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CALIFORNIA EMINENT DOMAIN LAW BLOG

San Jose to pay $2 million to acquire parcel and settle lawsuit; Mercury News, 10/23/09

By John Woolfolk

 San Jose officials are offering more than $2 million to buy the site of an East Taylor Street drug and alcohol rehabilitation center and settle the owner’s lawsuit accusing the city of unfairly denying its expansion.

City officials say the land, about seven-tenths of an acre between East Taylor Street, Highway 101 and Watson Park, is needed for freeway interchange improvements to accommodate a planned Berryessa Bay Area Rapid Transit station nearby.

The City Council is expected Tuesday to approve the proposed settlement with Sunnyvale dentist John Licking, who owns the property and the LifeChoices rehabilitation center located there.

“I would characterize this in technical legal terms as a twofer,” said Councilman Sam Liccardo, who represents the area. “We’re resolving the suit with the added benefit of getting land that we wanted to buy anyway.”

Licking’s lawyer, Stuart Kirchick, said his client felt that given the likelihood the city would seek to acquire the property through eminent domain, it was a reasonable settlement.

“It’s a difficult situation to be in,” said Kirchick. “Looking to the future, the city was going to say ‘We want this property.’ Given the situation he’s in, this a good resolution.”

LifeChoices treats hundreds of people a year wrestling with drug or alcohol addiction. Licking bought the property in 2001 and hoped to expand its capacity. Though the proposed expansion would require a zoning change, it was consistent with the city’s general plan.

But in September 2002, the council rejected the rezoning, with former Councilwoman Cindy Chavez, who represented the district at the time, calling it premature in light of future BART or park expansion plans.

Licking sued in 2007, alleging the real reason the project was rejected was opposition from nearby residents who objected to having more recovering addicts in their neighborhood. The suit argued that the city’s move constituted discrimination against the disabled.

With the Berryessa BART station expected to be completed in 2018, city officials said acquiring the property for related road improvements would demonstrate commitment to the transit project, which can help secure grant funding.

The settlement calls for the city to pay $2 million for the land, which is about what an appraiser said it would be worth had the rezoning been approved.

The city will rent the property to LifeChoices for $1 a year until it is needed for the freeway project.

The city also must pay an additional amount to be determined through arbitration to compensate Licking for the value of the business on the property. The money to buy the site will come from funds the city has set aside for transportation improvements.

Liccardo said the city would likely have ended up paying more for both an eminent-domain acquisition and a separate legal settlement.

“As I see it,” he said, “it’s a bargain.”

Mercury News: http://www.mercurynews.com

State plans to sue BeauRivage owner; Malibu Times, 10/21/09

Caltrans will file a lawsuit against Daniel Forge so it can seize part of his property through eminent domain in order to  install fish ladders in Solstice Creek

By Olivia Damavandi

The California Transportation Commission in a hearing last week authorized Caltrans to sue the owner of the BeauRivage restaurant property in order to seize a portion of it by eminent domain.

The state wants to take the property in order to conduct a six-month, $430,000 project it hopes will help reinstate steelhead trout into Solstice Creek, which runs through part of the property. The project involves the implementation of fish ladders-structures that help the natural migration of the fish-to allow the fish to swim upstream of the parking area of the restaurant’s property, located near the intersection of Pacific Coast Highway and Corral Canyon Road.

Caltrans is expected to file the lawsuit against BeauRivage property owner Daniel Forge in Los Angeles Superior Court within the next year, Steve Maller, deputy director and chief engineer for the CTC, said Monday in a telephone interview. A hearing will follow, at which the court will decide whether to grant Caltrans possession of a portion of the property.

“I’m not surprised by [the outcome of the CTC hearing last week], that’s the way it goes,” Forge said Monday in a telephone interview. “They walk on your property like they own it.”

The court will also decide on the amount of Forge’s monetary compensation if he and Caltrans are unable to come to an agreement themselves. The court’s rulings will be final, unless Forge decides to appeal the matter to the appellate court and the State Supreme Court, Maller said.

Forge announced several weeks ago his intention to sue Caltrans if it decided to pursue the eminent domain process. Jeff Jennings, a former city council member and attorney, is representing Forge.

“We’ve had a meeting with some Caltrans representatives,” Jennings said Tuesday in a telephone interview. “We’re talking with them but I don’t have any details to provide.”

