High Speed Rail

It was standing room only at the All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace on Tuesday night, Jan. 13. More than a thousand residents gathered to voice their unified opposition to the high-speed rail that is proposed to come through their community, which includes the Angeles National Forest. The plan, known as the East Corridor, moves from the Burbank stop north through Sun Valley, tunneling under Hansen Dam, Lake View Terrace, part of Kagel Canyon and through the Angeles National Forest.

A video produced by residents was shown with their much-loved horses living on rural ground. “The only noise that we like to hear around here is the singing of the coyotes, the hawks screeching overhead, maybe our neighbors’ mule braying,” said Nikki Ahten of Shadow Hills.

The crowd laughed when another resident expressed, “Here in Kagel Canyon, the horse is our method of high-speed transportation.”

“This is an intense meeting,” said City of San Fernando Councilmember Joel Fajardo. “It’s like a rock concert.”

Fajardo and others who attended the meeting who live in the Northeast Valley are just as concerned about the alternate plan that is proposed to run through his neighborhood. That plan, known as the SR 14 Corridor, travels north from the stop at Burbank Airport and travels above ground through disenfranchised communities that include Sun Valley, Pacoima, the City of San Fernando and Sylmar before tunneling through the foothills.

That SR 14 proposal would cut through densely populated neighborhoods.

Brian Saeki, San Fernando city manager, said he’s concerned that working class communities may not be heard through this process.

“I am concerned that the areas represented at the meeting last [Tuesday] night are very outspoken and if we are not able to show these kinds of numbers and be as vocal and that the needs of our community will fall by the wayside,” Saeki said. “These this community will fall by the wayside.”

Saeki said he asked officials at the High-Speed Rail Authority if making the most noise, or bringing out the most people to protest, is a determining and influential factor.

“The response that I get is ‘No, no — but it is a factor at the same time. They’ve said that they haven’t heard anything from our community,” Saeki said.

Residents from the Northeast Valley have expressed opposition to the project when attending High-Speed Rail meetings in the Northeast Valley. “We shouldn’t be penalized as a community because we can’t get out to Palmdale on a Tuesday evening because we work and because we have other family obligations,” Saeki said.

L.A. City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, who represents District 7, that includes Pacoima, Sylmar and Sunland/Tujunga, attended the meeting but said he hasn’t taken an official position.

What has stirred all of these communities into action most recently is the receipt of letters from High-Speed Rail authorities to request access to their property. There is strong concern that the High-Speed Rail authority could “poach” their homes and businesses through eminent domain. Some residents said they will refuse to allow people from the High-Speed Rail Authority to come onto their property.

A representative from L.A. County Supervisor Michael Antonovich was loudly booed when he spoke. Residents said it was Antonovich who initially proposed  the high-speed rail route that cuts through through the Angeles National Forrest without first consulting any residents who live in these communities. What really irked them was that Antonovich doesn’t even represent the area. 

Meanwhile, those living in the East Corridor who are sometimes referred to as the “horse community,” have started a petition drive with a goal to collect 100,000 signatures. Residents attending the meeting signed the petition.

Resident Brian Kneier not only signed the petition he added a written comment: 

“No disrespect intended, but come on! This is the stupidest waste of taxpayer money that our government has ever forced down the throats of the people that elected them. There is NO chance that this proposal will ever come to fruition, what with tunneling through earthquake faults, through water tables, under the national forest, the disruption of citizens lives and homes, the unbelievable cost, etc. etc. The High-Speed Rail Authority should cry ‘Uncle!’ now and give up before they look even more incompetent by pursuing this proposal further. Really.”

Residents not only from the” horse community” but those who actually live in the Angeles Forest spoke of the damage that would be caused to the eco system, the disruption to water tables and the community when trucks roll in and out to move tons of soil with massive equipment to tunnel through the Angeles National Forest.

“The hydrology of springs like this are extremely sensitive,” said Kristin Sabo, who represents the organization  “Save Angeles Forest for Everyone (S.A.F.E.). “If you do surface construction, you can reroute damage or destroy them.”

Public relations consultant Valerie Martinez, hired for the rail project, received some applause when she told the crowd that the process was still “preliminary.” She appeared slightly nervous as she spoke before the large crowd.

“We do understand that and it’s completely valid,” said Martinez. “However, it truly is coming from a place of ‘let’s talk to you’ before we start getting things actually engineered. Let’s talk about the community impacts. Let’s talk about the political impacts. Let’s talk about the impacts to schools and kids.”

Another resident, expressing frustration on the Foothill Press Facebook page, was pessimistic that any of these meetings could change things and suggested the only solution was to get the High-Speed Rail Authority to take it to another community. “They have over a billion dollars burning in their pockets, do we really think we can stop this?”

“Yes, we can — one person at a time,” said San Fernando Mayor Sylvia Ballin. “Everyone who opposes the project should come together whether it’s through our community in San Fernando, Pacoima or in Shadow Hills. We should not be pitted against each other, we should join forces.  We are all David taking on Goliath.”