Tuesday, March 29, 2011

San Mateo councilman: Delay vote on Caltrain station closure

March 29, 2011, 03:55 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

A San Mateo councilman is ready to ask his colleagues to support a resolution urging the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board to delay a vote on closing Caltrain stations until a regional funding solution is found.

“The specter of station closures has had an adverse impact on all communities along the Caltrain corridor,” San Mateo Councilman David Lim wrote in a letter to the council.

Caltrain is considering the reduction of weekday trains from 86 to just 48 to run during commute hours only and the suspension of weekday service at up to seven stations including Bayshore, South San Francisco, San Bruno, Burlingame, Hayward Park, Belmont, San Antonio, Lawrence, Santa Clara and College Park.

The JPB is scheduled to discuss station closures at its April 7 meeting but has indicated a vote on service reductions may be pushed back until May as officials with the Metropolitan Transportation Commission work on a plan to keep the trains running for at least another two years.

For now, its all hands on deck in finding a short-term funding fix for Caltrain, said JPB Vice Chair Omar Ahmad, also the mayor of San Carlos.

Voters in three counties may face a regional tax to fund Caltrain as early as the November 2012 election if transit supporters can get it on the ballot.

Lim wants to make sure MTC is given enough time to develop a short-term funding solution before the Caltrain board takes the ax to seven low-performing stations.

“Individuals make decisions on where to live, work and how to commute dependent on Caltrain and the stations that currently operate. Businesses that rely on commuter traffic face the possibility of lost revenue, which ultimately trickles down to the ability of the city to collect revenue,” Lim wrote in the letter.

San Mateo’s Hayward Park station is currently being considered for closure but Lim said it should stay open considering all the transit-oriented development the city has planned for the area around it.

“Many communities, including San Mateo, have invested considerable time and resources developing policies and communities tied to the Caltrain corridor,” Lim wrote.

San Mateo’s General Plan, the Transit Oriented Development Plan, the Downtown Master Plan and the Sustainable Initiatives Plan all heavily reference the Caltrain corridor and accompanying stations for future development in the city.

Caltrain, however, lacks a dedicated funding stream and relies on contributions from the San Mateo County Transit District, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency for survival.

Short-term solutions offered up by the MTC include diverting about $5 million from the Dumbarton Rail project and the repayment of part of a loan from VTA for $7 million.

A fund swap could also divert money into operations, away from capital projects.

Caltrain’s problems essentially stem from SamTrans’ own problems as it too faces a nearly $11 million deficit next fiscal year.

SamTrans has reduced its contribution to Caltrain by nearly $10 million the past two years and Muni and VTA have followed suit.

SamTrans’ Chief Executive Officer Michael Scanlon said last week he hopes the proposed solutions from the MTC, including a possible fund swap, could help minimize the service reductions and keep more than 48 trains running during weekdays next fiscal year.

Although Lim’s resolution to have the JPB wait for MTC solutions may be only symbolic, South San Francisco Councilwoman Karyl Matsumoto said her city may too consider such a resolution considering the South San Francisco station is also threatened with closure.

“I think it is a good idea. This might even be a good thing for South San Francisco,” Matsumoto said of Lim’s resolution.

As chair of the SamTrans board, Matsumoto’s mission is to make sure that bus service is maintained in the county.

“We had to cut our funding to Caltrain as to not impact bus service,” Matsumoto said.

Lim will introduce the resolution because he sees Caltrain as a vital service to his city.

“This resolution would send a clear message that the city of San Mateo appreciates the efforts to resolve this financial crisis without resorting to drastic rhetoric and that we stand with our fellow city and county representatives in recognizing the important impact Caltrain has in all cities,” Lim wrote.

The City Council will consider Lim’s resolution at its April 4 meeting, three days before the JPB next meets.

Timing is critical for the JPB, because it must properly notify the public of fare increases or station closures well before July 1, when the next fiscal year starts, Ahmad said.

“I have no problem with the effort in San Mateo,” Ahmad said. “At some point, though, we must inform the public of changed schedules and station closures.”

MTC help could allow Caltrain to run somewhere between a low of 48 trains to the current 86 trains the agency currently operates.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: silverfarb@smdailyjournal.com or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Being Green Means Saving Green!

