Current Events: High-Speed Rail

California Drive, looking north, 1911. Francard Grove is at the right.

When California voters passed state proposition 1A in 2008, they authorized the state to build a new high-speed rail project that will connect Northern and Southern California. Plans call for this rail system to be built alongside the current Caltrain tracks through the Peninsula.

Some citizens of Burlingame are concerned about the future high-speed rail construction through the city and what this means for the trees of Burlingame, especially the heritage grove beside the tracks on California Drive, known as Francard Grove.

This grove of eucalyptus trees was planted by John McLaren in 1880s and owned early in the 20th century by Frederick D. Lorton, who also owned the real estate office that formerly existed on its south end. Lorton wanted to chop down the grove of trees north of his office. but in 1907, Lorton sold the land and grove to Henry Scott. Scott,  a “hill person” (a resident of what would become Hillsborough in 1910), wanted to save the trees.

In November 1910, the grove was sold to the town of Burlingame for $1, with the proviso for continuous care “for a public park for the recreation of the people” except for 60 feet of the land (the lot where today’s Royal Donut building was constructed in 1911 and remains today).

Jules Francard Grove in 2010. Photo © Danica Hodge

The grove continues to prosper today. However, there is some doubt about successfully navigating the demands that high-speed rail will place on this corridor and stand of trees.

According to the original covenant:

“If at any time the said property shall cease to be kept, maintained and used as and for a public park as aforesaid, or for any cause other than the act of God the trees now growing on said premises shall be cut, destroyed or removed, then these presents shall be void, and said property and all the right conveyed, hereby shall revert and revest in the party of the first part [Burlingame Land and Water Company] . . . .”

In other words, the city of Burlingame does not have the power to grant permission for the trees to be removed. But news sources have indicated that in order to accommodate the new tracks required, the eucalyptus trees of Francard Grove will have to be cut down. In this currently-evolving situation—one that concerns many other cities on the Peninsula in addition to Burlingame—it cannot be predicted whether “progress” or “preservation” will carry the day.