As promised, Millbrae is suing the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Caltrain, and BART in an attempt to gain control of a thin strip of land near the station.
The package is needed to facilitate a shutdown of the state’s high-speed rail project – the high-speed train slated to one day link San Francisco with Los Angeles, according to plans recently released by the rail authority.
The authority is considering an extension to the existing Millbrae station to serve the line, which would share Caltrain tracks across the peninsula.
But, in a lawsuit filed this month, the city argues it needs the 11,000-square-foot land instead for a road to serve an apartment and office building that would be built next to the tracks.
The land is currently jointly owned by Caltrain and BART, who have agreed to let the rail authority use it for the station. The city hopes to acquire the land through eminent domain – a law that allows governments to acquire private property for public use.
The lawsuit argues that the city’s aspirations for the site are for the “greater public good,” which the city will likely have to prove through litigation. Earlier this year, the city council approved a resolution asking if the rail project would ever come to fruition due to lack of funding.
“Affordable housing is a more necessary use than vacant land or the speculative, unfunded future relocation of the Caltrain tracks,” the resolution reads.
City-approved plans are for two 10-story buildings and one nine-story building with 488 apartments and nearly 300,000 square feet of office space between the tracks and El Camino Real. The city approved the project in 2018, however, the area was originally slated for such development in 1998, according to the city.
But those plans are in direct conflict with the rail authority’s vision, outlined in an environmental impact report released last month, which calls for the space to instead include multiple above-ground car parks to serve the station.
The city has long sought to have the station built underground, which apartment and office plans might require. Before this development can go ahead, however, the road will need to be built, according to the city.
In 2008, state voters approved the rail project with a proposal detailing the route and stops. In 2009 the authority investigated the placement of an underground track through part of Millbrae, Burlingame and San Mateo. But with cost estimates exceeding the initial estimate of $45 billion, the Caltrain Infrastructure Sharing Plan was born.
Construction is currently underway on a 172-mile stretch to connect Merced to Bakersfield. Funding to complete the project is now estimated at over $100 billion.
As for the city’s new road, acquiring the parcel would reroute an existing section of California Drive closer to the Caltrain tracks and extend it farther north, before turning to El Camino Real to create a four-way intersection connecting Victoria Avenue.
The extension “would provide improved multi-modal traffic with access to the existing BART/Caltrain station and access to much-needed housing,” according to the city’s resolution.
The city has already acquired several other parcels needed for the task that were previously owned by BART. While the parcel in question spans about three city blocks, only a half-block section is needed for the road.
A Caltrain lawyer said earlier this year that the high-speed rail project intended to use the parcel for tracks, a roadbed and a pole to support electrical infrastructure.