While it would seem unlikely these days, residents who live in the densely populated working class communities of Pacoima, the City of San Fernando, and Sylmar in the Northeast Valley have much in common with residents who live in the more affluent rural horse communities that include Shadow Hills, and Sunland /Tujunga in the North Valley.
They are all “mad as hell” and say “they aren’t going to take it anymore.”
They are angry with their elected representatives. They are angry with the state High-Speed Rail Authority. And they are angry with Gov. Jerry Brown, and what they describe is a callous disregard for their homes, community and livelihoods.
On Tuesday, Jan 19, Mayor Joel Fajardo announced at a City of San Fernando council meeting that the city finally received a response from the letter it sent to Gov. Brown last October, requesting that he come to San Fernando to see why and how there is no room in their small town to make way for the bullet train, and to see first hand how it will destroy the city’s commerce.
City staff, communicating with the Governor’s office, also said they would be willing to travel to Sacramento to meet with Brown. But they were turned down by his scheduling office, which indicated that he didn’t have the availability or time.
“I am really pissed off,” said Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin. “I am sorry that I voted for the Governor, not just once but twice. I am angry that he cannot be bothered to see the devastation that would be caused to our city by this complex project.”
Fajardo also announced that a letter sent to HSR board Chairman Dan Richards that the economic impact on the City of San Fernando was “barely acknowledged.”
Since residents of these communities learned about the proposed routes to run the train through them, they have come to learn more about each other and become keenly aware that the high-speed rail has set the stage to pit the communities against each other with two separate proposed routes. None want the train and have found no benefits, only harm, to their communities.
The SR-14 route would cut through the Northeast Valley communities, displacing an untold number of long time homeowners and businesses. The E-2 route would not only impact the North Valley communities, but would go through the Angeles Forest and impact it’s ecosystems.
Both routes are largely above ground near densely populated communities and impact sensitive areas.
Both communities believe they have made Herculean efforts to make their voice be heard in opposition to the high-speed rail.
Residents from both ends of the Valley have organized. Residents who live in Pacoima formed the “Coalition Against Displacement” (CAD). Residents from Shadow Hills and Sunland Tujunga formed SAFE — “Save Angeles Forest For Everyone.”
They have studied the routes, provided reams of information, attended the high-speed rail public meetings, written letters, signed petitions, organized protests, called their legislators, traveled to attend HSR board meetings and waited for hours to speak.
“It was the residents who took leadership on the high-speed rail, not our elected officials,” said Shadow Hills resident Dave Di Pinto.
It has now been a year since the North Valley residents had a massive meeting at the All Nations Church in Sunland/Tujunga. Two thousand people attended and news media cameras rolled. Over the last year, they have urged their legislators to carry their message and were told to be patient.
Both communities maintain they have all tried to work with their elected officials — most notably L.A. City Councilmember Felipe Fuentes, urging him to take a leadership role in representing their opposition.
But, residents say, he has failed them.
At a meeting of the Pacoima Neighborhood Council last year, Fuentes didn’t receive the warm response he expected as he emphasized the “perks” residents could receive, including pocket parks, if they put out a welcome mat for the high-speed rail.
He referenced the “eyesores” that would be removed, including an auto wrecking business, but one woman raised her hand to remind him, “That is where we work.” Residents said they were surprised that Fuentes — who was from Pacoima — “had lost touch,” and was becoming “disconnected,” from them.
“The high-speed rail project has been a cloud hanging over our heads, and the councilman was never the leader we were hoping for on that issue,” Di Pinto said.
Georgina Carranza, and other members of CAD, have attended the meetings organized by SAFE. Carranza has emphasized that the impact of eminent domain would increase homelessness in a community already challenged.
At a recent meeting, she became emotional as she spoke.
“I am from Mexico and I love this country, and it’s hard to explain this to people in my community,” she said. “Many of us could lose our homes and then where would we go?”
Carranza pointed out that whatever “market value” amount they would receive would not be enough to purchase a comparable home. “Many people are elderly and on limited incomes,” she said.
She said it would be difficult for them to qualify for home loans to purchase a similar home. They are at risk for being displaced, and it could increase the homelessness population in her community.
“I have been talking to people and telling them that they could lose their homes, and they don’t believe that the government could actually force them to leave. They don’t understand that even though they worked hard all of their lives to buy their houses that they’ve lived in for years, they can be taken away,” Carranza said.
Fuentes recently announced he would not run for a second term, which was unprecedented. With eighteen months left in his term, residents from both sides of the Valley are concerned that his complacency on this issue will continue to hurt them as the high-speed rail continues to move forward.
“If he isn’t going to represent our concerns, perhaps we should ask him to resign,” Di Pinto said.
There has even been discussion about organizing a recall.
“We’ve concluded that the spelling of his last name with the letters “F-U” has conveyed his treatment,” said another resident who asked not to be identified. “So now, our gloves are off.”
Next week: Our coverage continues on this issue.