State High-Speed Rail Authority officials (HSRA) announced their recommended choice for the 38-mile route that would connect proposed Burbank and Palmdale stations for the high-speed train project that would travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
Michelle Boehm, Southern California Regional Director, said planners are recommending the “refined SR 14 route” that, if constructed, would start in Palmdale, include five tunnels totaling approximately 24 miles going underneath the San Gabriel Mountains, the Angeles National Forest, Sylmar and most of Pacoima before emerging near Branford Street in the industrial area of Pacoima. It would then travel on existing rail corridors and travel at grade before arriving at the Burbank Airport Station.
An earlier route that would have gone through the City of San Fernando was taken off the table.
“The Palmdale-to-Burbank project section is one piece of the 800-mile, all-electric, high-speed rail system that is being planned for the state of California,” Boehm said Wednesday, Sept. 19, during a 20-minute presentation that was streamed on webcasts and heard via telephone conference calls.
“This is a critical connection into the Los Angeles basin, and we have been, over the course of the last several years, having a conversation about the best route that we could select to make that important connection. This is not that final step or that final decision. We still have a number of steps to go.”
Boehm said the planners would be holding meetings next week in the cities and communities affected by the announcement to further explain and outline the decision and its impact. They will appear at the Angeles National Golf Club on Monday, Sept. 24, to hear from residents from the Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, and Sunland-Tujunga communities, and the Hubert H. Humphrey Recreation Center in Pacoima on Sept. 26 to hear from people living in Pacoima and the Northeast Valley.
“We wanted to make sure that all the communities that have been following this project have the opportunity to hear what we know about the project today at the same time,” Boehm said.
“We have put a lot of time and effort and analysis into the project. We know that this route has different impacts in different communities. We know that no route is perfect. But at this juncture, this route has the most opportunity to strike the best balance.”
She said a similar presentation would be made to the board in a few weeks “so we can share with them the information about the concept study that we have undertaken.” After getting feedback and direction from the board, Boehm said draft environmental impact documents would be prepared and released to the public “for comment and conversation, on our way to a final environmental document.”
That final document is scheduled to be completed two years from today, Boehm said, “so there is still a vibrant conversation that will be happening about the route selection.”
Reaction to the Authority’s announcement was swift and pointed.
Shadow Hills resident Dave De Pinto, an active member of the organization Save Angeles Forest for Everyone (SAFE) was not surprised by the announcement. For him and many of the community members who have testified at public meetings over recent years, “the California High-Speed Rail Authority is doing what it does best — ignoring and disrespecting our residents, businesses, community leaders and elected officials.”
Despite previous promises for public input, De Pinto said, “They (HSRA) proceeded to prematurely announce their “Preferred Alternative” among the SR14, E1 and E2 routes. This after promising us and our elected officials that they would hold a board meeting in the NE San Fernando Valley before this big step.”
Members of the group believe that HSRA was afraid to hear them, De Pinto said. The organization has carefully researched the agency’s proposals and have pointed to the serious impact both to the environment and the displacement of homeowners. Members of SAFE have been active in joining with residents in Pacoima, Sylmar and San Fernando to oppose the project.
“They were afraid to face us,” De Pinto said, “They were afraid we would make such a compelling statement at such a meeting that there would be a mandate to remove each of the existing routes. That would add time and money to their plans. Thus, they reneged on their promises and they are forcing this matter forward with zero public input since March 2016.
“They did not tell the truth and they did not honor their clearly stated commitment at a downtown LA Board meeting held in April of this year.”
De Pinto and other opponents believe the HSRA wants to move quickly and get the project moved as far along as possible before Gov. Jerry Brown leaves office no matter how much it will cost taxpayers.
“They really don’t want to know what we think and never did, so it’s the quickest way for them to move along,” De Pinto said.
Residents also maintain that their elected officials didn’t push hard enough to oppose the project and in the case of Shadow Hills residents, they were left without a representative when Councilmember Felipe Fuentes vacated his seat altogether.
Boehm later sent a statement to the (italics) San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, (italics end) saying, “The key reason why we made the announcement of the staff recommended alternative before the meetings was to ensure that everyone had the opportunity to hear the announcement simultaneously, given both the high level of interest and out of respect for those communities whose meetings come later in the series.”
Nonetheless, Pinto said residents were left to fend for themselves and requested a suitable alternative route that would address their concerns, but they believe they have been ignored so that Governor Brown could have his “vanity project.” He furthered his argument with the following bullet points:
• “They have major financial and management issues, so the threat will remain whatever decision they make. It will take a lot more time and stress on our Valley before that occurs.
• “They failed to present a suitable alternative to our communities in over four years despite thousands and thousands of community voices speaking out.
• “Their choice could change for financial, environmental or technical reasons at any time in the next few decades.The non-Preferred Alternative is NOT removed or eliminated; it remains under study and remains a threat.
• “The project will devastate whichever communities are closest to the preferred alternative. That means neighbors are going to be hurt one way or the other.
• “The NE San Fernando Valley, overall, will be a major net loser during both construction and operations phases – we will experience little to no benefits economically, transportation-wise or environmentally. We will have more noise, dirtier air, visual blight, security risks, traffic congestion, risk to wildlife, risk to equestrian and trail pursuits, eminent domain of hundreds of homes and businesses, and much more.
• “Any choice they make leaves our Angeles National Forest exposed to tunneling and other major construction and operational impacts. The only routes left damage the Forest greatly. There is no fully tunneled alternative and there is no non-Forest alternative.
• “The choices they have left are very, very expensive, environmentally risky and damaging, and will take decades to implement, so the threat does not go away.
• “Your tax dollars will continue to be spent at a rate of nearly $3 million per day in support of this boondoggle.”
De Pinto added “we have people throughout this area, some are relieved, some are exuberant, but all are frustrated that the threat remains. With this announcement, some people whose homes business and animals were threatened by imminent domain and are no longer under the gun feel some relief. However, so many remain under the cloud of this project.”
He said the HSRA has not worked with residents since early 2016, and the HSRA is spending upwards of $3 million a day. The latest estimates have the project over budget by $60 billion.
Many residents have said the cost overruns “are not what we voted for.”
“It should be a crime that we remain threatened by a project so poorly conceived, mismanaged, over budget, and motivated by politics.