Caltrain has come up with a new location for a controversial “parking track” in San Mateo that seemingly would affect fewer homes than a different location proposed in June, but neighbors are still not satisfied.
A parking or set-out track is a roughly 1,000-foot stretch of track adjacent to the main tracks that is used to store maintenance equipment and sometimes locomotives in emergency situations.
The railroad has parking tracks roughly every 3 miles along its corridor and they are not to be confused with maintenance yards where trains go for repairs, officials regularly point out. Caltrain currently has two maintenance yards — one in San Francisco and the other in San Jose — that span acres and are home to heavy equipment, including a crane, maintenance pits and a train washing machine.
A parking track previously existed behind Ana Furniture, but was physically displaced by the 25th Avenue Grade Separation project. The replacement parking track has to remain within a few of miles of its original location so that the on-track maintenance vehicle stored there can efficiently cover that part of the corridor, Caltrain officials said.
In June, residents of the Hayward Park neighborhood got wind of Caltrain’s plan to relocate the parking track between 10th and 14th avenues and within 50 feet to 60 feet from homes. They felt blindsided by the plan and are deeply worried about noise and light impacts as maintenance work is typically done during the night. They’re also worried about trucks loading and unloading equipment at the site. During a raucous community meeting that month, Caltrain apologized for not sufficiently engaging the neighborhood and promised to explore other locations.
Caltrain and San Mateo officials have since analyzed 28 alternative sites for the parking track and determined that just two of those are feasible. Those options are to stick with the site between 10th and 14th avenues and add vegetation plus a soundwall, or to instead construct the parking track just south of that location in a largely commercial area. The latter proposal would be on the west side of the tracks between 14th Avenue and the Hayward Park station.
Neighbors described the new location as “slightly better” than the former one after a community meeting Tuesday.
“It’s slightly better because fewer residents are impacted there, but if I lived on 14th Avenue or between 14th and 17th avenues I’m still not happy and I have friends out there,” said resident Chris Brousseau. “It’s not a commercial area, it’s just not. There’d still be an impact. Why should it be acceptable a couple of streets away?”
Resident Anne de la Rosa said the southernmost option will eventually affect even more residents because of apartment buildings slated to be built there.
“The northern version affects me greater, but if I had to choose I’d pick it because two apartment buildings are going up [beside the southern option],” she said. “The southern option will affect more people.”
Councilman Rick Bonilla, who lives in the neighborhood, said he is yet to hear from a resident who fully embraces the latest proposal and feels it addresses their concerns.
At Tuesday’s meeting, residents voted on the above two options, printed on a poster board, by placing a sticker next to their preference. The latest proposal received more votes than the original one, but someone hand-wrote a third option — to have no parking track at all in the neighborhood — that received the most votes, Bonilla added.
That said, many residents were heartened to hear that there won’t be as much activity around the parking track as was previously thought.
Deputy of Operations and Maintenance Joe Navarro said the on-track maintenance vehicle will only be deployed one to three times a month and trucks will only rarely load it with equipment in the middle of the night. And only pickup tracks rather than noisy 18-wheelers, as has been said in the past, will be used at the site, he said.
Residents urge other options
Many residents want Caltrain to further explore some of the other options that have been identified and since rejected by officials.
Some are interested in putting the parking track on the east side of the tracks between Birch and 16th avenues adjacent to a commercial area. But that area is currently owned by Union Pacific railroad and Caltrain officials estimate it would cost between $3.5 million and $8.5 million to buy the property, assuming Union Pacific is even interested in selling. During the meeting, project manager Rafael Bolon said Caltrain had reached out to Union Pacific, but conversations ostensibly did not take place.
An expensive relocation such as that would have to be paid for by San Mateo, officials said. Caltrain Board Member Charles Stone, also a Belmont councilman, dismissed suggestions that Caltrain instead foot the bill.
“Caltrain does not have a dedicated funding source and barely survives on a year-to-year basis,” he said. “Unfortunately, there isn’t any money available from Caltrain to help with projects like this at this time.”
The 25th Avenue grade separation project, which includes the relocation of the parking track, totals $180 million. The project is being funded mostly by the San Mateo County Transportation Authority with the city of San Mateo contributing between $10 million and $15 million.
The project has budgeted about $2 million for the relocation of the parking track. The proposed screening for the option between 10th and 14th avenues and the other site south of there would each cost an additional $500,000.
Another option is to split the parking track in two and leave one segment at the original location for quieter uses and have the other segment that would be used for potentially noisy maintenance uses elsewhere far away from homes.
Caltrain said it would continue to explore the feasibility of that option.
The San Mateo City Council will discuss all 28 options at a study session Oct. 21 and potentially cast a vote on one of them. Any new locations besides the one between 10th and 14th avenues will need to go through the environmental review process, which could mean additional costs but also further opportunities for public comment and additional measures to mitigate impacts.
Caltrain Board Member Dave Pine, also a San Mateo County supervisor, said the location just north of the Hayward Park station seems promising, but detailed information about any potential impacts needs to be clearly communicated to the public.
“There’s certainly distrust between some residents and Caltrain, but I think the city and Caltrain are working hard to find the best option,” he said.
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