Rail plan on track to eminent domain

California’s proposed high-speed rail system would take travelers from San Francisco to Los Angeles within 2½ hours, but it also could force hundreds of residents and businesses along the Caltrain corridor off of some or all of their property.

The high-speed rail line, which is scheduled for completion by 2020, will be built along the Caltrain tracks. The network would link the state’s major population centers, including Sacramento, the Bay Area, the Central Valley, Los Angeles, Southern California’s Inland Empire, Orange County and San Diego. Electric-powered trains on the 700-mile rail system would travel up to 220 mph.

But approximately 38 percent of the Caltrain corridor is less than 100 feet wide, too narrow to accommodate the high-speed rail line. High-Speed Rail Authority board member Ron Diridon said 100 feet is needed for both the Caltrain and high-speed rail tracks.

Though some of the Caltrain corridor, which runs from San Francisco to Gilroy, is as wide as 200 feet, other spots narrow to 65 feet, Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said. Approximately 9.5 miles of the Caltrain corridor narrows to 65 feet, including well more than one-third of the 24.5 miles of Caltrain right-of-way in San Mateo County, said Whit Loy, a mapping technician in the San Mateo County Assessor’s Office.

Dan Leavitt, the authority’s executive director, acknowledged that some properties may have to be acquired through eminent domain, which allows a government to seize a resident’s property for monetary compensation but without the owner’s consent. Not all of the property will have to be bought outright: In many cases, he said, a narrow strip of land along a property’s back fence will be acquired.

Selling a strip of property would not be possible in Carla Sheldon’s case, because her family’s home is just feet from a narrow section of track in northern San Mateo. She said her husband’s family bought the duplex in the early 1980s at a reasonable price.

Leavitt said the rail authority will try to avoid eminent domain as much as possible.

Voters are being asked in November to support the state in taking out a $9.95 billion bond to fund the first phase of the project.

kworth@sfexaminer.com

Peninsula cities vie for station

Apparently, if a city on the Peninsula really wants a high-speed rail station, they have to covet it.

As it stands, all locations of high-speed rail stations throughout the Bay Area have been decided except in one case: the mid-Peninsula station, which will either go to Redwood City or Palo Alto.

“Operationally, they’re very similar, so we’ll have to see which one really wants it,” said Ron Diridon Sr., a board member on the High-Speed Rail Authority.

So far, he said, Redwood City has shown slightly more interest.

Neither Redwood City nor Palo Alto has taken an official position on whether they’d welcome a high-speed rail stop, and officials in those cities said they may not until after the November election, when the high-speed rail’s funding will be on the statewide ballot.

There are plenty of reasons a city would want a station, said Curtis Williams, Palo Alto’s planning director. The rail could facilitate transit-oriented development, new jobs and possible state funding toward infrastructure improvement.

“It could be a real hub of activity,” he said.

But a station also would require large parking facilities and could put infrastructure strains on the existing neighborhoods, he said.

Redwood City Councilmember Jim Harnett, who also sits on Caltrain’s governing board, said any position on the issue would be “academic” unless funding is approved in November. He noted, however, that Atherton, which sits between Redwood City and Palo Alto, has already taken a position: to fight the high-speed rail tooth and nail.

Katie Worth

Bay Area NewsLocal

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