Monday, August 30, 2010

HSR: What about San Mateo?

August 30, 2010, 03:30 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff
While its neighbors to the north and south have raised a stink over the possibility of high-speed trains zipping across an aerial viaduct, leaders in San Mateo have been relatively quiet on the matter.

Leaders in Belmont and Burlingame have sent off letters to the Federal Railroad Administrative asking for it not to grant more than $1 billion to the California High-Speed Rail Authority to electrify the Caltrain tracks and build a new transit station in Millbrae.

Leaders in San Mateo have not crafted such a letter even though the city decided on its own nearly 15 years ago that electrified Caltrain tracks should run underground through the city’s downtown going north to Burlingame.

San Mateo’s downtown straddles both side of the tracks on the narrowest corridor in the Caltrain system.

The Peninsula Rail Program unveiled two alternatives for the alignment from the San Francisco to San Jose stretch of the line, one with a primarily aerial viaduct option and the other with the possibility of an open trench for Burlingame and San Mateo.

On Thursday, all five of San Mateo’s councilmen made it clear the tracks must be depressed as they go through downtown. The entire council will hold a special study session Sept. 7 to discuss high-speed rail and define its position about the alternatives.

“The only acceptable option is a below-grade trench,” Mayor John Lee. “An aerial option is not acceptable for downtown. It would be incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to construct.”

A viaduct would be a huge mistake for San Mateo, Deputy Mayor Jack Matthews said.

Matthews suspects the authority, however, already favors an aerial solution for San Mateo.

“I’m a little disappointed. An open trench doesn’t seem to be favored by high-speed rail,” Matthews said. “When I hear there isn’t enough money, that doesn’t sound to good to me. They will have to find the money.”

Matthews said the city’s position is not based on what it “wants” to have but rather what the city “has” to have.

“There is not enough right of way in downtown,” Matthews said.

In downtown, the corridor narrows to 50 feet in some spots. The authority will need 80 feet or more of right of way to construct an aerial viaduct.

Councilman Brandt Grotte has represented the city in the Peninsula Rail Program’s policymaker working group, comprised of elected officials from cities up and down the Peninsula.

Grotte is optimistic the open trench alternative is still on the table for San Mateo. In the two alternatives for the Peninsula that came out Aug. 5, however, wording in the documents had incorrectly stated that San Mateo preferred an aerial option and not a trenched solution.

Grotte corrected the authority and now documents related to the alternatives going forward should reflect the city’s desire to have a depressed solution.

He also said there has been a misperception with the public that San Mateo has not been communicating with its neighboring cities, although he did say it was time to reach out a little more to leaders in Belmont.

“My intention is to open up a conversation with Belmont to see what they want,” Grotte said. “We’ve been meeting with Burlingame and Millbrae on a monthly basis to discuss our commonalties and positions.”

Roelof van Ark, the rail authority’s chief executive officer, sent a letter to city councils on the Caltrain corridor yesterday discussing the authority’s recent application for additional federal funds from the FRA.

“It appears that some are concerned that language in our Aug. 6 applications for fiscal year 2010/11 federal appropriations has pre-determined the outcome of our ongoing environmental review process. I want to state strongly that this is not the case,” van Ark said in the letter. “It is our combined state and federal environmental review process that will be used to determine the ultimate alignment selected for the high-speed train’s path along the Peninsula.”

So far, van Ark said, engineering is 3 percent to 5 percent completed.

After the draft environmental impact report comes out in December, engineering will be 15 percent completed, allowing for a more thorough evaluation of impacts and benefits, van Ark said.

Councilman David Lim supports high-speed rail for its potential economic benefits and for being a modern solution for the state’s transportation needs.

“I support high-speed rail but I also support the city’s vision for the corridor. That vision has not changed since I joined the council. We want to see an underground alignment for the downtown corridor,” Lim said.

Lim has been fielding lots of calls from San Mateo residents concerned about an aerial viaduct.

Councilman Robert Ross said the application to the FRA that showed only an aerial viaduct solution for the city was “a little disconcerting.”

“It looks like they have already ruled out the alternative,” Ross said. “It has to be depressed, otherwise there will be a small freeway running through downtown.”

Ross wants the city to be prepared for when the draft EIR comes out in December if an open trench is off the table for San Mateo.

“We have to research our legal options, although there may be none. We must be prepared to negotiate for the best solution,” Ross said.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Possible Disruptions to City of San Mateo Garbage Collection Services

Dear Neighbors, 
Please see the letter below received by the City of San Mateo from Kevin Finn, the President of Republic Services (formerly Allied Waste), who picks up garbage in the City of San Mateo.  

I will post more information as it becomes available.  


Please see the attached correspondence regarding the estimated 48-hour work stoppage by Teamsters, Local 350, as a result of on going contract discussions with employees at the Ox Mountain Landfill. Republic Services is continuing to bargain in good faith attempting to meet Teamsters Local 350 and its demands within a sensible and workable framework.

