Revised HSR Routes Spare Much of Northeast Valley

The High-Speed Rail (HSR) Authority, via an email sent to legislators and stakeholders on Monday, March 14, has announced three revised routes for the bullet train to travel from Palmdale to Burbank.

Under the latest revision, one route known as SR 14, which has been loudly protested by Northeast San Fernando Valley residents, will now veer away from Santa Clarita, the City of San Fernando, Sylmar and most of Pacoima. However, it appears that part of Pacoima and Sun Valley would still be impacted.

The original SR 14 route, traveling through the San Fernando Corridor, would have divided the small city, cutting it in half with a proposed sound wall. It could have potentially destroyed its downtown business district. In Pacoima, residents feared they would be forced to move from their homes through eminent domain.  

The revised proposed routes will be presented at an upcoming April 12 meeting at the Anaheim Convention Center. They are still subject to an environmental impact study. And the new routes still need to be approved by the High-Speed Rail board.

While those communities that appear to be spared are breathing a big sigh of relief, City of San Fernando Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin believes a celebration is still premature, and said those who opposed the project in their communities should support those communities that are still on the table.

“We should not be too quick to celebrate at the expense of others. ‘No High-Speed Rail’ should mean ‘No High-Speed Rail’ anywhere in Southern California,” Ballin said.    

“San Fernando could never have been excluded without the help of Pacoima,” said Georgina Carranza, a community activist and a member of Communities Against Displacement. “We [Pacoima] still need help and we need to unite.

“I received a call from the High-Speed Rail to tell me about the new routes and I began to cry because I know it’s not just about my home now being spared. I have been told that the route will be underground and moving above ground at Branford Street.”

Carranza told the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol that she remains concerned for those that may lose their livelihoods.

“This new route will impact the businesses along Branford and many families will be hurt. People still need to work, and that area employs a lot of people from the junkyard and the large Fed Express Ground facility. Hundreds of employees that together support thousands of family members will be affected, including the truck drivers, and there is a lot of work for people there on Branford. Where will they go if their jobs are gone?” Carranza asked.

“Our community is still impacted and the construction will increase our already poor air quality during this construction.”

Carranza points out that the Pacoima community already has a high propensity for asthma, which increased during freeway construction through their neighborhoods.

A community rally that was planned for today, March 17, to coincide with a visit by HSR Board Chairman Dan Richards at a Council of Governments meeting in Van Nuys, was canceled. Residents, mainly from the impacted route in Shadow Hills, decided to switch gears and make their concerns known during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The map released by the High-Speed Rail Authority indicates that everything north of Branford is now spared. But Branford is the area of transition where it will move from tunneling to an at-grade route through Sun Valley toward the Burbank Airport, which will be a station for the bullet train.

In this next phase, the communities heading toward the airport are likely to become more vocal with their concerns.

“There has been significant concern expressed by certain communities through which our potential alignments would pass that historic practice of imposing infrastructure projects on disadvantaged populations, favoring other factors over environmental justice concerns would become the norm,” Richards said.

In the letter, Richards said the Authority has taken and will continue to take these concerns “very seriously.”

The High-Speed Rail overall has been sharply criticized for being grossly over budget with delays, and plagued by lawsuits. The two alternative routes through the Angeles National Forest have been criticized by Shadow Hills residents for the impact on the environment, and possible groundwater contamination.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s prized project still has a long way to go. A November ballot initiative seeks to take High-Speed Rail dollars and move them to assist in combating California’s drought.