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Meeting Report: San Mateo City Council study session March 1

Big thanks to Ted Crocker for this report.

Original meeting notice

History Director of Public Works Larry Patterson stated the “City has been very proactive” giving an abbreviated overview of what the city has done from 1994 through 2009, much of which, until recently, has been focused on Caltrain grade separation and transit oriented developments (TOD) along the tracks.  It is acknowledged that this work is helpful in developing a plan for HSR.  Director Patterson pointed to more recent, ongoing participation in the HSR in the form of the Policy Working Group (PWG), Technical Working Group (TWG) and interaction with rail program staff, including the recent bus tour with the HSRA Chair, Curt Pringle and staff.  The City firmly supports Prop 1a.   
CSS.  The City of San Mateo rolled out Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) with a CSS public workshop to follow on March 17 at the Main Library.  (Ed. Note: the City only just added HSR information to the City website in February.)  Mr. Patterson outlined how CSS input could take place and how the information should flow in an iterative process from public workshop to council review to the TWG/PWG groups to the Peninsula Rail Program (PRP) folks and back around to new workshops, and so on.  Stake holders were identified.  Council member Brandt Grutte, also the council’s HSR contact, urged concerned people to get involved early, but requested they commit to the process long term.  Director Patterson expressed a concern shared with several members of the council that without HSR, there is not a clear funding mechanism to accomplish grade separation.  (Ed Note. Is it any clearer with HSR?)  However council also agreed there are two big issues surrounding HSR; the aggressive schedule and the budget constraints, and acknowledged the lack of real detail thus far.  Council Member Jack Mathews noted it took 5 years for the 2nd phase grade separation study for Caltrain versus 60 days (I think I heard him right, but you get the idea) for HSR.  This lead to the next concern of whether or not San Mateo has some assurance the CHSRA will be sensitive to San Mateo’s concerns?  Will they be reimbursed for such things as loss of business, relocation of business, costs of streets, etc.?  The City does recognize the benefits of a potential reduced impact to their downtown with grade separation, especially if run below grade (i.e. air rights), and the need for electrification of Caltrain.  But Council Member Mathews asked, “Is the community comfortable with what they [CHSRA] have come up with?”
Strategy.  San Mateo’s present (and past) strategy is to operate independent of the other cities of the Peninsula.  Council Member David Lim, a trial lawyer, said in his profession it is thought that “Louder is not better.”  Joining the lawsuit is not a good idea.  For now San Mateo will be doing their work quietly and collaboratively with the CHSRA.  He said Burlingame will not be able to work collaboratively with the CHSRA (inferring due to membership in the Peninsula Cities Coalition (PCC)), and because of that will need to spend excess money to defend its position while possibly closing a library and fire station to do so.  He does not want San Mateo to go down that road.  San Mateo plans to wine and dine, call, get to know the CHSRA board members in an effort to make their position heard.  They also noted the need to be visible and heard with the legislators.  In order to carry any weight, they need to build relationships in Sacramento.  Council member Lim said they need to “lobby hard”.
Guests.HSR reps Mike Garvey and Bruce Fukuji were present but only Bruce spoke briefly.
Mayor’s remarks.Seeming to acknowledge that public outreach hasn’t been what it should, Mayor Lee reassured the public that they “didn’t just open the can today.”  He further stated Asia & Europe have been there a long time.  It’s time to join the world.”  He noted the sheer scale of this project including the number of grade separations (crossings) just between SF and SJ.  He said San Mateo is the largest city on the Peninsula – next to Daly City, but Daly City is not involved – with three stations and 96K people.  Therefore he thinks they should have more input than smaller towns.  Right now Caltrain runs 90 trains/day and is at capacity.  With electrification they can run a lot more.  He is concerned about timing.  45 Days for a scoping period is not enough time for a large city such as San Mateo to respond.  He asked how is it funded?  What is private funding?  Bruce Fukuji, while admittedly not working on the business model, took a stab at explaining that the revenue generated from the system to attract private investors is estimated at something like “$1B per year, not including capital costs.”  (Ed Note: Would it operate at a loss with capital costs included, thus not comply with the law as it then requires public subsidy?)  The mayor was insistent that the HSR has to go below grade downtown.  He ended with the confident thought that he sees no reason why any one of the council members should not be able to pick up the phone and have a conversation with any member of the rail board.
Public comment (pardon the name mistakes). 
Ted Crocker reminded the council that the CHSRA Board is not legally held to CSS, he pointed out efforts in Sacramento to push through CEQA exemption legislation that could be used on projects like HSR and wondered if San Mateo had considered engaging a lobbyist to stay on top of such legislation, and he recommended the City join the PCC while pointing out that that the lawsuit and the PCC are separate from each other. Rick Bonia, a Rep of Carpenters Union supports HSR as viable option.  Marshall (?) Supports HSR, has experience with Shinkansen, but says quit waiting for HSR to come to SM with details.  Dillon Sweeney urges taking a strong stance in favor of tunneling and don’t be in a rush to be conciliatory.  Ben Toy said a lot, including asking San Mateo to request clarification on the transition lengths from above ground to underground.  Mike Agena wondered why the City has not invited any experts from Japan and the like and supports a tunnel.  David (?) mentioned something, I’m not sure – he was nervous – about operate Caltrain & Freight at the same time…construction complicated and HSRA doesn’t know how to do it; so much money was spent on San Carlos and Belmont and Vice Mayor Omar Ahmad says grade separation works so tunneling is not necessary.
Council final remarks.
BG said there is a limited window of opportunity.  JM said we are looking out for our city.  DL said he recommends CSS, and was wondering how soon is the $2.25B stimulus money going to be allocated?  What do we have that is shovel ready?  There should be an “all hands on deck” to make sure San Mateo gets all they can.  JL mentioned meetings with Yee and Hill this month.  RR reiterated the City is doing everything they can and recommends CSS.  The Mayor again, “It’s going to happen anyway.  Let’s do it right!”  Several council members cringed at this last remark.

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