The California State Assembly and State Senate an initial $8 billion of spending last week for the purposes of constructing the initial leg of the high-speed rail network in the Central Valley.
Proponents of high-speed rail believe it has the potential to revitalize California’s struggling economy while decreasing carbon emissions from cars and airplanes traveling along the popular corridor from the Bay Area to Los Angeles.
Opponents claim high-speed rail is a waste of money and a construction nightmare that will decrease land-values and harm nearby businesses.
The Peninsula itself is strongly divided on the issue. Some such as Assemblyman Rich Gordon are optimistic about high-speed rail’s ability to reignite economic growth.
Gordon referred to the bill as an early investment in California’s rail system that will benefit California’s infrastructure.
Gordon stressed that despite past controversies, the High Speed Rail Authority has a renewed commitment to addressing citizens’ concerns.
"The High Speed Rail Authority is under new leadership, has refocused and recast its business and fiscal plans, and is more directly engaging communities and making better efforts to address local needs," he said.
Gordon stressed the benefits the Peninsula will receive both in terms of increased Caltrain funding as well as the new proposal to electrify the existing tracks rather than building new tracks to accommodate the new trains.
Nonetheless, Gordon acknowledged it would likely be decades before California sees the envisioned high-speed rail network.
On the other side of the debate, Atherton’s Mayor Bill Windmer, who has been an active critic of the high-speed rail project, believes it is bad for the Peninsula and bad for the state.
On a state level, Windmer expressed concern that the $8 billion in approved spending is money that the state does not have given its pension obligations and constant budget troubles.
In addition, Windmer claims it is unlikely the state will obtain the requisite federal funding to expand beyond the Central Valley.
“This leaves us with a train to nowhere,” said Windmer.
On a local level, Windmer claims that the impacts would be disastrous
“It would have a Berlin Wall effect cutting this town in half,” referring to the Town of Atherton.
Windmer stressed the deleterious effects would be shared among other peninsula communities due to greater noise pollution and devaluation of property values.
Other leaders such as San Mateo Deputy Mayor David Lim have a cautious but optimistic approach.
Lim stressed that rational dialogue is more effective than the strategy of lawsuits employed by the City of Palo Alto and the Town of Atherton.
By working with the High Speed Rail Authority, Lim believes the City of San Mateo was successful in gaining approval of a ‘Blended System’ whereby the high-speed trains run on existing Caltrain tracks that will be upgraded to serve the new purpose.
“By building within the existing footprint of the Caltrain tracks, we can reduce the property devaluation and noise pollution,” said Lim.
Of the $8 billion spending bill, $500 million will go towards improvements and modernizations for Caltrain, including more funding for suicide prevention initiatives.
As a result, Lim claims, even if the high-speed rail project goes no further, the peninsula will still be better off as a result of the approved spending.
“As Americans, we all want this project to succeed, but regardless; this funding will be great for Caltrain and for the Peninsula.”
For now, the high-speed rail still faces challenges within the Central Valley, where it faces lawsuits from Farmers Associations concerned about property damage. Many farmers are currently seeking an injunction that would stall proposed construction.