Photo Credit: David DeMulle

Dave DePinto representing the S.A.F.E. (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone) Coalition and SHPOA (Shadow Hills Property Owners Association).

The High Speed Rail was at the center of discussion a separate community meetings on Saturday, Jan.31 —  one a Town Hall meeting at the Sunland-Tujunga North Valley City Hall, the other a community meeting held at Tia Chucha’s Centro Cultural and Bookstore in Sylmar — and in the City of San Fernando on Monday, Feb. 2, during its council meeting.

Sunland-Tujunga residents referred to the high-speed rail project as the “Goliath” threatening their Foothill Communities, and residents in the Northeast San Fernando Valley areas of Pacoima and the City of San Fernando referred to plans to construct an above ground encasing of the high-speed train as a “Death Wall,” and an “environmental injustice,” that will divide and destroy their communities.

“More and more people are becoming aware of this issue,” said Dave DePinto representing the S.A.F.E. (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone) Coalition and SHPOA (Shadow Hills Property Owners Association).

He said his organization has recommended a community advisory process to the High-Speed Rail Authority. He pointed out the impacts are not only to the Foothill community, but also the Northeast San Fernando Valley and surrounding communities, including Santa Clarita.

The impacts to communities throughout the valley are significant, DePinto said, pointing them out in a series of questions he posed to residents who attended the meeting.

“Do you think the high-speed rail will forever alter the character of our Foothill communities?” Residents responded, “Yes!”

“Do you think high-speed rail as proposed to the East Corridor violates the national monument in the Angeles National Forest?” The crowd enthusiastically responded “Yes!”

“Do you think high-speed rail will create visual blight, sound, vibration, dust and air quality impacts during both construction and operation due to one million truck trips that could be created at the time of tunneling, construction and utility?” The crowd shot back, “Yes!”

“Do you think high-speed rail will damage and close down and impede businesses whether in the Foothill communities or along San Fernando Road or in Antelope or Santa Clarita Valley?” Residents answered, “Yes!”

DePinto then turned the responses to question in the opposite direction.

“Do you think the prospect of tunneling either through the forest where there are water supplies, or along San Fernando Road where there are water supplies, is a good idea?” The crowd loudly responded “No!”

“Do you think you or I want to live by a tunnel opening or by an elevator platform or by an at-grade railing?” The crowd responded, “No!”

“Do you think the prospect of tunneling open through the forest or on San Fernando Road is a good idea?” The crowd answered, “No!”

And to a question, asked by an audience member, “Will tunneling cause seismic activity?” The crowd responded, “Yes!”

“To borrow a question from my friends in San Fernando,” DePinto, said to the mostly East Valley crowd, “Do you think the high-speed rail will create a “Death Wall,” along the San Fernando corridor all the way from Burbank into Sylmar?” The crowd responded, “Yes!”

DePinto said he believes the high-speed-rail endeavor is a highly political situation that is over budget, and the process is moving too slowly.

“We think that a lot of things that are being studied are engineering pipe dreams, are not worth the time or money to study, and shouldn’t be in an Environmental Impact Report,” DePinto said said.

He also believes that not only the proposed route in the East Valley is flawed but the route proposed for the Northeast San Fernando Valley is also seriously flawed.

“If that’s the case,” DePinto said, “you will have two strikes against you High-Speed Rail. We don’t believe that high-speed rail has to happen, we believe that high-Speed rail needs to happen right.” 

DePinto suggested that perhaps the project should be re-routed, re-legislated or re-purposed to light rail.

“This is not the high-speed rail that you voted for. If it can’t operate within it’s budget or properly run through populated areas, this isn’t the high-speed rail that you voted for in 2008 or legislators voted for,” DePinto said, adding that as he has talked with members of other impacted communities he has picked up new terms and acronyms including NITHYE, which is the acronym for “Not in their back yard either.”

“This is your community. Stay involved stay informed. These are your tax dollars, make sure they are spent wisely,” said DePinto, to big applause.

Newly elected state Assemblywoman Patty Lopez publicly announced her opposition to the current high-speed rail routes that impact her district, and told the crowd that she might not be popular with her position in Sacramento, “because they want it, but I’m not going to change. Whether I’m an Assemblywoman or an activist, I am with the people. I don’t want it to happen in my district, and I don’t want one part of my district pitted against another.”

Lopez’ district includes both the East and Northeast San Fernando Valley.

“I will protect my district 100 percent,” Lopez said, adding she is supportive of the High-Speed Rail Authority going back to reroute and “doing it right and not impacting my district.”

Lopez also said she has, over recent weeks, been riding horses in Lake View Terrace to get a firsthand view of how the project is going to impact the community.

Ann Marie Catano, a resident in the Northeast Valley who has become involved in the organizing efforts with the Pacoima Neighborhood Council, said the high-speed rail is not an option.

“Once you build this wall, our crime rates are going to rise,” she said.

Catano and others attending the meeting argued that a constructed wall would encourage gang graffiti that would become an urban canvas. “It will cause retaliation and our crime rates are going to go up,” Catano said. “There are a number of things that can go wrong, and innocent children will be hurt. We don’t want that wire up there. We don’t want it.”

Catano said that the Northeast San Fernando is a “dumping ground” for negative projects. “We are tired of being a dumping ground for everyone else… I would like our for our community to work with your community because at end of the day we all have something in common. We all don’t want this to disrupt our communities,” she said.

Ann Job, the President of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council said she was glad to attend the Sunland/Tujunga meeting.

“This could easily become ‘you against us’ and I am grateful to all of you east of us for including us,” Job said. “We share the Valley, we share the L.A. River and there are so many things going on that are positive.

“I’m not saying that the high-speed rail isn’t positive; maybe we haven’t heard it yet. But I want to thank you for including Pacoima, San Fernando and Sylmar and I’m so glad we are partners in this.”

Juan Salas, a Pacoima resident and member of the Pacoima Neighborhood Council recommended that the signage and banners to “Stop the High-Speed Rail” include the areas of the Northeast Valley. As he spoke, he pointed to a banner and said, “It would be nice to see you include Sylmar, San Fernando and Pacoima, that would make us all a lot stronger.”

The City of San Fernando, in a 3-2 vote, tuned down a controversial move to sign a joint letter with Los Angeles City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes to seek information from the High-Speed Rail Authority to request an underground proposal for consideration. The current proposed route for the SR 14 Corridor is above ground traveling from a stop at the Burbank airport through Sun Valley, Pacoima, San Fernando, Sylmar and moving through the foothills. Mayor Sylvia Ballin and council members, Joel Fajardo, and Jesse Avila voted against signing the letter. Council members Antonio Lopez and Robert Gonzales voted ‘yes’ to sign the correspondence. Next week, The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol explores local political activity regarding this route and the economic impact of the SR 14 route to the City of San Fernando.