Mayor Brown's letter against the CalTrain SF extension

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June 11, 1997

Mr. Gerald Haugh
Executive Director
Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board
1250 San Carlos Avenue P.O. Box 3006
San Carlos, CA 94070-1306

Dear Mr. Haugh:

This is in response to your letter of May 20, 1997, regarding the proposed Caltrain Extension Project in San Francisco. In your letter, you requested San Francisco to address policy questions pertaining to the completion of the environmental statement for the project, and the selection of a Locally Preferred Alternative. Inasmuch as the answers to these questions will effectively define the future of the Extension project, I wish to take this opportunity to express my view on this important matter.

In the past, I have stated on a number of occasions that I am not supportive of the proposed extension of the commute train in San Francisco. After reviewing the draft environmental document, I am even more resolved in my belief that the Extension project is not the best use of limited transportation resources. The more important reasons for this viewpoint include the following:

1. The proposed Caltrain Extension is necessarily defined as an underground extension, and the capital costs set forth in the environmental document are testimony to the high costs of this type of rail investment. Unfortunately, I do not believe that the resulting increases in ridership forecast for this investment are sufficient to justify the use of what will likely approach a billion dollars of public resource. Certainly, if the City is to be asked to participate in providing funding for this project, we would have to consider not only the benefits to be realized but also the investment trade-off with other projects, such as, the planned Third Street light rail extension.

2. During the past decade, while a Caltrain Extension has been studied and restudied, San Francisco has planned and constructed an underground and surface extension of its light rail system. This extension project will provide a direct rail link between the Caltrain Terminal at Fourth and King and multiple light rail stations which serve downtown under Market Street. The pending opening of service on this light rail extension will mean convenient, efficient transfers for both City and peninsula riders, and to a large degree, make redundant the proposed Caltrain Extension.

3. San Francisco's economic expansion is southward from the downtown and Yerba Buena Center areas, and is poised to envelope the current terminus of Caltrain. Mission Bay North, the second UCSF campus, and the Giants' Pacific Bell Ballpark all reflect this expansion of the greater downtown. Although the location of the Caltrain terminus in San Francisco may in the past have appeared to be on the fringe of downtown, I believe that dramatic land use changes will soon alter that perception, and as a practical matter, place jobs, residences, and other important destinations within easy access of the station.

4. I am not impressed that a viable funding package readily exists for this project, and I do not believe that funding can be assembled which will not significantly impact resources needed for other projects, both in San Francisco and within the region. Moreover, I fear that the absence of such funding has the potential to mean additional years of uncertainty about the Extension. Such uncertainty will hold hostage from economic development of those areas of San Francisco along the planned route of the Extension, including the Transbay Terminal area where the City is engaged in planning an exciting new neighborhood.

5. Already the San Francisco residential and commercial neighborhoods which would be both directly and indirectly affected by the many months of disruption caused by the construction of the Extension are voicing their concerns about this project. I am sympathetic to their concerns. When one adds the indirect costs of the disruption of the Extension project to existing City residences and businesses, the project's value to San Francisco declines even more.

6. The environmental document describes two alternative locations for storage yard for the commute trains, 16th and Owens, and 7th and Townsend. Both of these locations are within the Mission Bay development area. San Francisco has repeatedly requested that sites for train storage other than in Mission Bay be found and examined, yet the environmental document fails to do so. In my view, the sites examined are not acceptable.

Instead of completing the environmental document on the proposed Extension, I ask both the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the Joint Powers Board to focus on other transportation improvements which will enhance existing transportation facilities, support San Francisco's existing and future neighborhoods, and represent a more prudent use of transportation funding.

One such investment would be a substantial upgrading of the Caltrain Terminus Station in San Francisco, including improved transfer capabilities, station rehabilitation, landscaping and urban design enhancements, incorporation of joint development opportunities, examination of parking capacities, and other improvements which would establish the station as a permanent and positive element in the area. We should pursue improvements which facilitate the increased use of both Caltrain and our recently completed light rail extension.

Another investment is the Third Street Extension of the City's light rail system, initiated by the Board of Supervisors, and proposed to serve City neighborhoods which parallel the Caltrain commute route within the City. I believe that an exploration of this project's potential to connect Visitacion Valley with Chinatown should be accomplished. Certainly, projects which seek to connect City neighborhoods are more important than projects which tunnel through them.

I think that it is important that we are realistic about the future of Caltrain. In a world of scarce resources, it is critical that we make careful choices about how to invest those resources. I believe that the environmental document for the train offers sufficient evidence that this is not an investment worthy of further investigation and consideration. The San Francisco Board of Supervisors will presumably consider this matter in the near future, and reach their own conclusion. However, it will be my advice to them that a recommendation be transmitted to the Joint Powers Board that the environmental document for the Extension be left unfinished and that improvements associated with the No Build Alternative be pursued.

Thank you for providing me with an opportunity to respond to this important matter.

s/Willie L. Brown, Jr.

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Last updated: June 20, 1997

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