Meanwhile, we are working to minimize service interruptions to our customers. We have made some staffing adjustments and brought in employees from other local regions.

Currently, we anticipate the work stoppage to be 48 hours in duration. Consequently we are rescheduling the pickup days as follows:

  • Customers who are scheduled for a Wednesday pickup will be serviced on Friday.
  • Customers who are scheduled for a Thursday pickup will be serviced on Saturday.
  • Customers who are scheduled for a Friday pickup will be serviced on Sunday.
We apologize for the challenges this is causing. We look forward to resolving this dispute in a manner which respects the rights of all parties, but as a responsible employer must take steps which guarantees employees’ ability to retire with a full pension. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me.

Kevin Finn
Area President, Republic Services

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Peninsula high-speed rail track plans unveiled

By Mike Rosenberg
San Mateo County Times

It became clearer Thursday that the state's high-speed train will run above ground in the Peninsula and South Bay -- including on so-called "Berlin Walls" that some cities fear will divide their communities and demolish homes and businesses.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority, at a packed board meeting in San Francisco, unveiled its most detailed engineering plan yet for the section of the $43 billion rail line that will run along the Caltrain tracks on the way to Southern California.

Some of the cities along the line will receive aboveground tracks, either next to the existing Caltrain tracks or on structures similar to freeway overpasses. These cities include South San Francisco, San Bruno, Belmont, San Carlos, Redwood City and San Jose.

The other cities on the Peninsula will receive the same treatment unless the state is willing to go about $1 billion over its budget to build below-ground rails that would reduce the property acquisition and blight some communities fear the tracks will create. Those include Burlingame and San Mateo and cities from Atherton to Santa Clara.

The final two cities -- Millbrae and San Francisco -- will receive a combination of above- and below-ground tracks.

There are essentially three types of tracks the train will run on through the Bay Area.

One is a raised structure that must be at least 18 feet tall and that some cities have compared with an 80-foot-wide freeway. The second option,
typically the cheapest, is to simply add two high-speed rail tracks next to the existing Caltrain rails. The final option, which the riled Peninsula cities prefer but which is also the most expensive, is to bury the tracks in an underground trench open to the surface.

From the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco to Diridon station in San Jose, the tracks will rise and drop to meet various engineering and community needs.

For cities that still have two options, the most likely choice appears to be the aboveground tracks.
The state has a $5.1 billion budget for the San Francisco-to-San Jose section of the project after it allocates $1 billion to the new Transbay Terminal.

It would be cheapest, at about $5 billion, to build all aboveground rails, according to a Bay Area News Group analysis of rail authority cost estimates released Thursday.

It would cost more than $1 billion extra, meanwhile, to run the trains through trenches in the communities that want them, the figures show.

For example, it would cost $664 million to run the four tracks through a trench in Menlo Park and Atherton, which have sued the rail authority and are among the most vocal critics of raised tracks. The state could chop more than half off that amount and spend $244 million to build the tracks aboveground through the 2.7-mile stretch between wealthy properties.

San Mateo Councilman David Lim, whose city wants a trench through the northern half, asked the board to "reject the urge to go with the lowest common denominator."

"Without a trench system, you would destroy a lot of the vitality and character of our downtown San Mateo area," Lim said in an interview. "The support for the project among residents goes down precipitously if you take away the trench option."

Exacerbating the cost issue is the fact that the rail authority still needs to raise three-fourths of the money it has budgeted for the high-speed system.

Project officials will continue to study the trench idea and are not yet sure whether they can afford to build underground, local project manager Bob Doty said. The rail authority board will likely select the alignment next year.

"Not everybody is getting what they want," Doty said. "But we're getting bloody close."
Michael Brownrigg, a councilman in Burlingame, another city that wants a trench, said he suspects some officials have already made up their minds.

"There are some who believe that they need to save every nickel they can because this is going to be more expensive and who don't care that much about the Peninsula," he said.

Meanwhile, some other cities that will not have underground tracks studied said they were flabbergasted.
"I don't know why anyone got the idea that we wanted to continue with an aerial alignment," said Christine Wozniak, mayor of Belmont, which is opposed to the project if the tracks are raised.

Redwood City Councilwoman Barbara Pierce said her city was "very upset" the trench option was removed in her city.

In San Francisco, the high-speed rail tracks will run underground, while the Caltrain tracks will stay where they are.

Millbrae will have one high-speed rail track run underground into its station, while the second bullet-train track will be added alongside the Caltrain line.

Finally, it is also possible that the two high-speed rail tracks will be buried in a tunnel in Santa Clara as they approach the high-speed rail stop in San Jose.

