Back­lash over bul­let train route

A coali­tion of L.A. County com­mu­ni­ties, wor­ried about ef­fects, says travel should be mostly un­der­ground.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Ralph Vartabe­dian

A di­verse al­liance of com­mu­ni­ties — in­clud­ing Los An­ge­les County’s third-largest city — is fight­ing Cal­i­for­nia’s long-planned bul­let train route into the heart of the San Fer­nando Val­ley, say­ing it would bring ir­repara­ble harm.

The co­or­di­nated protest by res­i­dents and elected of­fi­cials from sub­ur­ban Santa Clarita, as well as blue-col­lar San Fer­nando, Pa­coima and other com­mu­ni­ties, presents a po­tent po­lit­i­cal chal­lenge as state of­fi­cials push to speed up con­struc­tion of the $68-bil­lion sys­tem in densely pop­u­lated South­ern Cal­i­for­nia.

Lo­cal elected of­fi­cials and home­own­ers groups are de­mand­ing the state aban­don a pro­posed route that would roughly par­al­lel Cal­i­for­nia 14 through the moun­tains be­tween Palm­dale and San Fer­nando. That align­ment would in­clude a con­sid­er­able amount of above­ground track and a se­ries of tun­nels.

The coali­tion of commu- ni­ties is de­mand­ing that only routes that are pre­dom­i­nantly un­der­ground should be con­sid­ered.

The grow­ing re­sis­tance is com­ing in part from ur­ban, work­ing-class neigh­bor­hoods that are por­tray­ing the sur­face route as an en­vi­ron­men­tal injustice. No­tably, those com­mu­ni­ties are long­time sup­port­ers of state Democrats who cham­pi­oned the project.

San Fer­nando Mayor Joel Fa­jardo said the sur­face route would re­verse the progress his small work­ing­class com­mu­nity has made in re­cent years, split­ting the city in half with a 20-footh­igh sound wall. The route would cut through the city’s down­town, he added, dis­plac­ing busi­nesses that pro­vide 7% of the city’s tax rev­enue. And the sur­face route could re­quire de­mo­li­tion of the city’s po­lice head­quar­ters, he said.

“Our calls for so­cial, eco­nomic and en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice have been ig­nored,” Fa­jardo said. “The city could go into bank­ruptcy.”

Lisa Marie Al­ley, a spokes­woman for the rail author­ity, said the agency has been ac­tive and en­gaged with all the com­mu­ni­ties. “We will con­tinue to have open dia­logue with them,” she said. “This is the hard part of the process.”

A 62-page anal­y­sis by the

rail author­ity that was re­leased last week de­tails some of the ef­fects of var­i­ous routes on the com­mu­ni­ties. The anal­y­sis shows that within a half-mile of the track, there could be noise and vi­bra­tion af­fect­ing about 20,000 res­i­dences, 25 parks, 47 schools, 48 churches and nine ho­tels, as well as ar­chae­o­log­i­cal sites and wet­lands. The anal­y­sis also in­di­cates that at least one route would re­quire trains to travel at 160 mph in a long curved sec­tion of track, de­spite the past pro­jec­tions that trains could travel 220 mph af­ter leav­ing L.A.’s Union Sta­tion.

The com­plaints have caught the at­ten­tion of some L.A. city and county elected lead­ers. Last week, two mem­bers of the county Board of Su­per­vi­sors and City Coun­cil­man Felipe Fuentes wrote a let­ter to rail author­ity Chair­man Dan Richard, call­ing the over­land train route “un­ten­able.”

One of the big­gest demon­stra­tions of the grow­ing con­cerns in north county com­mu­ni­ties could come Tues­day. Or­ga­niz­ers say res­i­dents and city of­fi­cials will be com­ing by buses and auto car­a­vans to a Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity board meet­ing in down­town Los An­ge­les. A rally is planned be­fore­hand, and large num­bers of peo­ple are ex­pected to ad­dress the board dur­ing a public fo­rum.

“The high-speed rail can­not come bar­rel­ing through our com­mu­nity,” Santa Clarita Mayor Mar­sha McLean said. “Some of the plans will be dev­as­tat­ing.”

The state has re­cently be­gun con­sid­er­ing three al­ter­na­tive routes to the longer free­way align­ment. Those would in­volve roughly 20 miles of tun­nels from Bur­bank through the An­ge­les Na­tional For­est, in­clud­ing por­tions of the San Gabriel Moun­tains Na­tional Mon­u­ment, and have drawn their own op­po­si­tion.

Crit­ics of the un­der­ground routes in­clude res­i­dents who de­pend on wells fed by for­est aquifers, along with neigh­bor­hood groups con­cerned about the dis­rup­tion large tun­nel bor­ing ma­chines could cause. Apart from com­mu­nity op­po­si­tion, the tun­nel op­tions — among the ma­jor such en­gi­neer­ing un­der­tak­ings in the world — could face sig­nif­i­cant tech­no­log­i­cal chal­lenges. Crit­ics say subsurface routes would tra­verse com­plex fault zones, gas de­posits, aban­doned mines and wa­ter basins im­por­tant to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia’s wa­ter sup­ply. It’s also un­clear whether a tun­nel ap­proach could be com­pleted within the project’s ex­ist­ing bud­get.

On Fri­day, the L.A. City Coun­cil adopted a res­o­lu­tion call­ing on the state to con­duct ad­vanced en­vi­ron­men­tal stud­ies on wa­ter qual­ity, noise, seis­mic im­pacts and tun­nel­ing.

David DiPinto, a leader of groups in the Shadow Hills area of Los An­ge­les, said he ex­pects those stud­ies to slow down the project, which is sup­posed to start ini­tial 220 mph ser­vice be­tween Bur­bank and Merced in seven years. Al­ley re­peated the state’s con­tention that the seg­ment can be built on sched­ule.

Groups rep­re­sent­ing res­i­dents in San Fer­nando, Pa­coima and Syl­mar say the rail author­ity hasn’t lis­tened to their con­cerns.

If a tun­nel route through the San Gabriel Moun­tains is se­lected, it would run thou­sands of feet be­neath some peaks. DiPinto and other ac­tivists claim the state will have to do ex­ten­sive anal­y­sis to de­ter­mine the hy­dro­log­i­cal ef­fects of such tun­nel­ing.

Res­i­dents of Kagel Canyon, an un­in­cor­po­rated county area, say the three tun­nel routes pose po­ten­tial risks to wells that sup­ply hun­dreds of homes in their area and aquifers that pro­vide wa­ter to the L.A. Basin. “Their routes bi­sect th­ese crit­i­cal springs,” said res­i­dent Kelly Decker. “To push for­ward with routes that de­wa­ter our springs is un­con­scionable. Their re­sponse is we will mit­i­gate it.

“They act like they have an un­lim­ited purse,” she said.

RES­I­DENTS AND of­fi­cials of sev­eral com­mu­ni­ties plan to at­tend a rail-author­ity board meet­ing Tues­day in L.A. Above, a ren­der­ing of a high-speed train.

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