Having a say | October 25, 2013 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - October 25, 2013

Having a say

Palo Alto looks for more representation, influence beyond city limits

by Gennady Sheyner

When Palo Alto officials learned in early 2009 that a little-known Sacramento agency had developed plans to build a 15-foot wall along the Caltrain tracks to support a planned high-speed-rail system, surprise quickly gave way to confusion and anger.

This story contains 4134 words.

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Staff Writer Gennady Sheyner can be emailed at gsheyner@paweekly.com.


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Posted by Ray
a resident of Professorville
on Oct 25, 2013 at 11:44 am

It is interesting that the Palo Alto government sees itself as a small unit being dictated to by a larger government unit, for example, ABAG's dictating 2,860 new housing units as being "highly unrealistic and excessive." But they don't see smaller units, residents and neighborhoods, asking the larger unit, Palo Alto, to support residents against the intrusion of developers as being in the same position. Residents near downtown have been talking to the wall for years about intrusive parking and Maybell residents have had to go to a ballot to fight to keep the essential character of their neighborhood. Reviewing the list of contributors to the "yes on D" is a clear indication of who benefits from construction on Maybell. Complaints to the Council about resident parking permits is an indication who benefits from intrusive parking. Equally clearly, it is easy to see who suffers. When Maybell residents moved in, they didn't expect developers to move into the neighborhood. When residents near downtown moved in, they didn't expect intrusive parking to turn their neighborhoods into distributed parking lots. Downtown land is scarce and greedy eyes seek ever farther land.

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Posted by Finally! This is an important story.
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 25, 2013 at 12:08 pm

Finally! I have been waiting for YEARS for this frustrating representation problem to be addressed. Thanks for shining some daylight on this critically important issue. I hope this effort will yield results. Palo Alto is pressed hard for growth by ABAG (and the cities that have authority to control ABAG's actions which do not include Palo Alto). Resources that might enable us to mitigate impacts of that growth are controlled by representatives of other cities who really don't care whether our transportation, library, public schools, and other resources are impacted. They have the attitude that this is a wealthy city and we should take care of ourselves--though organizations like VTA are happy to receive our tax dollars. They don't bother to look at the Palo Alto's budget constraints.

VTA staff has made some of the most appalling and dismissive remarks about Palo Alto over the years. They are so convinced that we are undeserving of their support they don't realize how abusive they sound. Further, CM Keene is correct that they view Palo Alto as an outlier because we sit on the edge of their territory. It's easy for them to dismiss us when we are so poorly represented. Out of sight, out of mind.

We need representation on ABAG and with the transportation authorities. PA Weekly, please stay on this story. Regional representation is critical to the future success of our community. San Jose has way too much power over other cities in the county. They get more than their fair share of the goodies.

Stay focused on the big picture here. How representation is organized and how that relates to policy decisions and flow of funds is the important story.

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Posted by neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Oct 25, 2013 at 3:02 pm

I am all for HSR, just for the fact that it requires grade separation at crossings. Every now and then, an accident is reported at the crossings - not all of them are suicides. Sometimes I have to wait for at least 15 minutes before I can take a left turn at Alma. Not to mention the annoying train horns in the middle of the night.

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Posted by member
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 25, 2013 at 3:58 pm

Thank you for the extensive article concerning transportation. The SF Chronicle had a lengthy article about the Port of Oakland that is going to increase the amount of ship containers to be internally dispersed via rail versus trucks. Oakland is going to extensively upgrade the port area to lay in a whole new track system. That is an approach to reduce the number of trucks on the road and increase efficiency in moving incoming and outgoing products via rail. That is viewed as more cost efficient with less impact on the environment. Assuming we are looking at the regional approach Redwood City is the last deep water port on the peninsula and is transporting scrap, etc. from the port via rail. Freight trains are running on a regular basis to achieve that purpose.

We need to view CALtran from Gilroy to SF as a single unit regarding upgrade. It makes sense that we need the capability to transport freight via rail if that is a regional approach that is in process. My opinion is that Palo Alto hurts itself by defining every problem within its own bubble here. If the major cities in the region have transportation of products by rail then we should be part of that equation. Electrifying Caltrans is counter to the regional approach. We need some new engines and passenger cars to maximize efficiency - we can do that within the existing available funding. We can participate in the regional approach to move product via rail versus trucks to clear traffic on 101. Having a viable, multi-purpose rail system is part of the upgrade that needs to happen.

HSR is not going to stop in PA to pick up riders - that is counter to it's purpose of timeliness. There is no reason it needs to go down the CALtran corridor since it is not stopping. It needs to travel on an elevated structure either near 101 or 280 as a stand alone effort to achieve it's stated goals, or I-5 to 580 to Oakland and SF. Since we are participating in regional meetings please figure out how we can be part of the freight rail improvements. I think that is a good way to approach state funding that is removed from the HSR debacle.

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a resident of Midtown
on Oct 26, 2013 at 11:46 am

It is nice to see Gennady toeing the company line with his claim about traffic. Palo Alto does not have "too much traffic"--that is a common lie spread far and wide by the public, our councilmembers and their tools in the local press.

as gennady states:
" Like a successful city, it has high ambitions, a wealth of jobs and a vibrant, rapidly evolving restaurant scene. "

If palo alto does not want traffic, it needs to shed jobs, get rid of shopping and close resteraunts. you cannot have one without the other.
I am not sure why the people in palo alto, who make it a hobby to whine about traffic, do not understand this concept.

