Gov. Gavin Newsom’s decision to “pull back” on the state’s high-speed rail project that would have established a train route from Los Angeles to San Francisco was met with muted joy by opponents in the San Fernando Valley whose homes and/or communities might have been in the path of said routes.

Newsom said on Tuesday, Feb. 12, that there “isn’t a path” for completing the state’s current plan for a high-speed rail line between San Francisco and Los Angeles — but added he is still fully committed to building such a project.

San Fernando Vice Mayor Sylvia Ballin said she was “ecstatic” by the news, “especially for all the communities who formed a coalition with San Fernando to fight against the HSR. We all fought hard for this outcome.”

Another leading vocal critic, David DiPinto of SAFE Coalition, said Newsom’s decision “was a step in the right direction,” but added that the governor’s overall comments were “a bit ambiguous” and that any interpretation of the project being permanently scuttled would be premature.

DiPinto, who lives in Shadow Hills, points out that “the environmental process will continue” — the governor said the state could be forced to return billions of federal dollars if it doesn’t complete the environmental reviews, including one for an LA to San Francisco route in 2020 — and “before you know it you’ll have a hybrid of the High-Speed Rail” with a couple more tracks along the Metrorail.

“The labor unions are likely to be lobbying the governor and their local legislators to continue the project and the political will to continue the project could resurface,” DiPinto said

“It’s progress but not closure….While several vague or simplistic reasons were given for not pulling the plug entirely, there is too much double-speak in the existing comments to say the project through the northeast San Fernando Valley is dead.”

He said that it was important  people are still there to give public testimony, hire  their own environmental impact experts, and remain vigilant. In other words, “Keep doing what we’re doing.”

Other local reactions to Newsom’s remarks were closer to those of DiPinto than Ballin.

Nicole Chase, president of the Boys & Girls Club of San Fernando Valley, and whose family owns and operates a horse ranch in Sylmar, said that the project “was not exactly halted.”

“He is supporting the line [for the Central Valley]. That means he still supports [the project],” Chase said. “It’s a good thing he stalled the project. But he didn’t shut the whole thing down, which leaves an open door to change his mind.”

Christian Rubalcava, president of the Board of Directors of the Sylmar Neighborhood Council, agreed with Chase.

“When we heard of this decision, we were happy. But at the same time the governor said the priority was in the Central Valley — Bakersfield to Merced — and he also said they would continue with the project plans with San Francisco, then Bakersfield to LA. So environmental impact reports will still be drawn up, and other routes will still be picked,” Rubalcava said.

“It may be a matter of time before the feds pass an infrastructure bill that could create the funding for this, and put us back at square one. We still have to stay on top of this because the route chosen is still a route through Sylmar and we’re still fighting that.” 


 — Mike Terry