Speakers from across northern Los Angeles County spent more than four hours Tuesday giving the California High-Speed Rail Authority board their strong opinions — mostly unfavorable — over potential route options between Palmdale and Burbank.
Person after person from communities in the San Gabriel Mountains pleaded with the agency’s board to steer clear of routes that they said would devastate their communities. Their emotional remarks came before the board received a report outlining four broad alternatives for the route.
The magnitude of the concern over the statewide bullet-train project at the authority meeting was unprecedented — and showed the conflicting interests between residents of towns along the Highway 14 corridor and communities near the Angeles National Forest and the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument.
Residents and business owners in Acton, Agua Dulce, Santa Clarita and other communities along a potential rail route near Highway 14 demanded that the agency either eliminate that option from future study or commit to alternatives that are fully contained in tunnels under the San Gabriel Mountains.
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At a rally that attracted about 200 people before the rail meeting, Jacqueline Ayer of Acton complained that her community is the only one for which a tunnel option has not been proposed by the authority’s engineers, and is the only community affected by each of the four options currently under study.
“We want you to crawl into a hole in Palmdale and crawl out in Burbank,” said Christopher Croisdale, president of the Acton Town Council. “We need these tunnels away from our towns and away from our communities.”
But residents in foothill communities such as Shadow Hills in the San Fernando Valley were just as adamant with their fears that tunneling through the mountain range would wreck the character of the forest, damage the underground water table that supplies their communities, and impinge on their rural lifestyle.
And one speaker, Olivia Hernandez of Kagel Canyon, pointed to the divergent interests expressed to the board in the hours of testimony as she made her remarks: “I’ll probably have tomatoes thrown at my head, but you can replace a house,” she said of Highway 14 corridor residents who urged tunneling under the mountains. “But you can’t replace a mountain range.”
No route decisions were up for approval by the rail board , but that did little to diminish the urgency and volume of residents’ concerns.
Dan Richard, the authority’s board chairman, said he wasn’t taken aback by the number of people addressing the panel.
“This is the biggest infrastructure project in California, and the biggest infrastructure project in the United States,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any surprise that coming into the most populous area of our state is going to be challenging.
“This is a milepost in the process where the public has the ability to come in and offer their thoughts and comments, and we’re here to listen to them.”
Kings County farmer Frank Oliveira was one of a handful of San Joaquin Valley residents who traveled south for the meeting. “You’ve taken a lot of criticism today for not listening,” Oliveira told the board. “I believe that is wrong. I believe you do listen. I believe you listen, but you do not consider” what critics have to say.
Oliveira added that the comments in Los Angeles reflected many of the same complaints that the authority’s leaders have heard for years from people in the Valley. “Apparently nothing has changed,” he said.
Authority spokeswoman Lisa Marie Alley emphasized that no decisions were being made on any of the route options, and aren’t likely for months. “The next step in the process is to continue ‘deep dive’ studies of these alignments,” Alley said.
A draft version of an environmental impact report for the Palmdale-Burbank section is expected in about a year, and that report would evaluate the various alternatives and recommend a preferred route alternative from among the options. “And then a year after that we would ultimately ask the board to select an alignment,” Alley said.
Richards said he has toured many of the communities over the past year to see for himself what kinds of effects the routes would have on the region.
“I don’t want to pretend that you can build a project like this and not affect somebody,” he said. “But the way you deal with this is you go through a process, you let the technical people do the environmental studies, you listen to communities and you take their input, and in the end you make the best decision that you can.”