The state’s attempt to acquire part of the parcel has exasperated Forge, who claims the project would handicap his business by eliminating significant parking space and by shutting down the north entrance of the five-acre property. Forge also said the state has neither tried to negotiate nor offer him any monetary compensation.

“Of course [Caltrans] will try to low-ball me, they’re going to try to get away with murder,” Forge said. “I can always fight over what they want to grant me. If they offer me a thousand dollars, I can tell them to go to hell.”

Caltrans, however, asserts the project will in no way impact the property and that it has made numerous attempts to negotiate with Forge.

“Caltrans made multiple attempts to meet with the property owner and did offer monetary compensation but the offer was rejected,” Caltrans Public Information Officer Kelly Markham said last month in a telephone interview, declining to disclose the amount of proposed compensation or number of offers.

Furthermore, Markham said, “Just the stream bed would be occupied, none of his actual property, so this notion that we are somehow impacting his business and stealing his property is false.”

Caltrans is seeking two easements: a permanent one to build fish ladders in Solstice Creek, and a temporary one along the banks of the creek that would allow construction to take place.

“The permanent construction easement will allow them access for maintenance purposes onto the fish ladders,” Maller said last month in a telephone interview. “But that’s no big deal, a truck comes every few years and within a few hours they’re out of there.

“The entire property remains in the hands of the property owner,” Maller continued. “Not an inch of his property is being taken from him.”

Malibu Times: http://www.malibutimes.com

Tulare County now wants 11 more parcels on Road 80; Visalia Times-Delta, 10/22/09

Up to 14 properties may now be affected under eminent domain

By Valerie Gibbons

 The county moved to ask for a pre-judgment order that will begin the eminent domain process for 11 parcels, bringing the total number of properties in jeopardy of being seized by the agency up to 14.

The fate of three more parcels will be decided next week.

The county has been trying to acquire properties -†many of which are in 40- to-60-foot-wide strips, and about a mile in length — since the beginning of 2008. Eighty-five other property owners along the route have reached sale-price settlements.

But now a breakdown in negotiations has the county moving toward a court order that would allow it to move forward with the eminent domain process on the property owners who haven’t signed agreements with the agency.

Resistance has been mounting over the last month as a growing list of business owners, homeowners and dairymen began demanding more answers from the county. At the top of their list: How well they will be compensated for giving up some — if not all — of their land for the road project.

Fareed Saphieh, who owns a house and a store along East Parlier Avenue in Dinuba, said the county hasn’t offered him enough money to keep his business, Carniceria La Michoacana, in operation.

“After you take the store and my house, I will have nothing,” he said. “What you are offering is not enough for me to buy another store.”

In some cases, the sale of the right of way will affect how many cows a dairy can keep on its land, according to state wastewater permitting requirements.

“This is my land; this is my future,” said Daniel Griffioen, one of the dairymen who has been unable to negotiate a purchase price with the county. “Actions speak louder than words — and using eminent domain in this case will send a strong message.”

County officials said they didn’t have control over whether the state made any allowances for dairy owners who give up part of their property for a public right-of-way.

“That’s not a problem with the county’s permits; that’s a problem with the water board’s permits,” Supervisor Pete Vander Poel said.

In other cases, homeowners say selling off the land for the right of way for the widening will make their homes impossible to live in, or sell.

Bruce Belknap — who owns a home within feet of what will be the curb of Road 80 once the widening is finished — said he was told years ago that an official from the county would be out to his property to hear his concerns.

Belknap said the right of way acquisition isn’t the problem with him, it is how he will be compensated once the road is moved within feet of his front door.

So far, he said, no one has contacted him.

“If they had just done what they said they would do, we wouldn’t be in this position now,” he said.

Supervisor Phil Cox apologized to Belknap.

“That was handled poorly,” he said. “But we’re not closing any doors. We still want to talk to you.”

Visalia Times-Delta: http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com

Tulare County Board of Supervisors to vote on getting more land for Road 80 widening plan; Visalia Times-Delta, 10/20/09

By Valerie Gibbons

Tulare County officials, who’ve placed eminent domain claims on three pieces of property as part of the widening of Road 80, may do the same for 19 additional parcels.

