D. Martinez / SFVS

Dave DePinto, the President of S.A.F.E  at a recent meeting in Sun Valley.

A group of residents opposed to the high-speed rail routes proposed to run through the San Fernando Valley, traveled to Sacramento on Wednesday, Jan. 27, to attend an Assembly Budget subcommittee hearing held on the oversight of the High-Speed Rail (HSR).

Members of S.AF.E. (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone), along with other Valley residents, said there is an urgent need to provide more oversight and auditing of the state HSR Authority.

Members of S.AF.E. (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone), along with other Valley residents, said there is an urgent need to provide more oversight and auditing of the state HSR Authority.

But those residents who traveled  from the valley to attend the Sacramento hearing to deliver that message were “livid.” The High Speed Rail Chairman Dan Richard was provided so much of the time to take issue with media coverage,  there was  little time remaining.  Residents were allowed only a minute each to address the committee during a public comment period at the very end of the hearing.   As they attempted to cut down their prepared remarks and speak, some it appeared who were  most critical of the High Speed Rail  Authority were interrupted during their minute, and told to “wrap it up.” 

This isn’t the first time residents have found their concern and findings have been shut down.

They recently filed a formal complaint with the state auditor, alleging a conflict of interest between the High-Speed Rail Authority and the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), which was given the authority to produce an equine study.

They recently filed a formal complaint with the state auditor, alleging a conflict of interest between the High-Speed Rail Authority and the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI), which was given the authority to produce an equine study.

Assemblymember Patty Lopez made the request for the information to consider what impact the train would have on the large horse community in her district.

But in looking at the study, S.A.F.E President and Shadow Hills resident Dave DePinto said they discovered it was not only inaccurate, but tainted by a conflict of interest between the HSR Authority and Mineta.

“The CEO of the Authority, Jeff Morales, is on MTI’s Board of Trustees. Further, HNTB, an engineering contractor which received $36 million in contracts last November and more than $130 million in contracts from [The California High-Speed Rail Authority] in recent years, is also on the Mineta Board,” DePinto revealed.

“There is a huge disconnect between what Chairman (Dan) Richard says and what his project team does when it comes to transparency and accountability,” DePinto told the subcommittee. “We expected the Authority to conduct the studies by engaging independent, third-party experts from the federal, state, county and municipal levels.” DePinto said he was in Sacramento on behalf of hundreds of thousands of residents from communities throughout the Burbank to Palmdale Project Section.

Residents who attended the High-Speed Rail public meetings last year complained repeatedly that the format didn’t allow open public dialogue but were very controlled, set up more like a classroom environment with rehearsed presentations.

While High-Speed Rail representatives have described their “process” as “transparent and accountable,” for more than a year residents have lived in limbo, unsure if the bullet train would be traveling through their community and potentially uprooting them from their homes and businesses.

Dissatisfied with the “public meetings” arranged by HSR, residents held large community meetings of their own. They’ve sent scores of letters to their elected officials and to the High-Speed Rail Authority to express their frustration with the lack of attention paid to their serious concerns.

San Fernando Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin has been consistent in her strong opposition to the project.

“I will support the High-Speed Rail … when it goes through Gov. Brown’s house,” she announced at a recent meeting in Sun Valley.

Ballin and others are concerned that the proposed route, known as SR 14, would take out the City of San Fernando’s main business corridor, hurt its tax base and choke the flow of traffic at it’s main thoroughfare on Maclay Street. The train would travel through San Fernando as much as four times an hour, and would be so loud and disruptive that it would kill the small town. Residents in Pacoima have been in the dark about the number of people who could be displaced.

Those who live in Shadow Hills and Sunland Tujunga who would be impacted by a proposed route, known as E-2 and residents who live in the Northeast San Fernando Valley that include Pacoima, the City of San Fernando and Sylmar impacted by the proposed route known as SR-14, share the view that they are all literally being “railroaded” and being placed in a situation that pits one side of the valley against each other. 

These residents also agree with what they consider the lack of oversight on the massive project.

Now, that the High Speed Rail has completed their “public meetings,” months go by without receiving a response to their letters or concerns. They feel the HSR has merely “checked off the box,” and has little concern for the letters they’ve sent or for vetting their concerns.

Morales meanwhile has stood by HSR’s practices and has said that his team has been “very forthright about the cost of this program.”

Speaking at a previous joint legislative audit committee meeting, he said that costs have to be estimated for a 500-mile plus system built over a number of years. “We laid out a $98 billion price tag and have worked to bring it down to a $68 billion cost.”

He pointed out that alignments have not yet been selected so only estimations are made regarding the miles of tunnels, and the costs of construction and inflation are considered and their standard practices of transparency.

Residents who have organized against the proposed routes however tell a far different story. Last June, as hundreds of residents publicly voiced their opposition, the HSR board voted unanimously to conduct and complete within six months environmental studies on the impact on water, seismic issues and tunneling but — eight months later —have failed to produce the studies.

“Our communities have been done wrong by the California High-Speed Rail Authority through its exorbitant, wasteful and ineffective route selection process and public outreach program,” DePinto continued, “For more than 6 months, Southern California has been without a representative on the Authority’s board of directors. Dozens of letters and phone calls to the Governor and the Authority have yielded nothing.  This Authority is in over their heads. They’re off-schedule. They’re over-budget. While we’ve been calling for oversight, an overhaul would be more appropriate.”