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Morgan Hill
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October 22, 2020

Bullet train threatens Villa Mira Monte

Impacts could limit ability to hold events, raise funds

The Morgan Hill Historical Society fears that the state’s preferred High Speed Rail route will take a devastating toll on Villa Mira Monte, the site of the 1884 home of the city’s founder and his family.

With the public comment period closing June 23 on the California High Speed Rail Authority’s draft environmental study of the bullet train segment that includes Morgan Hill, MHHS President Kathy Sullivan is encouraging locals to contact their representatives to plead for a plan that will allow continued preservation and improvements at the site.

“Discussions are being made today” about HSR planning, Sullivan said. “Now is the time to contact your representatives.”

Villa Mira Monte, located just north of downtown Morgan Hill on Monterey Road, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. For the last 27 years, MHHS has restored, preserved, maintained and operated Villa Mira Monte, and provided education and enrichment programs at the site, MHHS President Kathy Sullivan wrote in a recent letter to the California High Speed Rail Authority.

The California High Speed Rail Association’s preferred “alternative four” alignment would run directly behind the property along the Union Pacific Railroad tracks, on its way into and out of downtown Morgan Hill. The HSRA in April released the draft EIR of the “San Jose to Merced” segment of the high-speed rail. The document lists the various impacts of the construction and ongoing operation of the bullet train on public and private properties, as well as nearby roadways, along each of four alignment alternatives.

The bullet train and its construction would not force any physical displacement of the Hiram Morgan Hill House or other structures on the Villa Mira Monte property, according to the draft EIR. However, Sullivan’s letter lists the noise, vibration and environmental impacts from HSRA’s preferred alternative and its construction that would render the property unwelcoming to visitors and volunteers, and destroy the MHHS’ ability to raise funds.

The HSR plans at full operation call for up to 16 trains passing through Morgan Hill per hour, in addition to four Caltrain trains per hour. The noise from these trains “will make it virtually impossible to hold our year-round, mission-driven community education, recreation and fundraising events , and threaten site rentals by community partners,” reads Sullivan’s letter to the HSRA.

“The result will be a severe and irreversible diminishing of our ability to serve our community according to our mission and to raise funds needed to keep the site open and operational,” the letter continues.

Furthermore, the construction of a 20-foot embankment, transmission poles and sound walls along the HSR route would create an “unappealing site that runs counter to the authentic experience of (Villa Mira Monte) and its historic significance as the original home of our city’s namesake,” Sullivan’s letter adds.

These and other cumulative impacts will be “taking away our ability to raise funds” for Villa Mira Monte and its associated programs, Sullivan said. Future plans to construct a “great lawn,” parking lot and other facilities to accommodate weddings and other events could also be severely limited by the impacts of the HSR alignment. 

The MHHS currently raises about $79,000 annually to support the preservation, maintenance and operation of the Villa Mira Monte site, located at 17860 Monterey Road. The centerpiece of the site is the Hiram Morgan Hill house, which was built by the city’s founder in the 1880s. Also on the site is the Morgan Hill Museum, located in a farmhouse built in 1911 by John Acton.

The “alternative 4” alignment of HSR would take the bullet train through downtown areas of Morgan Hill and Gilroy, along the existing Union Pacific Railroad tracks. A HSR station is planned within the city limits of Gilroy. HSRA officials are hoping to have the project environmentally certified by 2022. 

The deadline to submit comments on the HSRA’s environmental impact report on the San Jose to Merced segment is June 23. Comments can be submitted to HSRA online at hsr.ca.gov, by email to [email protected], or by mail to San Jose to Merced: Draft EIR/EIS, California High Speed Rail Authority, 100 Paseo de San Antonio, Suite 300, San Jose, CA 95113.

Sullivan is also asking members of the public to contact their representatives—Supervisor Mike Wasserman, U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, State Sen. Bill Monning and Assemblymember Robert Rivas—and urge them to support an HSR alternative alignment that does not go through the city’s downtown along the Union Pacific tracks.

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