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Wed, May

The Bullet Train has the Valley in a Tizzy … Here’s Why They’re So Pissed Off

LOS ANGELES

MY TURN-Stakeholders keep the heat up on the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) so we will probably be looking at the status of the California Bullet train for the next two decades. Who knows if anything will anything even be completed by that time? The issue has managed to bring out passions on both sides and that is a good thing. This is definitely the year for activism in politics. 

David De Pinto, President of the Shadow Hills Home Owners Association and Board member of SAFE coalition are continually trying to have communication with the CHSRA and any other government officials who will listen to them. 

There are positives and negatives on both sides. The California electorate passed 1A with certain provisions. They defined "High Speed" as reaching speeds up to 220 miles an hour. 

They also were told that it would provide 150,000 well-paying jobs, cut down emissions from cars and trucks by almost half, and put the State into the same stratosphere as other great countries. Now that we’ve been designated the sixth largest economy in the world, we can lay claim to almost being our own country. Not to be cynical... but we know from past experience the number of jobs projected is always less and the costs are always more! 

On the other hand, do we need to have such high speeds? I enjoy taking the train from LA to San Diego because we pass through some scenic wonders and it’s a therapeutic start to a trip. It beats flying which is only 40 minutes. Of course, one must add two hours to the actual flying time to stand in security lines. It certainly doesn't make for a stress free start. I could drive the two and a half hours, which can and has turned into a five hour trip on the 405/5. So the train is a great choice even if it goes 50 miles an hour. 

The train between NYC and Washington DC is another great ride. One goes through five or six different states and the scenery is fascinating. I think the highest speed is 81 miles an hour. But the majority of Americans seem to be in a perpetual rush. I don't know how much scenery one can enjoy going 220 miles an hour. 

If only the project were that simple. People on the east coast try to live within walking distance to the nearest train station. Trains don't run all night and during the day; the sound of a train signaling its approach is rather pleasant. 

We Californians -- especially Angelenos -- are a different breed. We’re spoiled! We don't have to worry about digging out of snow. We have a great freeway system, especially at 2 am if – if CalTrans hasn't decided to do "roadwork" and close three lanes. Our cars are included as members of the family. If you believe the Liberty Insurance commercial, we even name them. 

But we must consider both the environmental and people impact that the new CHSRA business plan envisions for its ride to LA. The northeastern Valley seems to bear the brunt of the hardships. Several hundred thousand residents are going to be severely impacted over the next 13 years. 

Because the CHSRA decided to construct the Northern California portion first, Valley residents breathed a sigh of relief. CHSRC does not necessarily have the best communication skills. I attended one of the meetings where they were reporting progress to the LA City Council. I expected some fireworks and some tough questions from the City Council members. The only searching questions came from the audience and because of Council rules none of the questions could receive answers because they weren't listed on the agenda. 

Dave De Pinto keeps me apprised of the SAFE outreach. Here is a quote from his second to latest notice to CHSRA Chairman Dan Richard, the CHSRA Board and CHSRA management and to a zillion other government officials. 

Dear Chairman Richard: 

On behalf of the united communities in the northeast San Fernando Valley, which includes several hundred thousand residents, I'm writing to again convey that your Agency's follow-up on numerous public _*and*_ elected official requests is inadequate and disappointing. Despite your public statements about increased transparency and your use of the term

"harassment" to describe our many, many efforts to get responses from your staff on numerous matters, as impacted stakeholders engaged in the Authority's outreach program, we will not be ignored or marginalized. 

We call for the Authority to be accountable and responsive to our concerns and issues. The most important of those issues remains the continued inclusion of infeasible above ground segments such as above-ground E2, in ongoing environmental studies."

 

You can read the entire statement the SAFE website. Basically, he wanted to know why CHSRA hadn't had any public outreach in a year. They had promised to hold meetings starting at the beginning of this year. 

In the last week both the LA Times and Sacramento Bee accused CHSRA of fiscal malfeasance. Apparently one of the bids received from Spain's giant construction company Ferrovial, had pointed out that the financing for this Bullet Train, including all the monies from various government sources would probably not be sufficient to maintain the rail system and that public subsidies...meaning tax payers would be on the hook. In a study of 111 rail systems worldwide only three did not rely on subsidies. This little disclosure was inadvertently left out of copies of the Spanish proposal. 

Proposition 1A passed in 2008 approved $9 billion in bonds to build the rail system, stating it would have to operate without future public funding. That $9 billion has now mushroomed to $64 billion. 

The other source of financing was revenue from the Cap and Trade bill which, to date, has not generated its projected dollars. 

Not being an expert on railroad construction I asked De Pinto why we couldn't use the existing tracks with the reinforcement for high speeds. This way there would be little need for eminent domain environmental damage and seismic threats. 

He replied, "That's called the ‘blended approach’ and we can't get straight answers from them as it's too hypothetical and so many grade crossings would have to be altered, etc. It also causes a problem for them in that by law, they must travel from N. Cal. to S. Cal in two hours and forty minutes. The more they go the blended approach, the slower they go. But, it's cheaper for them and there are existing rights of way, so they do consider it in places. It's not going to use existing track here in the NE San Fernando Valley." 

So I asked, what could the speed be if they used existing tracks with modifications? 

He answered, "Every train/track situation is different country to country due to equipment, track layouts, etc. In California, they tout 220 MPH as their optimum speed and it's actually in the enabling ballot measure and legislation. 

"We know trains slow down around curves and approaching station stops. Based on all that CHSRA has said through the years, to expect 220 MPH through our community. That they would even propose such a thing demonstrates how out of touch and insensitive they are to local communities." 

There lies the elephant in the room. Scores of residents would not only have to live with huge, noisy and toxic dust conditions for years but, financially, it would place the values of their homes into a downward spiral.   

Just now, I received notice that the CHSRA sent "Permit to Enter" letters which indicated they will be conducting testing from June 2016 until December 2017. This is environmental impact testing for above-the-ground high speed rail. De Pinto notes in his letter to LA elected officials, that this testing is probably more like a three to five year project. SAFE is asking all their elected officials what they are going to do to protect these communities. 

There is a motion, which should soon be before the LA County Board of Supervisors, to remove all above ground routes from the existing plan and determine other alternatives. De Pinto's latest message, or as he calls it, his "rant", also suggests that those officials -- who are running for re-election or an open seat -- will be asked their position on the elimination of above ground tracks. The forthcoming election in November will have major consequences for those seeking to represent the Northeast San Fernando Valley. 

The only elected official who has publicly supported SAFE is Assembly Member Patty Lopez who is running for re-election in the 39th Assembly District. 

This would make a great TV series. 

As always comments welcome.

 

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist. She is a former publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: [email protected])

 

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