ACE train station is finally ours
It's nothing like the 100-year-old Grand Central station in New York or even the more modest structures serving Fremont and Livermore, but the ACE commuter train station in Pleasanton is finally ours. It's taken a few skirmishes with Alameda County and the County Fairgrounds management over the years, but earlier this month the Pleasanton City Council worked a deal to keep the station in the Fairgrounds parking lot permanently.
Pleasanton's "Memorandum of Understanding" with county and Fairgrounds representatives comes with a hefty price tag. The city will pay 75% of the cost of repaving the lot and the annual cost for maintenance. But with the station now permanent, signs can go up and even a GPS designated destination can now help commuters find the station and make the ACE train their mode of transit from Stockton to Great America in Santa Clara.
When the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) began operating in 1998, the Pleasanton City Council and Fairgrounds management agreed that the location of the city's station could be in the parking lot across from Fairgrounds headquarters on Pleasanton Avenue. The location was given an interim status while city staff reviewed the impact to surrounding neighborhoods and explored other possible permanent locations. That made the station different from others along the ACE corridor in that the Pleasanton station's parking lot also served hundreds of patrons to events at the Fairgrounds, with the greatest demand for spaces during the annual County Fair.
In 2001, after the city acquired the 378 vacant acres across Bernal Avenue from the Fairgrounds, which had been owned by the city of San Francisco since the 1930s, County Supervisor Scott Haggerty insisted that the station location be moved to that property, now called Bernal Community Park. City planners refused and the school district also objected, saying the station would be opposite Pleasanton Middle and Hearst Elementary schools and would cause distractions for students.
Friendlier negotiations got under way after Mayor Jennifer Hosterman was elected and with Nelson Fialho as city manager, leading to the county's property division to reach, with Haggerty's OK, a "fair price" sale of the corridor to Pleasanton. More than 400 paved parking spaces now occupy a part of the corridor and part of it also was needed in order to build the Firehouse Arts Center on Railroad Avenue.
The years of debate and frustrations also created some political distance between Pleasanton and Haggerty, who no longer represents Pleasanton on the County Board of Supervisors. "I thought I had a handshake agreement that the station would be moved," Haggerty said. "I won't make that kind of agreement with Pleasanton again."
It's possible now that an agreement is in place to keep the station on the Fairgrounds parking lot that a more substantial facility can be built, one that is air conditioned and heated, perhaps even with beverage service and other commuter-focused retail operations. A turn-around and loading area has already been built across Pleasanton Avenue for public transit buses and company vans. When the 49ers begin using their new Santa Clara stadium next year, ACE trains and their patrons will likely make the commuter railroad that had a bumpy start more than a decade ago a seven-day, even more profitable operation.