As high-speed rail route hits home, lo­cal alarm grows

Hun­dreds gather to op­pose seg­ment from Bur­bank to Palm­dale.

Los Angeles Times - - FRONT PAGE - By Ralph Vartabe­dian and Soumya Kar­la­mangla

Over the last decade, the Cal­i­for­nia bul­let train has been largely con­fined to fu­tur­is­tic ren­der­ings and promised trips of about 2 1⁄2 hours from Los An­ge­les to San Fran­cisco. But as its ef­fects on ur­ban ar­eas come more sharply into fo­cus, op­po­si­tion is in­ten­si­fy­ing among peo­ple along its path.

The $68-bil­lion project has al­ready faced law­suits and po­lit­i­cal bat­tles in up­scale Bay Area cities, as well as Cen­tral Val­ley farm­lands, forc­ing of­fi­cials to make de­sign con­ces­sions and in some cases adding to con­struc­tion de­lays.

As the de­tailed plan­ning process be­gins to shift to South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, com­mu­nity lead­ers and neigh­bor­hood groups are launch­ing chal­lenges to a seg­ment that would run be­tween Palm­dale and Bur­bank.

The con­flicts ahead came into fo­cus Tues­day when hun­dreds gath­ered in down­town Los An­ge­les to protest at a meet­ing of the state board over­see­ing con­struc­tion of the sys­tem.

Dur­ing more than six hours of public com­ment by about 150 peo­ple, one speaker af­ter an­other at­tacked the project as the eight-mem­ber Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity board lis­tened qui­etly. The tes­ti­mony came from res­i­dents and lead­ers in small towns and grow­ing sub­urbs along pro­posed routes through the moun­tains north of the Los An­ge­les basin. Many speak­ers said the project would dev­as­tate their qual­ity of life or their lo­cal econ­omy.

Res­i­dents of sev­eral low­in­come and pre­dom­i­nantly mi­nor­ity com­mu­ni­ties, in-

clud­ing San Fer­nando, Pa­coima and Syl­mar, com­plained that their neigh­bor­hoods would be di­vided by 20-foot-high sound walls along the high-speed train cor­ri­dor. Some said their ar­eas had been al­ready been chopped up by three ma­jor free­ways and a dozen dumps.

“Our com­mu­nity’s his­tory has been rid­dled with dis­place­ment,” said San Fer­nando res­i­dent Ge­naro Ayala. “My fam­ily has all its roots here. I want my grand- chil­dren to grow up here, un­der­stand­ing how great a place it is. We like where we live.”

Rail board chair­man Dan Richard said the meet­ing was the big­gest protest he could re­call dur­ing his ten­ure.

“What you saw here was the high-wa­ter mark of all the dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties af­fected,” Richard said. “It’s hu­man na­ture to look at this from the stand­point of the big­gest neg­a­tive im­pact.”

It wasn’t im­me­di­ately clear how the out­pour­ing of op­po­si­tion might af­fect de­ci­sions about a route, which could take two years of en­vi­ron­men­tal re­search and plan­ning to com­plete.

Board mem­ber Lou Cor­rea, a for­mer state se­na­tor from Or­ange County, said he ex­pects the public con­cern to af­fect fu­ture align­ment choices. “There were lots of good com­ments,” he said. “But I de­tected a lit­tle bit of NIMBYism.”

Op­po­si­tion to large trans­porta­tion projects, such as rail lines and free­ways, of­ten in­ten­si­fies as the plans be­come more pre­cise and the ef­fects on sur­round­ing res­i­dents and busi­nesses more ev­i­dent, ex­perts say.

“When you get close to an en­vi­ron­men­tal doc­u­ment and a de­ci­sion point, that’s where con­cern grows,” said Mark Watts, in­terim ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of Trans­porta­tion Cal­i­for­nia, a Sacra­mento ad­vo­cacy group for trans­porta­tion projects. As for the op­po­si­tion emerg­ing in L.A. County, he said, “I can’t even fathom what their re­sponse is go­ing to be.”

Un­til a year ago, it seemed like the project would en­counter limited op­po­si­tion in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, given the strong sup­port of­fered by elected of­fi­cials in Los An­ge­les and Palm­dale.

