JUST SAYIN’-We have heard about high-speed rail for decades and have often been envious of the examples that some countries (like Japan with its awesome bullet trains) have already set for the rest of the world. The State of California is finally promoting a system of its own under the auspices of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) whose bullet train will eventually extend from Sacramento in the north to San Diego in the south with a number of stops along the way.
Despite the acclaim for this method of transportation, this project has been enveloped in considerable controversy. For example, at a time when money is short, is this the right time to launch such a massive project? Will there be adverse environmental effects in various parts of the state as a result? Especially disconcerting to many is why the Central Valley is the location for the first segment of this rail line instead of the regions which would utilize it the most?
Of particular concern to Angelinos is the segment currently being designed and considered that would affect the rail tributary between Burbank and Palmdale. Both LA Councilmember Felipe Fuentes and San Fernando Councilmember Joel Fajardo are in agreement that an above-ground line from Burbank to Palmdale at some 200 miles per hour without any stops in the Northeast Valley would produce some unintended consequences.
Fuentes says, “The CHSRA should also investigate the impacts the system will have on Council District Seven’s walkability, bikeability, equestrian paths, open space, noise, wildlife, and traffic”—all very consequential issues.
Years ago there were, in fact, housing divisions between Whites on the north side and Blacks and Latinos to the south—a racially-charged situation. San Fernando City Councilmember Robert Gonzalez shared with me something his grandmother revealed to him (Fajardo shared a similar anecdote). A number of years ago it was “illegal” for minorities to cross into the wealthier white community after sunset—with threat upon life and limb. This reminds me of similar practices in Burbank and Glendale (and in Oildale just outside Bakersfield when I lived near the “border” as a little girl). These townships were once called “sundown cities” (just as Ferguson was formerly known but whose current residents are hopeful that it will not regain that moniker).
Thus, the idea of erecting sound walls on either side of the proposed above-ground tracks through the City of San Fernando (and LA District 7) is a distressing reminder of the fear and horrors that people of color have experienced. It would literally be a wall (like the Berlin wall) dividing the community. Clearly, such construction would hold historical and emotional significance for the affected residents (many of whom have lived through that traumatizing period of our history). Now, when racial tensions there are at a minimum, this rail line would once again produce a symbolic bifurcation of the community along racial lines.
The proposed sound-barrier walls would produce a number of significant side effects. Current intersections for vehicular traffic would have to be tunneled underground—a situation which could cause traffic jams and further dangers for pedestrians and bicyclists.
Furthermore, cutting the downtown business district of the City of San Fernando in half would result in decreased patronage of those shops and restaurants along the line and could cause some establishments to go out of business altogether. The significantly important tax base would be diminished as well with terrible ramifications.
Certainly, there are also safety concerns: It would be much more difficult for emergency vehicles to gain access to affected areas—police, firefighters, EMTs, and ambulances. Currently a police station is located on the corners of Brand (now used for exit) and First Street (used for entrance). If there were no tunnel under Brand, the police would have to use only First Street for both egress and ingress, causing possible log-jams and even accidents. (Remember the terrible fire at the Oakridge development a few years back which burnt down a vast majority of housing units there. Fire trucks were hindered by the interior curbing design and thus were slowed in reaching their destinations in a timely manner.)
What is more, San Fernando Middle School is located by the current tracks. Its students would encounter dangers when approaching and leaving the school should the rail system be built above-ground.
The San Fernando City Council recently passed a resolution supporting the concept of high-speed rail but only if the tracks were to be built underground (a design which would also include local Metro Line tracks). Since the City of Santa Clarita has been promised underground-only tracks, the question is why the Northeast Valley cannot be guaranteed the same. The SF Council has created an ad hoc committee which has and will continue to meet with the Rail Authority to enlighten its members and consider reasonable accommodation for all or most concerns.
With the creation of underground tracks, the current tracks would be removed and could provide green spaces for picnic areas, dog parks (which presently do not exist), bike and pedestrian paths, and so forth.
For a brief time, a stop at the San Fernando Metro Station was considered but was quickly eliminated since there are currently Metro Lines between Burbank and Palmdale that riders can take to pick up the bullet train in either place. Furthermore, a stop in the Northeast Valley would add to the traffic situation and cause the removal of the Arco gas station at Truman and Hubbard.
Burbank, on the other hand, has been selected as a logical stop since it would be near the Bob Hope Airport. From Burbank, the line would continue to Union Station downtown LA.
It seems counterintuitive that the reduction of stops would produce higher ridership--that is because people who choose the high-speed option want to arrive at their destinations faster than other means of travel would deliver. More stops, however, could provide added opportunities and incentives for a new ridership (that might not otherwise use this train) to get to their destinations. A veritable conundrum for all involved.
One answer to some of these concerns would thus be placing the track underground in the affected areas. Another resolution would be tunneling the track under the San Gabriel Mountains (exiting through Lake View Terrace and continuing directly to the Burbank Airport).
As for the massive expenditure of dollars over the next few years in order to complete this project, we should recognize the greater worth of seeing this project to its culmination. In a time of great un- and under-employment, this project will produce at least twenty thousand rail-related jobs, both temporary (construction jobs) and long-term (operational, administrative, and maintenance), and thousands of others that would be created to support the consumption demands of these new laborers.
Besides, monies have already been allocated for these changes through the 2008 Los Angeles Measure R and a State Proposition that same year. The latter proposal built on the 1996 creation of the Rail Authority which, in turn, helped place the high-speed measure on the 2008 ballot. Both the Measure and the Proposition passed by popular vote.
The project’s implementation would remove 12 billion pounds of greenhouse emissions every year! Underground rails would also reduce the impact on the plants and animals which now live freely in our environment and with whom we presently enjoy a symbiotic relationship.
There have already been a number of SCOPING meetings (to discuss the scope of the project) during which time residents and others affected by this proposal were able to make statements, ask questions, hear expert testimony, and so forth.
There will yet be a separate meeting sponsored by the Sylmar Neighborhood Council which will be open to all. Please plan on attending and offering your valuable input into this very important issue that ultimately will affect all Californians, let alone those living in Los Angeles.
- Comments to the CHSRA (must be received by August 31, 2014):
- Land Mail: Mr. Mark. A. McLoughlin
Attn: CHSRA Project/Southern California/Regional Office
700 N. Alameda, Room 3-532
Los Angeles, California 90012
- Phone: 800-630-1039
- Sylmar Neighborhood Council Meeting:
Sylmar High School Auditorium
13050 Borden Avenue, Sylmar 91342
Thursday evening,August 28, 2014, 6:30 p.m. (please come early as parking may be limited–in the parking lots or on the street)