California High-Speed Rail Authority will hold an informational meeting Wednesday (March 4) on the San Francisco to San Jose leg of the project.

The meeting will run from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Redwood Room of the Veterans Memorial Center at 1455 Madison Ave. in Redwood City.

Source: Almanac Online

Bury the rails, say local officials

Source: The Almanac, serving Menlo Park, Atherton, Portola Valley and Woodside

Bury the rails, say local officials
If high speed rail must come, run it underground, they say

By Sean Howell

When it comes to deciding how high-speed trains will shoot up the Peninsula, officials in Atherton and Menlo Park have pretty much one request: put them underground, and out of sight.

Their first preference, of course, is that the trains not come through their communities at all. The cities have joined a pending lawsuit to contest the project, contending that the High-Speed Rail Authority's decision to shoot the trains along the Caltrain corridor - rather than through Altamont Pass in the East Bay - was premature.

But if trains must come up the Peninsula, local officials and residents would like to see them run in a tunnel or trench, rather than at ground level or along a raised berm. Both communities are in the process of drafting letters to the rail authority, outlining the environmental considerations that should be taken into account as the project moves through the planning phases.

In its letter, the town of Atherton outlines the possibility of a trench that would begin at Fifth Avenue in Redwood City and terminate at San Francisquito Creek in Palo Alto, sending the train below ground level as it passes through Atherton and Menlo Park. The trench would be open-air for most of the route, but could be covered in some areas, Atherton officials say - such as near Atherton's park and town offices, or by Menlo Park's entire downtown area.

The project, with an estimated total price tag of $40 billion, promises to bring commuters from Los Angeles to San Francisco in roughly two and a half hours. High-speed trains could be zooming up the Peninsula at 125 miles per hour as early as 2014.

Atherton and Menlo Park officials argue that routing the rail line through a trench or a tunnel would reduce noise, and would keep out of sight the trains and the electrical lines that will be installed to guide them. (The lines are similar to those that conduct San Francisco's buses.)

In Atherton's letter, Public Works Director Duncan Jones makes the case that fewer trees would need to be torn out if the trains run below ground level, because the canopy wouldn't have to be cleared to make way for the high electrical lines. "An amazing number of trees need to be removed in electrification projects," said Mr. Jones, refuting the rail authority's suggestion that it might be able to avoid removing any trees.

In its letter, Menlo Park notes that a trench or tunnel would make it easer for cyclists and pedestrians, as well as wildlife, to cross the tracks. City officials maintain that a raised alignment would divide the city.

Digging a trench or a tunnel is widely assumed to be more expensive than building a berm, but Atherton and Menlo Park officials both argue that that might not be the case - especially because raising and widening the tracks might require the purchase of additional property, a costly proposition on the Peninsula. The potential loss in value to nearby properties, and the potential financial losses to local businesses during construction, should also be factored into any cost estimate, local officials argue.

And the state would have to purchase "air rights" along the corridor if it the rail authority opts to raise the tracks, Menlo Park officials note.

Rail officials have highlighted the benefits to local communities of grade separations, which would allow streets to pass over or under the rail line at local intersections. The grade separations would ease congestion, and trains wouldn't have to announce their arrival with a whistle, officials say.

But in its letter, Menlo Park wonders whether grade separations and additional tracks would also mean that the rail line would be used for freight.


• The California High-Speed Rail Authority will hold an informational meeting Wednesday, March 4, on the San Francisco to San Jose leg of the high-speed rail project. The meeting will run from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Redwood Room of the Veterans Memorial Center at 1455 Madison Ave. in Redwood City.

• People have until April 6 to submit comment on the environmental considerations that should be taken into account in planning the local leg of the high-speed rail project. Comments can be submitted via e-mail to (with the subject line "San Francisco to San Jose HST"). Comments can be mailed to: Dan Leavitt, Deputy Director, ATTN: San Francisco to San Jose HST Project, EIR/EIS, California High-Speed Rail Authority, 925 L St., Suite 1425, Sacramento, CA 95814.

• The project's Web site is

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

By the Numbers: Amortize This

Source: Cirios Trends,Volume 1, Issue 2
March 2, 2009;
By the Numbers: Amortize This

When you go to get a loan and the banker starts yammering on about amortization schedules, listen.

While amortization choices have shrunk in the last few years as exotic lending has all but disappeared, there are still important decisions to be made on this front.

Amortization is the process by which you pay back your loan through regular payments. Most 30-year, fixed rate mortgages are fully amortized, meaning that on Day 1, your loan payment is calculated and stays the same for the life of the loan.

The formula to calculate this monthly payment is simple: Ok, maybe its not so simple, but the point is that there’s a standard way of calculating your payment that depends on only 3 variables:

A = Your monthly payment P = The principle amount (the amount you borrowed) n = The number of periods on your loan (for most loans, a period is a month), and r = Your interest rate (per period, expressed as a decimal).

For example, a $400,000 loan at 6.0% amortized over 30 years would work out to a monthly payment of $2,398.20. If you pay this amount every month for 360 months, you’re free and clear, having paid all interest and principle due the bank.

Over the life of our example loan, the portion of your payment that goes towards interest versus principle varies over time. In your first payment, $2,000 (83%) goes towards interest. At ten years, that drops to 70%. Twenty years, 45%. Your last payment is 99.5% principle.

An interesting consequence of this aspect of mortgages is that by making larger payments up front, you can make a huge difference to your personal bottom line.

If you tack on an extra $200 to each of your first 12 payments, every dollar goes towards reducing your principle balance. After 30 years, you save $13,000 in interest costs and finish paying the loan off 6 months early.

Perhaps more importantly (since not everyone holds onto their mortgage the entire 30 years), the day you pay down that extra $200 in principal, you begin to reduce your interest expense. It’s like putting money into a savings account earning 6.0%.

On top of that, each extra payment you make reduces the amount you owe the following month: So as long as you continue to make payments regularly, you’re ahead of schedule. In our $200-a-month example you are $2400, or one full payment ahead after just 1 year.

If down the road you have some unforeseen expenses and need to skip a payment, no problem, you won’t be considered delinquent.

And the kicker: Because your principle balance was reduced for the entire time you were ahead, more of your payments went towards principle each month, further reducing your principle balance. In our example, if you skipped a payment at the beginning of year five, you would still owe $750 less in principal then you would if you hadn’t gotten ahead of the curve.


Monday, March 2, 2009

Dow Falls Below 6800 Amid Broad Retreat

The stock market closed at a 12 year low today amid increasing fear and uncertainty. Following is an exerpt from today's Wall Street Journal Online -- March 2, 2009

Stocks broadly sold off on Monday amid fears that a recovery for the global economy and the banking system may still be a long way off, sending market benchmarks past another set of milestones.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average declined 299.64 points, or 4.2%, to 6763.29, its lowest close since April 25, 1997. The stock measure has fallen four straight days and in 10 of the last 12 sessions, declining 14.8% in that span. The Dow is down 25% from its January 2 peak for this year and down 52.25% from its high of 14164.53 on Oct. 9, 2007.

Markets on the Move

Mr. Battipaglia said that the market continues to take most of its clues from weakness in credit markets and the financial sector. While certain pockets of debt instruments have seen improvement since November, he notes it's only in the areas where the government has directly infused capital.

The broad selloff pushed the Standard & Poor's 500 Index down 34.27 points, or 4.7%, to 700.82, its lowest close since Oct. 30, 1996.