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Rail Committee Meeting: Caltrain electrification EIR

From: domainremoved <Adina>
Date: Thu, 24 Apr 2014 09:50:22 -0700

Dear Council Members,

Thank you for your attention to the Caltrain electrification EIR. The draft
Menlo Park comment
letter<http://ca-menlopark.civicplus.com/DocumentCenter/Home/View/3622>
 includes a number of good points protecting Menlo Park’s interests.

The City takes justifiable pride in our urban canopy. The EIR discloses a
worst case scenario to remove 188 trees (compared to 96 trees that are
planned to be removed over time for the SRI campus project). The trees
provide a wildlife corridor which connects the San Franciscquito creek
riparian corridor to other green spaces on the Peninsula. Caltrain has said
that they will work with concerned cities to modify the design where
possible to reduce tree loss; the letter asks for such design
modifications, which is good and appropriate. The letter also has content
about protecting the historic station, which is reasonable.

Menlo Park City engineers have raised technical issues about the traffic
impact <http://www.menlopark.org/projects/comdev_sri.htm> at intersections
and mitigations, and access to the station by bicycles and pedestrians, and
these are reasonable to scrutinize. I would also love to see Menlo Park
make a similar comment to Palo Alto, recommending utilizing bicycle and
pedestrian improvements as traffic mitigations, since Menlo Park, like Palo
Alto, already has a high rate of walking and bicycling among adults, school
children, and people accessing the train stations.

However, the City Council letter contains a question for Caltrain that
raises a concern that electrification may be in violation of CEQA, by
illegally taking a piecemeal approach to environmental clearance of the
High Speed Rail project. The Town of Atherton is making a similar comment
in its letter, and the chair of the Atherton Rail Committee has told
Atherton City Council that this issue is grounds for a
lawsuit<http://www.almanacnews.com/news/2014/04/18/atherton-challenges-caltrain-electrification-report>
.

Caltrain provides an answer to the question of “CEQA Piecemealing” in the
executive summary of the electrification EIR: “Electrification can be
analyzed as a separate project under the California Environmental Quality
Act (CEQA) because it has independent utility (providing Caltrain
electrified service) and logical termini (station end points).”

The project has “independent utility” - Caltrain electrification will
provide value to Menlo Park and the Peninsula for a decade before High
Speed Rail is scheduled to arrive. And electrified service has distinctive
end points - it serves the corridor from San Francisco to San Jose, and
does not provide any long-distance train service whatsoever. The City of
Palo Alto hired CEQA experts to help with their letter, and the experts
agreed with Caltrain’s explanation.

As you probably know, Menlo Park is already a party to one of the lawsuits
against the High Speed Rail project. The city fought hard against an
earlier proposal for a 4 track elevated system the length of the Peninsula
- a design which was replaced by a blended system where Caltrain and high
speed rail share tracks.

Caltrain electrification provides major benefits for the Menlo Park and the
Peninsula corridor. It will provide faster service and/or more station
stops, adding capacity to Caltrain, at a time when many rush hour trains
are standing room only. It enables (but the initial project doesn’t yet
provide) longer trains and even faster service. It will eliminate diesel
emissions, and remove cars from the freeway.

Menlo Park has the 10th highest ridership station on the Caltrain line, and
has transit-oriented development plans that depend on the continuation and
improvement of Caltrain service. We depend on the ability to take the
train to work and ballgames; our area would be less livable if Caltrain
users drove instead.

The letter notes that Caltrain has not yet defined a schedule for
electrification, and therefore it is not clear that the project has more
benefits than impacts for Menlo Park. At the Council meeting, Caltrain's
Marian Lee noted that it will take Caltrain 2-3 years to come up with a
firm schedule. I look forward to Caltrain’s work on the schedule after the
EIR is done, and hope that Menlo Park sees more service. But even in the
unwelcome event that we don’t, there will still be benefits in cleaner air,
less cars on the freeway, and almost more service nearby in Palo Alto.

As a supporter of Caltrain service and a Menlo Park resident, I want to see
our city supporting Caltrain electrification, and certainly not positioning
ourselves to sue and delay the project.

Sincerely,

Adina Levin
Menlo Park
Received on Thu Apr 24 2014 - 09:49:02 PDT

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