The Tulare County Board of Supervisors will vote Wednesday on whether to ask a court to allow the use of eminent domain. Hearings about the proposal will be held in a special meeting.

The requested prejudgment order would target road frontage just north of Visalia.

The 40- to 60-foot-wide strips, which are about a mile in length, belong to three landowners. County officials hope to force sale of the properties so they can widen the route from Visalia to Dinuba from two to four lanes.

The county argues that it has the power to force the sale under eminent domain because of public safety issues associated with Road 80.

The county has been trying to acquire the land since the beginning of 2008. Last month, the board heard emotional testimony from three landowners, whose last-ditch appeal of the eminent domain seizures was denied.

The property owners, all dairy families, contended that negotiation details — such as the relocation of fences and wells — had not been settled.

Eminent domain is the controversial power that allows cities, counties and redevelopment agencies to seize public property if there is an overriding public benefit. In California, a government agency using eminent domain must pay the market rate for the property.

Visalia Times-Delta: http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com

Exeter may close C Street; Visalia Times-Delta, 10/20/09

By Eric Woomer

An Exeter City Council vote expected next week could determine whether a street closes down and residents lose their homes.

It also could mean a harsh battle involving the homeowners, the City Council and the Exeter Public School District.

Closing C Street

The school district will ask the city to close C Street between Highway 65 and Chestnut Street while it negotiates for 11 C Street lots, Superintendent Renée Whitson said. The homes, directly across the street from Lincoln Elementary School, have been there since the beginning of the 20th century.

While the original owners are gone, some residents have lived on C Street for more than 20 years.

“I’ve raised my family here,” homeowner Gary Willis said. “I own this house, and I don’t feel that it should be up the City Council to tell me I have to sell it.”

Willis, whose parents own the home next door, believes the systematic closure of C Street will remove a bargaining chip from the homeowners.

“If they make a land bridge between the school and our sidewalk, our bargaining power is over,” Willis said.

Exeter Mayor Leon Ooley said the council is considering making C Street at Highway 65 a cul-de-sac, creating a sidewalk between the school and the homes.

“We have looked at other alternatives, but they didn’t work with the city,” Whitson said. “The city and school district have to work together.”

Running out of room

Lincoln School has a capacity of 671 students. Currently, there are 651 in eight kindergarten classes, nine first-grade classes, nine second-grade classes and three combination classes.

There were 12 first-grade classes before the school raised the student-to-teacher ratio of 24 to 1.

“We had to bring relocatables in to keep up with the growing number of students,” Whitson said. “We must take action now.”

Homeowners seem to understand the problem but feel they’d have a hard time getting enough money to move to a new home.

“We are not here to stand in the way of progress or the school expanding,” homeowner Roberto Chapa said. “But we need to be accommodated for what we are going through.”

Whitson said the school must try to work within the state guidelines for students’ safety and will need to find a way to accommodate the growing number of students.

Safety

Safety is one reason to consider closing C Street, Ooley said.

The street could be considered unsafe because of its unusual slanted intersection at Highway 65, the lack of visibility for oncoming traffic and its proximity to the school.

But there have been no accidents on C Street over the last two years, according to the California Office of Traffic Safety.

Meanwhile, surrounding streets Chestnut and Highway 65 between Rocky Hill Drive and Firebaugh Avenue have combined for more than 20 collisions and five injuries.

“I could see this street being dangerous if parents were dropping their kids off and causing traffic to back up on this small street,” Willis said. “But it’s been a couple years since they used the street as a school loading zone. The only accident I remember was over five years ago, when a drunk driver plowed into a tree. Other than that, it’s been a safe street.”

Moving in and moving out

When Leslie and Roberto Chapa moved into their C Street home in August, they thought it would be a place to raise their three children for a while. One week after escrow closed, they learned they may not be living there much longer.

“If we negotiate this sale with the school, we won’t stay in Exeter,” Roberto Chapa said. “They’ll have to pay us what we deserve, but we won’t stay here.”

Greg Collins, an independent city planner and a Visalia city councilman, will work with the school if the school’s expansion plan passes.

He expects the school to negotiate one property at a time and that the use of eminent domain would be a last resort.

“There are pros and cons to this expansion,” he said. “People moving out is a con, but students having room to learn is a a big pro.”

Homeowner worries

The Chapas fear they will lose the first-time homebuyers’ credit they used as a down payment.

