California's high-speed rail system should not stop in Palo Alto as it speeds between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the City Council agreed Monday night.
Citing a wide range of reasons -- including increased traffic, a stringent parking requirement, questionable ridership projections and flaws in the proposed station design -- the council voted unanimously Monday to take a position against a local rail station.
Along with Mountain View and Redwood City, the California High-Speed Rail Authority had chosen Palo Alto as one of three possible cities in the Midpeninsula that could host a station for the voter-approved rail line. The majority of the Mountain View has expressed its opposition to putting such a station in its downtown.
The Palo Alto council agreed Monday that the city shouldn't have anything to do a rail station. Council members compared bringing a high-speed rail station to Palo Alto to building a regional airport in the middle of the city. The council took its vote days after its High-Speed Rail Committee unanimously rejected the station idea.
The rail authority indicated that the community with a rail station would need to build 3,000 parking spots for train riders without three miles of the station, including 1,000 spots next to the station. Staff estimated it would cost about $150 million to meet this requirement.
The authority is considering building a rail stop at the historic University Avenue Caltrain station, though officials indicated that they would consider the California Avenue station if the city expressed an interest.
The council agreed Monday that neither city site could accommodate the massive project. Vice Mayor Sid Espinosa said Monday that a rail station "just doesn't make sense for the city."
"We just don't have the streets or the capacity to consider doing this either at California Avenue or University Avenue," Espinosa said.
Other council members had different concerns. Yiaway Yeh said he was worried that a local rail station would bring high-speed rail into competition with Caltrain. Gail Price cited the ongoing controversy over the rail authority's ridership numbers and underscored the council's lack of confidence in the authority. Mayor Pat Burt noted that even the supposedly "at grade" design for the tracks at the station calls for the tracks to be raised by nine to 10 feet.
"It's a new definition of 'at grade,'" Burt quipped. "Berm is the new at grade."
Councilman Greg Scharff said a rail station would also be environmentally detrimental because it would bring thousands of additional cars to the city every day. This is ironic, he noted, given that a major reason for high-speed rail is to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions and help the environment.
"Frankly, having a Midpeninsula station does none of those things," Scharff said. "Having a Midpeninsula station is an environmentally bad decision."