The Pacoima Neighborhood Council held a public meeting on Wednesday, Jan. 20 to discuss the SR 14, one high-speed rail route currently proposed to travel above ground through Sun Valley, Pacoima, the City of San Fernando, Sylmar and through the foothills.
The community room was filled to capacity, with many people standing. Several key members of the Pacoima Neighborhood Council sat facing the crowd. High-Speed Rail Authority’s Southern California Regional Director Michelle Boehm delivered a well-crafted power point presentation and emphasized that several factors would be considered before a decision was made on which route would be selected.
Boehm said they encouraged input and were still gathering information and acknowledged that residents had been sent letters asking for access to their property. “It is strictly voluntary, and our scientists would come at a time convenient to you,” she said. Boehm also told the residents the process of gathering information was still in a “preliminary” stage.
Residents who attended the Pacoima Neighborhood Council were concerned that the decision could be made based on a community’s ability to mobilize residents and fight back. Boehm said that wouldn’t be a deciding criteria, but residents weren’t so sure.
Michael Gonzales, Pacoima Neighborhood Council president, referenced the recent meeting at the All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace that drew more than a thousand people protesting alternate proposed route known as the East Corridor that would impact the communities of Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, Kagel Canyon and the Angeles National Forest. The crowd included a well-organized horse community that presented videos about the disruption to their tranquil rural lifestyle, and the harm that could be dealt to the environment, including the Angeles forest.
Dave de Pinto, who facilitated the massive Lake View Terrace meeting, also attended the meeting at the Pacoima Neighborhood Council. He told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol he wanted to make it clear that while the East Valley group did not want the high-speed rail, they are not encouraging or recommending that it run through Pacoima instead.
“We aren’t saying, ‘go to Pacoima or another community,’” he said. Both proposed routes, de Pinto believes, “aren’t appropriate.”
Gonzales said the high-speed rail would bring a massive wall that, he describes, would “cut right through and divide our community in half. If [the High-Speed Rail Authority] need people to come out to protest, trust me, they will be here.”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes told residents that it was his “responsibility” to carry out this project because the voters approved it.
“You can’t just say that you don’t want this project,” he said. “We have to let the process go forward. The decision will be made, with or without us.”
Fuentes emphasized the possibility of proposing that the high-speed rail be placed underground, not above ground, as currently proposed for the route through Pacoima and the Northeast Valley communities. Fuentes, while describing this possibility, appeared to be pushing hard for support by posing a series of “what if’s,” to residents, and suggested that Pacoima could be vastly improved.
“If the high-speed rail was placed underground, what if some of the junkyards could be removed?” Fuentes said. “What if San Fernando Road could be cleaned up?
“We have to stretch a little bit. If we cleaned up part of the district, that might be worth it.”
After hearing several “what if” scenarios, one resident raised her hand.
“Many of us here and our families work at those automobile junkyards and places that you say would be removed. We need those places to support our families Where would we work?” she said.
Fuentes went so far as to suggest that local jobs could be created with residents’ support of this route.
While Fuentes emphasized that residents voted for the high-speed rail, De Pinto and others who attended the meeting told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that they would never have said “yes” to a high-speed rail plan that cuts through their community. “People didn’t vote for this,” said De Pinto, “people visualized traveling to Las Vegas comfortably with a drink in their hand en route to Vegas.”
Ricardo Benitez, a field representative for recently elected Assemblymember Patty Lopez, asked to speak. The two current proposals are in both Fuentes’ and Lopez’ district.
As Benitez waved his hand feverishly to be acknowledged, a member of the Pacoima Neighborhood Council said, “Yes Mr. Benitez, we do want to hear from you,” referencing the field rep’s recent announcement at the All Nations Church, that Lopez supported the high-speed rail going through Pacoima.
“I am here to say ‘hello’ … Patty Lopez has only been in office for three weeks,” which sent twitters of laughter and some groans through the crowd as Benitez avoided speaking about his previous announcement. “I am not here to talk about that this week… Assemblywoman Patty Lopez said you can write her letters.”
When pressed to confirm his announcement and answer whether Lopez supports the train going through Pacoima, Benitez grew increasingly uncomfortable and stammered, “That was in the past, so now I am giving my statement today. Even Mr. Fuentes said that he wants it over there in [along Highway]14.”
Benitez, a strong horse enthusiast who had recently lost his bid for the State Senate against Bob Hertzberg, did not tell the crowd that he had stepped out of his lane with the previous announcement or that a statement had been issued from Lopez’ office to say that she did not currently have a position on the matter.
Fuentes grew surly when the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol pointed out that residents had expressed opposition to the “route,” not the “project,” as he had portrayed.
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol asked Fuentes why he didn’t support an alternative plan rather than sound like he was “selling” the community on this one, given their strong opposition. Fuentes condescendingly instructed this reporter to look at him when he spoke, and lobbed insults saying “I will speak more slowly so that you will understand …”
San Fernando Mayor Sylvia Ballin also weighed in at the end of the meeting.
“The City of San Fernando has not taken on a full vote on this matter, and while Mr. Fuentes hasn’t taken a position, I have. I do not support the high-speed rail going through our communities,” Ballin said.
Members of the Pacoima Neighborhood Council said they would continue to organize efforts and are interested in seeking an independent review of the route, not just depend on the information supplied by the High-Speed Rail Authority.
“We want the best route, a fair route that affects the least amount of people,” Gonzales said. “And we, our community, thinks this is not the best place to do that. We contend that if we build it down San Fernando [Road], we build this huge wall, a sound wall dividing our community, that is the worst option, that is the worst route. Take that off the table.”