Richard, who is based in Sacramento, said this should be “the first of many conversations we have” with San Fernando officials and residents. “Even in one day, as much as my eyes can be opened to some of these issues you are talking about…it’s an ongoing process.”
Dan Richard, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, met with the San Fernando City Council on Wednesday, March 11, in a special session.
“He requested a meeting with the entire council, and the only way we could arrange such a meeting without violating the Brown Act was to convene a special meeting,” said Mayor Sylvia Ballin.
Richard, appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, spent much of the time during his visit talking about the benefits of the high-speed rail,
But “we can’t see any benefit to the high-speed rail coming through San Fernando,” Ballin has maintained. “All we’ll be able to do is wave at it as it disrupts our life at a high speed. Most of us here probably won’t be able to afford the cost of a ticket.”
The High-Speed Rail Authority currently has proposed a route called SR 14, which has the “bullet train” traveling through local communities — including Sun Valley, Pacoima, the City of San Fernando and Sylmar — at speeds up to 200 miles per hour.
Neither Ballin or Councilmember Antonio Lopez were able to attend the meeting at City Hall. Council members Jesse Avila, Joel Fajardo and Robert Gonzales were present as well as approximately 20 residents, business and property owners.
In addition to the nearly hour face-to-face meeting with Richard and Michelle Boehm, the authority’s Southern California regional director, all present took a 20-minute bus ride around the City of San Fernando. The bus stopped at three specific spots — by San Fernando Middle School, the recreational pool facility and downtown at Truman Street and San Fernando Mission Road — that Gonzales said could face “major impacts” from the SR 14 Corridor route.
Other residents voiced concerns about the high-speed rail plan during public comments at the meeting.
“We all know an above ground high-speed rail is not compatible with our community,” said resident Linda Campanella. “We bear the brunt of much of the burden of an industrialized society here in San Fernando…we can’t afford to have our little city ripped in half.”
Paul Luna said “I’m more concerned about the safety of the project. I understand a 100-feet buffer zone has been designated for this project, and I don’t think that is nearly enough. I don’t think a project like this should be in an urban area.”
Business owner Victor Garza said just having the railway though the city “has already divided us,” and that a railway “pretty much allows people to do what they want…Even the trains we have coming through now with the chemicals they carry. Having a high-speed rail coming through as well is pretty disturbing to me.”
Fajardo questioned whether SR 14 would follow “the principles of Environmental Justice,” saying “this would be affecting a predominantly minority community, a very large Spanish-speaking community, and there hasn’t been tremendous outreach to the Spanish-speaking community yet….this could have the same level of destruction as the East Los Angeles [freeway] interchange. We are looking for the High-Speed Rail Authority to come forward with better options.”
He said the authority would not build the project in a way “that steps on communities just because they have no economic power,” and that “we are going to build this for all the people and not just some.”
“What I want everyone in the San Fernando Valley to understand is we get it. There are impacts here. There are 8,100 homes and businesses here that are affected on the SR 14 route and down through your city…I apologize to you because the very fact we’re doing this means we’re creating uncertainty in your lives and businesses. We will try and balance our need to be complete in terms of how we do the analysis, but at some point we will be allowed to say ‘this is what we think is the preferred route’ or ‘this route really just does not work.’”
At a recent community meeting held at Pacoima Charter School, Veronica Padilla, executive director for Pacoima Beautiful, gave a power point presentation that really concerned residents.
“More than eight thousand homes and one thousand businesses that include churches, schools are within a half mile of the proposed route,” Padilla said.
A newly formed group, “Communities Against Displacement,” passed out leaflets that alerted residents to the environmental, health and community impact the proposed route would have.
“It would cause heavy construction pollution and traffic, cause health problems including asthma, force local businesses to relocate, destroy homes along San Fernando Road, and divide the community with a 20-foot wall,” said resident Anne Marie Catano.
Members of the volunteer group encouraged others to get involved.
When it was time to open up to questions from those attending, several hands quickly shot up.
“You emphasize that you are hiring people and businesses in California, but you are also displacing a lot of people,” a woman said emphatically.
“Why does this go through all of these communities and our residences? Why would you put so much emphasis on this route bringing jobs when you are displacing people?” a resident asked.
“We have had a lot of studies and it is connecting Palmdale and Burbank, so you are right, it doesn’t stop here in this community,” said Boehm, who attended. “I want to be clear that we are studying the routes.”
As Boehm clicked on her power point and began describing the routes, a woman from Shadow Hills — where another route is proposed — said, “Not true, Michelle, tell the truth, you make it sound like it will be tunneled all around.”
Speaking very slowly and deliberately Boehm, sounding very rehearsed, said, “The impacts would be different here in Pacoima. It’s about studying a full range of impacts there, it is about making a fair choice about the best route.”
“Our water shed is going to be affected,” said another person, pointing out a concern about the impact on the environment in referencing the other route through Shadow Hills. “I hear the talk about protecting the trees and the animals and bugs. What about all the people you are displacing? Maybe a person’s life should be considered.”
“It’s important and it’s a balance, and we want to make sure that the community is taken into consideration as well as the resources,” Boehm said. “We are picking the best possible project. We are picking the best possible route.”
“How much of this whole street of San Fernando Road is going to be left? Just a sidewalk? ” another resident asked. “What is the High-Speed Rail doing to really inform the community? A lot of people still don’t know about this.”
“We do mailers to the community and go out to people who are around the alignment. We are working very hard to get the word out,” Boehm said.
A young man from the audience stood up and asked Boehm a most pointed question,
“The High-Speed Rail depends on electricity and electricity depends on water and we are in drought. How are you going to get the electricity to power this immense project?” he said
Boehm said that they were in discussion with various power companies and are looking into alternative sources of energy, including wind power.
Community members continued to bombard Boehm with their questions. Their biggest concern was that it seemed it was a foregone conclusion that the high-speed rail would cut through their community, as Boehm continued to repeat, “It’s about picking the best route and a fair choice for the project.”
“Fair choice? You need to come up with another route,” one angry woman shouted from the audience.
For further information about organizing efforts, contact Communities Against Displacement at (818) 869-4553, or visit firstname.lastname@example.org.