Endless Bipartisan Disdain for High-Speed Rail

high speed rail trainEvery once in a great while an issue comes along that is truly bipartisan.  Regardless of political persuasion … everyone hates it!  They say that politics makes strange bedfellows and this one is a great example.

When voters gave approval to Governor Jerry Brown’s legacy issue … The Bullet Train … approved by voters with a $9-billion bond in 2008, it was expected to connect Los Angeles to San Francisco in two hours and 40 minutes. Construction is slated to start this summer, more than two years behind the initial start date.

The Bullet Train is currently being funded by twenty-five percent of the state’s revenue from cap-and-trade fees, which discourages the use of fossil fuels by putting a price on carbon.  We are paying higher prices for gasoline and diesel fuel because of cap-and-trade fees, and that’s where a quarter of the money is going.  Governor Brown expects that carbon tax to continue into the future.

Part of the Bond stipulation was no state money would be used.  That has now changed and several private companies, which were going to bid on various parts of the project, have stated they will need State funding.  The price is no longer $9 billion but seems, according to some sources, to have doubled.

Personally, I am very much in favor of progress … especially for LA’s nightmare transportation issues … but it has to be smart progress.  There are so many disparate groups fighting this monster project that one has to take a step back, see it from a macro point of view but keeping in mind that a bunch of micro make up a macro.  Both working class and affluent areas are going to be affected.  What does it do to real estate prices having a tunnel or tracks near your back yard, let alone quality of life issues?

Last year the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) announced that they would hold meetings seeking the public’s suggestions through every phase of the project.  They kept their word.  Whereas they were seeking suggestions … they were slammed with complaints.  To sum up the suggestions … Don’t Do It!

I’m just going to discuss some of the issues in the Palmdale/Burbank plan.  At the present time four alternate plans have been presented to implement two routes.  One going through the mountains  through the East Valley to Burbank- the other impacting more of the central Valley  Take a look at exactly what they have in mind.

This will describe all of the new alternatives CHSRA has come up with as a result of their meetings.

Yes, the San Fernando Valley is the recipient of this controversial super project.  Before all of you City dwellers’ eyes glaze over … this will also affect you … not where you live but in your pocketbook because there will be tax payer subsidies.

I also checked to see how our City Council Members and State and Assembly representatives, whose constituents would be impacted,  were handling what promises to be almost as bigger issue as the San Fernando Valley trying to secede from Los Angeles.

Assembly member Patty Lopez, whose district includes most of the areas affected, has been holding a series of meetings for her constituents.  One held last week brought together Neighborhood Councils, Members of Valley Vote, Chambers of Commerce.

This is what she said:

“In an earlier statement, I declared my opposition to the high speed rail routes proposed and still disagree with the routes. To date I have heard the numerous and overwhelming concerns raised by my communities.   I share the serious concerns of my constituency as the four routes proposed not only severely impact urban areas of my district negatively, but could potentially devastate rural and natural lands. 

“After meeting with constituents, other stakeholders, and reviewing proposed routes, I have been made aware of the clear impacts to local businesses, properties, and overall quality of life. Additionally, many of my communitys questions still have gone unanswered; communities continue to remain frustrated with the process; and are still unclear as to their options or the next steps. 

“To aid my district through this process, I plan to actively pursue several possibilities.  I have directed staff to coordinate a meeting with the High Speed Rail Authority, the Administration, and to plan more community meetings to further hear the concerns of my District.” 

Both City Council members Felipe Fuentes and Nury Martinez have asked for more information and are holding meetings.  State Senator Bob Hertzberg seems to think it will make LA more cosmopolitan.  Sunland- Tujunga Neighborhood Council sent a letter to CHSRA presenting an excellent case against the routes.   They warned of severe environmental concerns as well as public safety issues such as building tunnels over earthquake faults.

Really caught in the cross hairs is the City of San Fernando.  They remind me of the children’s book, “The Little Engine that Could.”   This working class City, which is more than 90% Latino, has  been struggling with development problems; trying to attract more entertainment venues; improve their schools, among other things and now they have to contend with this.  They sit directly in the path of one of the proposed routes.

San Fernando City Mayor Joel Fajardo said the train would bisect his city, leaving only two crossing points separated by a massive sound wall.

“They would never propose a bullet train to go through Old Town Pasadena, Third Street Promenade or Rodeo [drive]” he said. “Yet they have no problem with this proposal if it is through a working class community like San Fernando.” 

San Fernando Mayor Pro Temp, Sylvia Ballin, told state officials the city would lose $1.3 million a year if the plan goes forward. Residents in the small, working-class city also worry that high sound walls expected to be constructed around the rails will become an eyesore. 

The bottom line is … you are not really welcome!” Ballin said. 

Opposition has also grown in several other Los Angeles-area neighborhoods that intersect with the planned route.  It is turning into a public relations nightmare.

Here’s a thought voiced by many:

 “If we want to go to San Francisco in an hour we can fly!  Why not take that money and fix our freeways, highways, bridges etc. which will benefit all Californians … not just those who are commuters, tourists or legislators going to and from Sacramento.”

I will continue to follow this and let you know what I find.

As always comments welcome.

(Denyse Selesnick is a CityWatch columnist.  She is a former Publisher/journalist/international event organizer. Denyse can be reached at: Denyse@CityWatchLA.comOriginally published on CityWatchLA.)