Construction on the project is expected to begin in 2012 and trains would start running by 2020.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

High Speed Rail Meeting in San Francisco TOMORROW - Aug. 5, 2010

Tomorrow morning at 9:00 AM, the Board of the California High Speed Rail Authority is scheduled to meet in San Francisco to make a decision on how high speed rail will run through our community: Trenches, tunnels, an aerial structure, or a combination of all three.

Contrary to what you may be hearing, I have been assured that no final decision has been made on which option to pursue.

Just a few minutes ago, I got off the phone with Rail Authority Board Member Richard Katz. Mr. Katz reiterated that the Board will take up the matter tomorrow morning, review all the information, and then and only then will they make a decision.

As you know, the City of San Mateo's official position on high speed rail is supportive of the concept, but adamant that an underground option for high speed rail is the only acceptable option to maintain the character and well-being of our downtown area and residential communities. The narrowest right-of-way along the entire state's rail corridor is in downtown San Mateo, and therefore an aerial option would be devastating to our communities and is unacceptable.

In my phone conversation with Mr. Katz, and in messages to the remaining Board members on the High Speed Rail Authority, I have continued to reiterate San Mateo's position.

Tomorrow's meeting is an important milestone in setting the vision for how high speed rail will affect our community. I am taking the morning off from my full-time job to be at the meeting in San Francisco. Councilmember Brandt Grotte and Public Works Director Larry Patterson, who together have spearheaded the City's efforts on this issue, will also be at the meeting to represent the interests of our City.

However, more help is always appreciated. If you are interested in attending the meeting tomorrow morning, please send me an email or call me to let me know you plan to attend. Or send me your thoughts about the project. Armed with this information, I will be able to let the Board know how many San Mateo residents are in attendance, or who have expressed concern about this issue.

The address and agenda for tomorrow's meeting can be found by clicking HERE.

As I have done since taking office in November, I will continue to represent the citizens of San Mateo on this very important issue not only tomorrow, but moving forward as well.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Celebrate National Night Out

Tonight is "National Night Out", a nationwide program designed to promote safe neighborhoods.

Tonight many of our neighbors will host block parties, coffees, or turn on their porch lights in support of National Night Out.  I encourage all San Mateo residents to get to know their neighbors and celebrate National Night Out. 

As a former Board Member with the San Mateo Neighborhood Watch Group and in my job as a Deputy District Attorney in Alameda County, I am proud to support the hundreds of blocks in the City of San Mateo that help promote safe neighborhoods by having active, organized neighborhood watch groups.

It is also a fact that organized neighborhoods not only keep streets safe, they promote friendlier neighborhoods as well! 

If your block is not yet organized, find out how easy it is to form a Neighborhood Watch group on your block by clicking HERE.

Happy National Night Out, and as McGruff the Crime Dog would say, "Take A Bite Out of Crime!"

Monday, August 2, 2010

Summary of Town Hall Meeting on Sustainability

This article was part of Sue Lembert's weekly column in the San Mateo Daily Journal on August 2, 2010

This is a discouraging time for those who want to address climate change in a meaningful way on the international, national and state level. Failure to reach an international agreement in Copenhagen last year, followed by the recent decision of the U.S. Senate to delay a Democrat-sponsored cap-and-trade bill are steps in the wrong direction. Meanwhile, this November, Californians will decide whether to adopt a Texas oil company-sponsored initiative to halt the state’s groundbreaking law to cut emissions. Assembly Bill 32 requires the state to cut emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases 25 percent by 2020. Valero Energy Corporation and Tesoro are funding Proposition 23 which puts AB32 on hold until the state’s unemployment rate drops to a fixed level which may not be achievable. The measure would also kill competition and jobs from California’s clean-technology companies. Opponents say the sponsors are among the top 10 polluters in our state. The governor and former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz are against the initiative, as are most Democrats and environmentalists. Even so, other oil company sponsored initiatives have recently been successful because of expensive and deceptive television and radio commercials.

So it was a pleasant surprise to be part of a well-attended meeting at the San Mateo City Hall last week to see what we as individuals could do to help. The city of San Mateo, according to Councilman David Lim, is leading the way with its climate action plan for fall 2010. There is a build it green rating system where points are awarded for eco-friendly building elements such as low-flow toilets and high-efficiency shower heads. There are residential loans to assist single family homeowners to repair deteriorated private sewer laterals. The California First program provides low-interest funding for environmental improvements. Residents can obtain loans with a payback over 20 years for such energy savers as solar panels and water efficiency. PG&E offers rebates on energy efficient products. The audience was told that every minute you shorten your shower you can save up to 75 gallons of water per month. And you can save more by not letting the faucet run when you brush your teeth or clean dishes before loading the dishwasher. Raphael Reyes, director of the Bay Area Climate Collective, sounded upbeat when he said we were now moving from the impossible to the inevitable. More and more auto manufacturers are planning or are already offering electric cars.