Visalia Times-Delta: http://www.visaliatimesdelta.com

Council OKs eminent domain for PCH turn lane; The Press-Telegram, 10/20/09

By Paul Eakins

City of Long Beach Eminent Domain

LONG BEACH – The City Council made the rare decision Tuesday to use its power of eminent domain to acquire a sliver of property along Pacific Coast Highway in order to widen the roadway.

The council voted 8-1, with Councilwoman Gerrie Schipske dissenting, to force the sale of the 9,934-square-foot strip of land in southeast Long Beach to create a right-turn lane on southbound PCH north of Second Street.

The property is behind City National Bank and in front of Hof’s Hut restaurant. The city will pay the property owner $655,000, which is an offer that the owner had rejected.

Eminent domain gives governmental entities the ability to force someone to sell their property at a fair market value for the public good. Dennis Thys, the city’s director of Community Development, said the traffic mitigation project had been recommended in a 1998 environmental impact report for the Marina Shores Shopping Center located on PCH, south of 2nd Street, which is where the Whole Foods Market is located.

The often crowded intersection serves more than 85,000 vehicles per day and up to 100,000 daily during peak summer months, city traffic engineer Dave Roseman said.

“It’s an exciting time for the community,” said 3rd District Councilman Gary DeLong. “They have waited for this project for many years.”

An attorney representing the property owner had been expected to speak at Tuesday’s meeting but didn’t show up. This lack of input from the property owner bothered Schipske. She said the city should continue negotiating with the property owner and not use eminent domain.

“It may be needed … but I do have a strong objection for government doing things by eminent domain,” Schipske said. Although the council action allows city staff to move forward with eminent domain, Thys said he hopes to reach an agreement with the property owner and avoid the eminent domain legal procedure.

Assistant City Attorney Heather Mahood said the litigation cost of pursuing eminent domain would be $30,000 to $40,000 for outside counsel, in addition to the $655,000 price of the land. The construction project itself will cost almost $1 million but will be paid mostly by Boeing because of a Seal Beach development that impacts Long Beach traffic, as well as by the Marina Shores developer, Thys said.

Thys said the project won’t have any permanent impact on the businesses there. However, he said Hof’s Hut would be temporarily impacted during the construction of the turn lane, which could take up to five months.

The Press-Telegram: http://www.presstelegram.com

First phase of UC Merced Campus Parkway could be done later this year; Merced Sun-Star, 10/16/09

By Corinne Reilly

 The first stretch of Campus Parkway, the long-awaited expressway that will eventually connect Highway 99 to UC Merced, could be open to traffic by the end of this year.

In the works for more than a decade, the four-lane, $110 million expressway has been billed as vital to UC Merced’s success.

It also will play an important role in preventing congestion on Merced’s roads as the five-year-old campus continues to grow, county planners have said. Today UC Merced serves roughly 3,400 students, but that’s projected to jump to 25,000 over the next three decades.

Crews have been working for several months on the roadway’s first phase, which stretches from the Mission Avenue interchange at Highway 99 to Childs Avenue. They began paving work last week, said Steve Rough, a supervising engineer with Merced County’s public works department.

Depending on the weather, that first phase could be open to traffic by the end of this year, Rough said. If this winter is a wet one, he added, construction could last into early spring.

Sacramento-based Teichert Construction is doing the work.

“We’re definitely moving along,” Rough said. “We’re just not sure what the weather will bring.”

The rest of the four-mile-long expressway will be built in two more phases — one stretching from Childs Avenue to Highway 140 and the other from 140 to Yosemite Avenue.

A timeline for those phases depends on funding.

So far the county has gathered enough state money to pay only for a small part of the second phase. Officials hope a combination of state and federal tax dollars will cover the rest.

The expressway eventually will be extended from Yosemite Avenue all the way out to UC Merced.

Plans for that final stretch won’t take shape until developers begin building the massive new community that university officials have envisioned will surround the campus.

To build the entire expressway, the county must acquire about 160 acres of land from 15 owners. Those landowners were first notified in 1998 that they’d probably have to make way for the new road.

The county successfully negotiated land sales for all the property it needed for the first phase.

Rough said the county is now working to acquire the land for phases two and three, and that most owners have agreed to sell.

The county is slated to begin eminent domain proceedings next month against two landowners who so far have declined to sell their property to the county, according to written reports.

