Thursday, March 3, 2011
Peninsula Cities Face Uphill Battle in Trying to Join Forces over High-speed Rail
Source: By Mike Rosenberg, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tired of being a national "laughingstock" on high-speed rail, a splintered group of San Mateo County cities is joining to form a lobbying effort they hope will put them on equal footing with San Francisco and San Jose.
San Mateo, Burlingame, Millbrae, Redwood City and South San Francisco have already banded together to form the San Mateo County Rail Corridor Partnership. Officials in Belmont and the county supervisors have also expressed interest, while other cities are set to discuss joining the effort.
The officials behind the idea think the county's 12 cities along the Caltrain line can relay their concerns about California high-speed rail to the state and federal governments more easily as a unified group. The problem is that many of the cities -- even the ones that have joined -- don't necessarily agree on many aspects of the massive project, which could run along the Caltrain line later this decade.
While leaders in Burlingame are fighting to slow down the project, for instance, their neighbors in Millbrae are pushing for the rail line to come to town as quickly as possible.
Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel, one of the group's founders, acknowledged they may not be able to get every city along the tracks to join or agree on many controversial areas. But she argues the cities are helpless by themselves.
Nagel said the seeds of the group's founding were planted in a fall meeting between officials from several Peninsula cities and
"They basically told us we're not going to get any money for high-speed rail or transportation because all our cities do is fight," Nagel said. "One of them said we were the laughingstock of Washington, D.C., because of our constant bickering. They were saying cities have to work it out."
Extra federal funding is key because cities fear they will have to pony up for local parts of the project, such as rail crossings, and will almost certainly need more money to bury the tracks underground, as several cities want.
The cities say they also have had virtually no luck pleading their case with the California High-Speed Rail Authority. The authority declined to even study -- let alone implement -- a key part of the project local cities want, namely tunneled tracks.
Some cities simply may not fit in a larger coalition, however. Atherton and Menlo Park, for example, have sued the state to reverse its decision to run the high-speed railroad along the Caltrain line, but the new partnership group is pushing to "accept" the route.
"Our voice can get lost, when we join with all the (San Mateo County) cities," Menlo Park Councilwoman Kelly Fergusson said at a meeting this week to discuss the new group.
Menlo Park Mayor Rich Cline added that the group "doesn't make sense."
"It's another overlapping group of talking heads," Cline said. Nonetheless, he said Menlo Park's full council will vote on whether to join the group.
Yet there is some common ground. San Mateo Public Works Director Larry Patterson recently asked San Mateo County cities for a list of their high-speed rail concerns, and he found each jurisdiction's problems fell into five categories: track alignment, adjacent property impacts, land use and economics, traffic and construction.
Patterson, who is leading the coordination between cities, said one goal of the group is to make peace between the various cities, a process that is typically difficult regardless of the issue.
"But we need to find a way to do that," Patterson said. "We don't want to be lost in the shuffle. I think we make the task much more difficult if we try to do it as individual cities."