But as de­tails of pos­si­ble routes have emerged and the prospect of years of dis­rup-

tion from con­struc­tion and op­er­a­tion of trains have been spelled out, op­po­nents have be­come in­creas­ingly or­ga­nized and vo­cal.

Tues­day’s board meet­ing in the Los An­ge­les fol­lowed the re­lease of a key re­port that an­a­lyzed the ef­fects of four dif­fer­ent routes.

The 62-page anal­y­sis shows that within half a mile of the track from Palm­dale to Bur­bank, 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. At least one route would re­quire trains to travel at 160 mph in a long curved sec­tion of track, de­spite past pro­jec­tions that trains could travel 220 mph af­ter leav­ing L.A.’s Union Sta­tion, the re­port says.

One of the pro­posed routes would fol­low State Route 14, the free­way con­nect­ing the L.A. basin to the high desert area in Palm­dale. That path would in­clude large sec­tions above­ground and a se­ries of tun­nels be­neath the An­ge­les Na­tional For­est.

The three other routes in­volve var­i­ous con­fig­u­ra­tions of tun­nels run­ning from the Bur­bank area to near Ac­ton, where they would sur­face and con­tinue to Palm­dale.

“Ac­ton is dev­as­tated by ev­ery sin­gle route,” said Jacqueline Ayer, a me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer who lives in the com­mu­nity. She said she’s stud­ied the route that would fol­low the 14 and con­sid­ers it tech­ni­cally flawed.

Some op­po­si­tion was voiced Tues­day to each al­ter­na­tive. Of­fi­cials and res­i­dents of Santa Clarita, the county’s third largest city, joined coun­ter­parts in Syl­mar, Shadow Hills, Lake­view Ter­race and sev­eral other com­mu­ni­ties in at­tack­ing the free­way route.

Nancy Lule­jian Star­czyk, a real es­tate as­so­ci­a­tion ex­ec­u­tive, said prop­erty val­ues in some Santa Clarita ar­eas are al­ready fall­ing be­cause of the po­ten­tial routes.

Res­i­dents of Agua Dulce and Ac­ton said the above­ground rail route would ruin their ru­ral, eques­trian com­mu­ni­ties. They called for a tun­nel­ing al­ter­na­tive.

But other res­i­dents were strongly op­posed to the un­der­ground routes, which would be bored through the San Gabriel Moun­tains Na­tional Mon­u­ment. Speak­ers from Kagel Canyon said they de­pend on wells that could be harmed by tun­nel­ing. Some warned that train tun­nels could dis­rupt wa­ter sup­plies crit­i­cal to both Los An­ge­les city and county.

En­vi­ron­men­tal groups have been some of the project’s big­gest sup­port­ers, say­ing high-speed trains could re­duce pol­lu­tion. Ge­orge Wat­land, direc­tor of the An­ge­les Chap­ter of the Sierra Club, said his or­ga­ni­za­tion is still back­ing the route along the An­te­lope Val­ley Free­way be­cause it has the least ef­fect on wa­ter ta­bles, wildlife and crit­i­cal habi­tat. He said many of his mem­bers would ob­ject to a tun­nel be­neath the for­est and na­tional mon­u­ment.

“The tun­nels have a big­ger foot­print and high costs, all of which make the project less likely to hap­pen at all,” Wat­land said.

But the free­way al­ter­na­tive af­fects more homes and busi­nesses. John Rosen­grant, owner of an en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try spe­cial ef­fects com­pany, told the board Tues­day that he came with­out pre­pared re­marks and was “speak­ing from the heart” when he asked them to drop the sur­face route along the free­way. Af­ter­ward, he said that route could “go through my busi­ness in San Fer­nando and my home in Santa Clarita.”

“It is ru­in­ing every­body’s hopes and dreams and lives,” he said. “You can’t be­lieve this is hap­pen­ing to you.”

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

DAN RICHARD chairs a meet­ing in L.A. of the Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity board, which heard more than six hours of public com­ments.

Al Seib Los An­ge­les Times

OP­PO­NENTS of pro­posed routes for the bul­let train gather be­fore a meet­ing in down­town Los An­ge­les of the Cal­i­for­nia High-Speed Rail Author­ity board.

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