Campus Parkway earned its final go-ahead to break ground from the Federal Highway Administration in May 2007.

Merced Sun-Star: http://www.mercedsunstar.com

REGION: Bullet train’s proposed path rips through Rainbow man’s property; North County Times, 10/10/09

By Chris Nichols

Curt Nicolaisen fell in love with Rainbow’s rural charm 24 years ago. The town’s warmhearted residents and natural beauty convinced him to leave suburban Orange County and build a home on Rice Canyon Road.

But never once did Nicolaisen, a soft-spoken product quality engineer, expect a multibillion-dollar bullet train line could one day run through his peaceful 4-acre property.

That, however, is the California High Speed Rail Authority’s rough plan.

A Google map of the project, on the authority’s Web site, shows a proposed tunnel cutting through Nicolaisen’s land and that of dozens of other Rainbow and Bonsall parcels as the rail runs south along the Interstate 15 corridor.

“Shock and disbelief,” was Nicolaisen’s first reaction upon viewing the map late this summer.

Next came worry and lament.

“In three years, the house is going to be paid off and this comes along,” said Nicolaisen, 52, who lives with his wife, Mary, and their two golden retrievers in a country home surrounded by palm, citrus and avocado trees.

“We planned on dying here,” he said, adding he will fight to keep his home.

Nicolaisen’s case provides a window into the possible challenges state officials will have as they plan and build the 800-mile-long high-speed rail network. Some landowners could force the state to use eminent domain to take their land; others may agree to relocation settlements and turn over their property.

Public meetings about the project are set for this week in Escondido, La Jolla and San Diego, and next week in Murrieta. High-speed rail stations are planned in all four communities.

The meetings will serve as a “kick-off” of a years-long environmental review of the project, said Jose Martinez, who is managing the development of the line’s 167-mile Los Angeles-to-San Diego stretch for the rail authority.

Questions and comments are welcome from the public at the meetings, Martinez said.

Once the entire project is complete —- and that won’t be for a decade or more —- the rail line will connect the state’s major cities from San Diego to Sacramento, with trains zipping north and south at more than 200 mph.

California voters last fall approved a $9.95 billion bond for the project, estimated to cost $45 billion. Statewide, 52.7 percent of voters supported the proposition. In San Diego County, 48.5 percent approved, while 49 percent said “yes” in Riverside County. Last week, state leaders asked the federal government for $4.7 billion in stimulus funds to help plan and build the rail line.

Transportation leaders have championed high-speed rail for its potential to ease congestion on state freeways and create tens of thousands of jobs.

The cost of the project, however, has caused some to balk.

“We’re spending all that $40 billion? Who does that really benefit except the people that are building it,” said Don Vierstra, a retired land developer who is watching the project closely because he owns property along I-15 in Murrieta. “That money can be spent on so many other things … our own freeways.”

The rail authority’s 2008 estimates put the project’s land acquisition costs at about $2.5 billion, earthwork at $3.5 billion, the cost of the trains at $4 billion and all structures at $6 billion. Other costs include designing the project, building the track and grade separations, environmental mitigation and the electrification of the rail line.

Vierstra said the project’s cost, more than what might happen to his vacant half-mile strip of land, is his main worry.

Despite residents’ concerns, officials say project plans —- including the route —- are nowhere near final.

“I think the key word is ‘general’ route,” Martinez said.

He said rail officials won’t have answers to all questions at the upcoming meetings —- in fact, he said they won’t be able to address Nicolaisen’s particular and very large concern about a tunnel planned under his greenhouse.

“We’re not to that level of information,” he said.

Still, Martinez said, “What we want is questions to start shaping the route. Right now, we’re still at the starting gate.”

The local stretch would run south along I-15, with stops in Murrieta and Escondido, and then cut west across Sorrento Valley with a stop in University City. From there, it would continue south along Interstate 5 with a final stop in downtown San Diego.

Planning for the local leg is about three to five years behind compared with the San Francisco and Los Angeles regions. Martinez said environmental review in San Diego County will probably run until the end of 2013.

Construction on the state’s earliest rail sections could be complete by fall 2017, although that timeline doesn’t apply locally, Martinez said.

Much of the work depends on raising billions more dollars from both the public and private sector, he said.