I continue to be excited about our new trash and recycle service in the City of San Mateo.  Now more than ever, being GREEN is not just good for the environment, it keeps more GREEN in your wallet!

At our last City Council meeting on March 7, there were continued questions about how rates are set for our new collection service by Recology. 

The anwer is simple:  You are charged by the size of your BLACK garbage can, not the size of your blue recycle bin, or your green compost bin.

The smaller your BLACK bin, the less your garbage bill!

The equation is:

More recycle = Less garbage = Smaller Black Bin = LOWER GARBAGE BILL!!

Using my own household as an example, before we started weekly recycling, our family threw away an average of four full bags of garbage a week.  Now, under the new weekly single-stream recycling and compost system, our weekly garbage load looks like this:

Our weekly garbage load is so small thanks to the new recycling and composting program, that even my 5 year-old daughter can carry out the trash!

That's right.  We are down to a HALF bag of garbage a week.  Our recycling bin looks like this:

Our recycle and compost bins are now filled to the brim weekly thanks to single-stream recycling!

The new recycle program by Recology allows you to recycle even more products than before.  Pizza boxes, used napkins -- they can all be recycled or composted.  And with single-stream recycling, there is no more sorting can, bottles, and plastics during these rainy winter months!  Our family has gone from a 32-gallon can to a 20-gallon can, so even with the recent rate increases we will be paying less for our monthly garbage bill while at the same time helping to keep our landfill open longer and helping to reduce our overall carbon footprint!

Any families in San Mateo who would like to discuss ways to help reduce their garbage load, and therefore save on their garbage bills are welcome to contact me any time for tips and resources!  Remember, it's not just good for your wallet, it's great of the environment!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Leaf blower debate could spark fine in Burlingame, San Mateo

Of all the competing concerns San Mateo residents aired with David Lim as he was campaigning for city council, an unexpected front-runner emerged: leaf blowers.

Residents complained that the machines are noisy, spew harmful pollution and are often heard early in the morning — despite city rules against using them before 8 a.m. on weekdays.

“I’d say probably five-to-one, just in an informal ranking of people I met door-to-door, this is the issue people said, ‘Can you do something about it?’” said Lim, who was elected in 2009.

In the past month, San Mateo and Burlingame have revved up the debate over the gardener’s tool as they consider increasing restrictions or possibly banning the blowers.

Officials in both cities say they want to proceed cautiously to ensure they understand what other equipment is available and how cracking down could impact residents and gardeners.

“You don’t want to ban something and then you don’t have something that can be utilized as the alternative that is feasible,” Burlingame Vice Mayor Ann Keighran said.

A group of Burlingame residents recently asked the city council to ban both gas-powered and electric leaf blowers as part of a 39-page report on the subject.

The Citizens Environmental Council argues that the carbon emissions and particulates released by leaf blowers pose health hazards for residents and the workers carrying the devices. An initial proposal includes fines for those caught using the machines ranging from $100 to $1,000.

Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel said the discussions are still in a “very preliminary stage.” The council directed the group to return with a more specific proposal.

Leaf blower regulations vary widely, though it appears no San Mateo County cities have outright bans. Burlingame and Menlo Park both require the machines’ high-pitched whine to be below 65 decibels, and Palo Alto and Los Altos ban gas-powered blowers entirely.

San Mateo’s council is considering revising its 1997 blower ordinance, which lists hours of operation but does not assign enforcement responsibility, though no specific proposals have been revealed.

Jose Henriquez, the owner of JDH Garden Services, said he often does gardening work in San Mateo and uses gas-powered leaf blowers on jobs.

He said eliminating gas-powered blowers would make jobs take longer and drive up costs for customers. Electric blowers are inconvenient because they have to be plugged in and manual tools are even more work, he said.

“For everybody it’s more difficult, for the [property] owner and for the gardener,” Henriquez said.

Lim says he’s not interested in putting gardeners out of business. He said the city could offer incentives for gardeners to phase out gas leaf blowers, such as a rebate on their permit fees for switching to electric.

“I think it could be a win-win situation for our whole city if we do it diligently and take the time to communicate with everyone,” Lim said.

Read more at the San Francisco Examiner: