Council members were clearly concerned Tuesday about the message they are sending as they discussed making official comments to the California High Speed Rail Authority.
Voting 6-1, with Jac Siegel opposed, the council on Tuesday ended up approving a set of comments about the authority's recent "alternatives analysis" report. That was after council members wrestled with whether to clearly state a preference for running high-speed trains in a partially covered trench through Mountain View while also asking the California High Speed Rail Authority to study a deep tunnel option.
The report laid out three basic options for running the two additional tracks in Mountain View along the Caltrain corridor and through two key intersections with Castro and Rengstorff streets. Options include a partially covered trench, an aerial platform or ground level with Rengstorff and Castro streets either closed off or running underneath the tracks. An option for a deep tunnel was not included for Mountain View, though it was for Palo Alto. Unless the high-speed rail authority studies the tunnel option, it will be impossible to build it in Mountain View. So the council decided to ask the authority to study a deep tunnel in Mountain View.
Council members were apparently envious of Palo Alto, which has been able to solidify community support around an early stated preference for a deep tunnel.
"The thing about Palo Alto is that they say want that tunnel and they have been saying that from day one," said council member Margaret Abe-Koga.
Council member Laura Macias agreed that a clear position was necessary. "If we say, 'We want a trench,' that will start to resonate," she said, adding that she had seen a nice example of one in Arizona.
In the city's letter to the rail authority, "the lead is we want a trench," Macias said.
But while a majority of the council has expressed support for the trench, some appeared to be reconsidering the idea. Councilman Tom Means presented pictures of a trench in Reno that were less than flattering.
"Without more info, I might say the trench isn't so hot now," he said.
"I don't know if it is useful in saying the only thing we will accept is this,'" said Mayor Ronit Bryant, referring to the trench option. She appeared to be considering the expensive tunnel option instead, noting that "most of the BART in our area is underground. If they managed it then, why can't" they do it now?
Presenting a picture of an aerial train platform that runs through Berlin, Germany, resident Jarrett Mullin urged the council to reconsider the affordable aerial platform option, which was unpopular at a recent community hearing on high speed rail. He said the space underneath provided many opportunities for pedestrian and transit connections, and also storefronts.
"I've been to Germany and that elevated train dominated everything around it," said council member Jac Siegel. "It's not very nice. You don't want to be around it very much."
The council also decided against an option to have a lobbyist at the state government level advocating for Mountain View on high-speed rail issues. The council also decided against paying to share Palo Alto's lobbyist, Ravi Mehta.
In the city's official comments about the authority's alternatives analysis, the city expresses concerns about inadequately addressed consequences for Mountain View, including how the city's downtown light rail line would be dealt with and exactly how Central Expressway would be affected, as the report states that one lane could be lost in vaguely specified portions of Mountain View.