Nicolaisen, who is a member of the Rainbow Community Planning Group and familiar with the approval process for large projects, said he is worried the route is more fixed than officials are letting on.

“When it gets to the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) point, it’s a runaway train,” he said. “No pun intended.”

Nicolaisen and several neighbors argued the line should run along or underneath I-15 the whole way south. As proposed, it does so for much of the route from Murrieta south but then tunnels through Rainbow and Bonsall just south of Temecula as I-15 bends west.

“Why would you put it under a community’s houses? Affect their wells?,” asked Bud Swanson, also a member of the Rainbow Community Planning Group.

Swanson and others noted that Rainbow’s high water table, which allows a bevy of nurseries to flourish in the area, would likely be drained by such a project. “It would have far less impact on the community (under the freeway).”

Escondido Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler, who chairs the region’s transportation planning agency, said residents in the rail line’s path should be dealt with “fairly and honestly.”

If necessary, she said, the authority should buy their property, relocate them and not drag its feet.

Nicolaisen said he will have a lot of questions at the Escondido meeting.

“I would like to learn all the details of what they’re doing: The exact route, the depth (of the tunnel). Are they condemning my house? Are the pictures on my wall going to shake every five minutes?” Nicolaisen said.

Call staff writer Chris Nichols at 760-740-5426.

Public scoping meetings in local area, all from 3 to 7 p.m.

Tue., Oct. 13, Lawrence Family Jewish Community Center, 4126 Executive Drive, La Jolla

Wed., Oct. 14, Ramada Limited, San Diego Airport, 1403 Rosecrans St., San Diego

Thu., Oct. 15, Escondido Center for the Arts, 340 N. Escondido Blvd., Escondido

Mon., Oct. 19 Murrieta Public Library, Eight Town Square, 24700 Adams Ave., Murrieta

Public comments

Public comments about the project can be submitted on the rail authority’s Web site, www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov, or by writing to Dan Leavitt, deputy director, ATTN: Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire Section HST Project EIR/EIS, California High-Speed Rail Authority, 925 L St., Suite 1425, Sacramento, CA 95814, or by e-mail with subject line “LA-SD HST Section via the Inland Empire” to comments@hsr.ca.gov no later than Nov. 20.

North County Times: http://www.nctimes.com

Furniture on the outside; Examiner.com, 10/3/09

By Kaleene Kenning

A jury sided with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency in its eminent domain suit against the owners of a large, empty, but somewhat artsy former tenement building, the Hugo Hotel at Howard and Sixth. The 144-room, 99-year-old hotel has been vacant since it was gutted by fire 20 years ago. San Francisco’s most quaintly decorated blight, the Hugo Hotel had furniture hung off its exterior walls by an artist in the late 1990s.

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency began working in the area after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, but the agency failed to encourage the owners of the Hugo Hotel to replace, rehabilitate, or sell their property. The owners, the Patel family of Hillsborough, CA who owned the site through an Oregon-based corporation, have allegedly turned down thirty offers since 2003. When offered $3.25 million, they asked for $4.6 million, but even though the buyer agreed to the price the transaction never happened for lack of motivation on the owner’s part. In April, the redevelopment agency offered to buy the property for $3.25 million, but the owners sought $7 million, according to the report. The agency filed an eminent domain lawsuit in June 2008.

The San Francisco Redevelopment Agency was awarded the building and the Patel family was awarded $4.6 million. $4.6 million is perhaps well below the profit that would have come had the property been zoned for a high-rise, but it is also well below the $400,000 the family paid for the property in 1964. The owners were paying only a $7,000 tax bill on the hotel, so they could afford to wait, and with height restrictions preventing them from tearing it down and building a 30-story skyscraper, it appears they were happy to hold out.

The Hugo Hotel is slated to be demolished and replaced with low-cost housing units with stores at street level.

Examiner.com: http://www.examiner.com

Details unveiled for high-speed rail; The Monterey County Herald, 10/1/09

The Monterey County Herald

Love it or hate it, the California high-speed train will bolt through each neighborhood along the Caltrain tracks on either 20-foot high rail bridges, alongside the current railroad, or underground, according to state plans revealed Wednesday.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority released the much-anticipated “alternatives analysis,” far and away the most detailed view yet of how the massive project will forever transform the region from San Francisco to San Jose. The highly controversial $40 billion bullet train will whisk passengers at speeds up to 125 mph along the Caltrain corridor and travel to Los Angeles, with service expected to begin late next decade.