But I guess we will continue to hear these baseless claims

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Posted by we can do better
a resident of Downtown North
on Oct 26, 2013 at 2:00 pm

I wouldn't want most of the current council members to be on these regional boards - the council members are so out of touch with many in the community, I don't think they would represent our views - just look at all the PC zoning changes they've allowed for higher density development.

Most of the council members want to be on those regional bodies to pad their resumes, not so they can benefit the residents of Palo Alto.

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Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Oct 26, 2013 at 3:36 pm

As the article points out, Palo Alto’s population is really small, compared to Santa Clara County, as a whole (or specially—San Jose). There are roughly 1.8M people in Santa Clara County, and 65,000 night-time residents here in Palo Alto. Based on headcount, it’s not clear that Palo Alto should ever expect to be more than “back benchers”.

While a lot of time seems to have been spent writing this article, it’s difficult to understand what exactly the City officials interviewed are really trying to say. Saying that Palo Alto doesn’t have any kind of “influence” at the regional level doesn’t really explain to us what these City officials think that could do if they actually had seats on the various boards/commissions/committees that they are complaining about.

Our elected officials could write whitepapers that outline their points-of-view. Our elected officials could spend time interfacing with Palo Alto voters, and residents, determining what we want—rather than what they want.

There is also the possibility of requiring important decisions out of the hands of these elected officials and into the hands of the voters. For instance, the recent approval of a BayArea Plan, could be subject to a reversal by the voters—particularly those living in the smaller cities. About 30% of the Bay Area’s population resides in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose. Why not utilize the check-and-balance of our Federal system to provide more “consent of the governed” than we are seeing now, with the lack of representation that reduces our voice in the current system.

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Posted by Not an issue
a resident of Community Center
on Oct 26, 2013 at 4:27 pm

Well said, Wayne. Another gennady special written to appease our council and the residents that think the world should revolve. around palo alto. Naturally the mind set, from some, is that we are palo alto, so we get to dictate to the whole area what needs to be Sen to meet palo altos needs.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 26, 2013 at 8:35 pm

The article implies that Facebook and Google are in Palo Alto. Google is in the city of Mountain View and is moving its personnel via buses. Facebook is in San Mateo County - Menlo Park. Tesla has its manufacturing plant in the east bay next to 880 and BART and moves its PA people by buses.

BART is the main method for moving people but we do not have BART in Palo Alto. There is a lite rail that connects with CALtran in Mountain View for the lower bay area.

Bottom line is that Palo Alto has only one method of transportation and we are simply the beneficiary of great planning by the previous generations. We have done nothing to help complete the BART system while San Jose is busy working BART, CALtran, Amtrack / ACE, light rail, a major airport. The cities that are working on expanding their capabilities should get the representation. Why isn't BART moving down by 280 to close the loop on the bay area? And we have people complaining about the noise of CALtran at night. All of the other cities up the line can hear CALtran - are they complaining? I think that there is higher ridership in San Mateo county as BART and CALtran work together to connect the airport. In the south bay lite rail and ACE work together. HSR is not going to happen - the tide has turned on this effort. The Feds would be better off implementing this in the east coast. Palo Alto needs to step up to the plate to accommodate and make room for all of the other alternate methods of transportation.

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Posted by We are here, we are here, were are HERE!
a resident of Green Acres
on Oct 27, 2013 at 3:22 pm

@Ray in Professorville,
Thank you for saying this! Exactly that was going through my mind as I was reading the article, only you have said it better than I could have.

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Posted by member
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Oct 27, 2013 at 11:46 pm

The article is building a case for having a longer term in office for the elected Council members. However the people who are making the transportation decisions are public figures who are appointed or employees of the MTA, etc. Longer term for the council members is not the answer.

We need to identify who the appointed/employees are who are making the decisions. That will take some digging. At least we have some identified now based on the ABAG experiences.

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Posted by Paco
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm

All I hear from this article is Palo Alto elected officials complaining but offering no valid creative input. City Manager Keene's comments amount to nothing more than senseless babble. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons Palo Alto officials are not included in any meaningful discussions regarding Bay Area Regional policies. Maybe the City Council's time would be better spent figuring out why the exodus of major companies such as Facebook, Google, Xerox, Agilent, etc. occured and we are left with 2nd rate companies that offer little to no benefit to our community.

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Posted by B.C.
a resident of another community
on Nov 18, 2013 at 2:42 am


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Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Nov 18, 2013 at 4:53 am

In my earliest backpacking travels to distant lands of yore, I would answer "California" when asked wherefrom I hailed. San Francisco's location was often vague in the minds of people I met, but world-over everyone knew Hollywood. Today I can say "Palo Alto" and be confident of immediate recognition. The Rome of our nascent millennium, pertly depicted.

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Posted by resident
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

In the NY Times today - 11/19/13 is an extensive article "Japan Pitches its High-Speed Train With an Offer to Finance". This HSR is going to be on the north east corridor of US. It is moving by Meglev - magnetic levitation. The biggest cost in Japan is boring through mountains. I suspect the biggest cost in CA would be boring through the Tehachapi mountains. I do not think CA is in the picture now for federal funding for this project. I think it is being viewed as more productive on the northeast corridor.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.