Hundreds against High-Speed Rail 'Boondoggle'By Miriam Finder, Aaron Selverston
Palo Alto Mayor Pat Burt and other locals joined hundreds of demonstrators in Burlingame Sunday morning to rally in protest of the California high-speed rail project.
"What's a little water when you're about to spend $43 billion?" said Russ Cohen, a member of the group that organized the rally, High Speed Boondoggle, of the estimated project cost in his opening remarks.
High Speed Boondoggle, a merge of grassroots organizations and Don't Railroad Us, used the rally to educate the public on high speed rail and the issues members have with its current plans, while uniting the community to fight back.
"What high speed rail is doing is completely insane," Cohen said. "In fact, I might call it a boondoggle."
Community Coalition on High Speed Rail member, Gary Patton, said there are a number of logistical issues with the high speed rail plans. He said the financial and business plans for the train are faulty, and the prices of the rail and tickets continue to rise while the number of jobs it would create decreases. He also passionately criticized the idea of elevated tracks running down the Peninsula--a design option that has not been finalized but remains on the table.
"It isn't smart to go right through the middle of our most beautiful and healthy commercial areas," Patton said, "through our great residential areas on the San Francisco peninsula, and put up elevated freeway structures. They blight the communities that they go through. It's not acceptable, it's a boondoggle, and we're gonna stop it, starting now."
Mayor Burt, who came to observe the event, was impressed by the turnout. "I was amazed that on a rainy day they had hundreds of people here," he said.
"I think it just shows that as the entire process has gone on, the more people understand about what is happening, the more concerned they become," he said.
Although the initial cost projection for the rail was $33 billion, it is now at $43 billion, and some estimate it will reach more than $100 billion by the project's completion. While a ticket from San Francisco to Los Angeles was originally an estimated $55, that number has jumped to $105.
Mayor Burt said that the amount of unfunded money still required to complete the project may ultimately stop it in its tracks.
"The political rhetoric and the expenditure of millions and millions of dollars in consultants and the enivormental approval processes may be going full steam ahead," said Burt. "The project itself doesn't have a fraction of the amount they say they need and there's no money in sight for them to be able to achieve what they've been saying."
Additionally, the California High Speed Rail Authority's (HSRA) ridership study figures have been questioned by experts such as those at the UC Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies.
A key issue Peninsula community members have with high speed rail is its alignment through their downtown areas near business districts, parks and schools, most likely in an elevated structure or open trench. Although many have asked for a covered trench or tunnel, these options were taken out of consideration for further study, something local leaders hope will be reversed.
Another problem residents have with high speed rail is that most cities affected by the rail lack the public transportation infrastructure to get riders to and from the train, necessitating the building of parking structures at main high-speed rail terminals. They believe the first step should be fixing that problem.
These issues do not stop at the Peninsula. In fact, High Speed Boondoggle lawn signs proclaiming statements such as "Here comes high speed rail, there goes $$ for schools" and "Here comes high speed rail, there goes my business" are being sent to the Central Valley and Southern California, as well, where members hope the movement will grow.
City officials such as Patton, San Mateo Councilmember Robert Ross and Brisbane Councilmember Sepi Richardson stressed they support high speed rail in concept, but not HSRA's current plan, which they said contains a questionable business plan based on an unreliable ridership study.
"We are not trying to stop high speed rail, we are trying to stop this high-speed rail," said Boondoggle co-founder Mary Helen McMahon.
A main message of the meeting was communicating problems with high-speed rail to state legislators and other government officials.
After the rally, participants marched through the streets of Burlingame with signs in hand and picked up lawn signs and educational literature.
Copyright ©2010 Palo Alto Patch. Published 11/07/2010.