Train Talk

by Robert Cox

Is a station for High Speed Rail (HSR) in Mountain View still in the cards? Or is it dead?  Should Mountain View band together with more aggressive municipalities to stop HSR? When will information about noise be available?

To find out, a group of concerned neighbors approached the three City Council members who comprise the Council HSR Subcommittee—Ronit Bryant, Laura Macias, and Tom Means.

Ronit Takes the Lead

Ronit is the chair of the Council’s HSR subcommittee, and has been actively interacting with the HSR Authority and city leaders in other communities on this issue. Ronit’s primary concern has been the potential impact of the HSR and a possible station on the downtown area and the people who live here.

“A high speed train station is more than just a platform. The Authority is asking for 1000 parking spaces at the station and another 2000 spaces in the vicinity. This is nearly six times the amount of parking provided by our newest downtown parking garages.”  My heart sank. I had no desire to see our downtown transformed into the parking garage capital of Silicon Valley.

Ronit continued, “We have just finished most of the work for the city’s 20 year general plan update.  I didn’t hear anyone say they wanted a completely different downtown, I heard people say, we like the downtown as it is.”

Houghton Street residents Dan Sharoni, Stella Corrall, and Jerry Steach agreed. Palmita Place resident Paul Lansky noted, “Many of us voted for the concept of high speed rail, not the particulars that are being discussed now.”

Front Lane resident Joni Ratts wondered when information about noise and vibration levels would be available. Ronit replied, “That information is likely to be ready in December.  A business plan update will follow in January. But we will be asked to weigh in on the issue of a station when the Authority comes to a special session of the council next week.  You need to be there to speak up on the issue.”

Straw Poll on an HSR Station

And so we were. Dan, Annette, Joni, and I attended the council session, and urged the council to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” to an HSR station downtown.

After hearing testimony from the Authority and Council members, Mayor Bryant asked for a straw poll of Council members opposed to continuing dialogue on a Mountain View HSR station.  Ronit, Laura Macias, Jac Siegel, and John Inks all voted to say “no” now.  Margaret Abe-Koga and Tom Means wanted to continue consideration.  An official vote will be taken after the elections in November.

The Reality

Laura Macias began with a statement of stark reality when we met with her.  “The California High Speed Rail Authority has the power to do what they want.  They’ve heard the people on the Peninsula speak, but they believe what they think is better. But we need to clearly state what we want.”

Minton Lane resident Annette Nielsen asked why Mountain View isn’t banding together with other cities to fight the HSR Authority.

“Mountain View has a history of being accommodating.  In this case, it might actually be working in our favor,” Laura replied.  “We asked for a trench, and we are still being considered for it, while many cities up the Peninsula are being told that they will have elevated tracks.”

Dr. Means in Favor of a Station

Our last meeting was with Dr. Tom Means.  Tom is a professor of economics at San Jose State, and was disappointed in the Council’s straw vote. “Whenever people get together and do business, property values increase.  If the train is going to stop somewhere, why not here? We need to offer something new and attractive to get people to do business in Mountain View.  An HSR station could be it.”

Joni asked Tom about the noise. “Right now, the worst noise is from blowing the horns,” Tom responded.  “In San Diego, they’ve established a quiet zone so that the trains don’t have to blow horns.”

Coming from a neighborhood already impacted from the overflow of Caltrain parking, as well as commuters storing their cars overnight on city streets, we asked for Tom’s views on parking.

“You can get permit parking,” Tom replied.  “

“Doesn’t permit parking just give you a license to hunt for a spot? And won’t a permit system need to be paid for by the residents?” I asked.

“That’s true,” Tom said. The reaction was mixed, with some residents welcoming a better chance to get parking near their homes, even if they had to pay for it. Others, like me, just wanted to pass on the whole idea.

Front Lane resident Tony Morales thought that the increase in car traffic would make getting to and from the station more difficult for seniors and those with disabilities.

All in all, we’re grateful to the members of Mountain View’s HSR subcommittee for sitting down to talk with us about the HSR project, and advising us to be involved in the process.  Whatever happens will have a big impact on our neighborhood, and it is easy to be angry and frustrated when we have so little say in the particulars.  As Ronit says, “If you are getting angry and frustrated, welcome. You’re not alone!”

Robert Cox is the Secretary of OMVNA, but the views expressed here are Robert’s own and do not reflect the opinion of OMVNA.

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