The authority proposed three track alignment options: raised tracks on either open aerial structures similar to freeway overpasses or on filled-in berms, typically about 20 feet above street level; adding two tracks next to the existing Caltrain railroad; or underground tracks through either an enclosed tunnel or open trench. At no point will the tracks cross street intersections.

The rail authority will not select the actual track alignment until early 2011, and construction will start in late 2012.

The configurations proposed Wednesday will give planners, city officials and residents options to study — and debate — for the next 1½ years.

In most cases the railroad would feature four side-by-side tracks, with two for electrified Caltrains and a pair for the bullet trains.

The expansion may result in property taking of homes and businesses through eminent domain, although high-speed train Project Manager Dominic Spaethling said they may consider stacking tracks, two-by-two, in especially tight areas such as Millbrae, San Mateo and Redwood City.

It is possible the rail line will rise and fall throughout the region depending on the needs of cities, although state engineering manager Tim Cobb said it would not resemble a rollercoaster. He said planners hope to keep the elevation as consistent as possible, noting they can only raise every 100 feet of track by one foot.

Spaethling said the authority does not yet favor any of the particular alignments and will spend the rest of the year studying the three options based on factors such as feasibility, neighborhood impact and land use. Many cities favor the underground tracks but fear they will be too expensive.

Among the highlights of the report, the state said it is now considering Mountain View, in addition to Palo Alto and Redwood City, as host for the region’s fourth high-speed rail station. Stops have already been cemented in San Francisco, San Jose and Millbrae, but a fourth mid-Peninsula station may be added.

Also, for several cities that hoped the train would be “out of sight, out of mind,” the authority said it would study tunneling or trenching in communities such as Burlingame, Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton.

Two of those cities, Menlo Park and Atherton, went as far as to sue the rail authority last summer, and Palo Alto filed a legal brief in support of their lawsuit earlier this year. A Sacramento judge next week is expected to issue a disposition in the lawsuit that Atherton and Menlo Park filed last year, with the support of Palo Alto, against the rail authority.

“We’re pleased that the authority is taking our comments seriously and that they’re going to look at all options seriously,” said Palo Alto Councilwoman Yoriko Kishimoto, who helped start a five-city consortium to ensure local cities had a voice in the train planning process.

Other cities in which below-ground tunneling or trenching will be studied include San Francisco, Millbrae, northern San Mateo, southern San Carlos, northern Redwood City, Mountain View, northern Sunnyvale, Santa Clara and San Jose.

Some cities received only one proposal and will not have their track elevations altered. Instead, planners will likely just add two tracks to the sides of their existing stretch of railroad. These sections include the railroad stretches between the Bayshore and South San Francisco Caltrain stations, most of San Bruno, from southern San Mateo to northern San Carlos, and from southern Sunnyvale to northern Santa Clara.

Conversely, the authority said it will absolutely need to build elevated rail bridges or send its trains underground in northern San Mateo and near the Redwood City and San Jose Diridon Caltrain stations. The trains will need to run underground in most of northeastern San Francisco, as well.

Meanwhile, the proposal for raised rail bridges has scared some cities into thinking trains would split their communities in two, and some in Palo Alto have compared it to a local “Berlin Wall.” The authority will study raised structures in several cities south of South San Francisco.

Finally, the authority released six proposals for the start and stop points for the Bay Area portion of the rail line. The authority said the San Jose stop would either be at the Diridon Station or directly next to it, and proposed four areas for the San Francisco stations at or just south of the Transbay Terminal.

Spaethling said in many areas the authority will also study whether to raise or lower roadways to accommodate high-speed trains traveling over or beneath them.

The proposals put to rest any hopes residents had that the tracks would travel along an alternative path, such as Interstate 280 or Highway 101.

The authority started accepting public comment on the topic at a meeting in San Carlos Wednesday night, and will host open houses Oct. 9 in Sunnyvale and Oct. 13 in San Francisco. Residents and government agencies can also submit comments to the authority during the next 30 to 45 days.

The Monterey County Herald: http://www.montereyherald.com

COPYRIGHT © 2010 Arthur J. Hazarabedian, Esq.