Northeast Valley residents demand transparency, better outreach on bullet train

Residents from the northeast Valley expressed frustration yesterday about the lack of information provided by the California High Speed Rail Authority. At a meeting held at Pacoima City Hall, residents showed discontent with the limited information repeatedly presented at every meeting, asked for transparency on the Authority’s decision making, and demanded the Authority make a greater effort in reaching out to the community.

“You say that the [proposed rail] lines were moved based on community input; that should be public information,” said Nicole Chase, a resident who grew up in Pacoima and now lives in Sylmar. “I have yet to see the High Speed Rail say, ‘this is the number of house that will impacted.’ You’re doing all this fluff. I’m not interested in the fluffy.”

This month the rail authority revealed adjustments to the east corridor routes, which are planned to go under the San Gabriel Mountains if selected. No adjustment has been made to the alternative SR 14 route that will run along San Fernando Road and California Highway 14, which, according to an analysis by environmental group Pacoima Beautiful, will possibly affect more than 10,000 structures and displace more than 8,000 families.

One attendee asked the rail representatives at the meeting what holds stronger consideration, a rare, endangered lizard or the homes and livelihoods of thousands of families.

The most recent draft of the proposed routes (dark purple) in comparison to the previous routes (light purple).  The SR 14 segment that runs through Sun Valley, Pacoima, San Fernanando, and Sylmar has no changes.

The most recent draft of the proposed routes (dark purple) in comparison to the previous routes (light purple). The SR 14 segment that runs through Sun Valley, Pacoima, San Fernanando, and Sylmar has no changes.

Another attendee asked how it was possible that a community with limited funds can gather more than 2,000 people, referring to the rally held at All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace on Dec. 14, yet the rail authority is failing to notify people who live along the SR 14 route about the project.

Representatives from the rail authority tried to address every question and concern at the meeting, which was conducted in Spanish with English translation.

“I understand your frustration with us not having detail,” said Genoveva Arellano. “We won’t do detailed analysis of these alternatives until somehow these get shrunken and refined to go into that environmental document.”

The environmental document is the last step before approving and adopting the final route. In other words, details of displacement and community impact will not be available until a final route is considered.

As far as involving the community, Arellano said the authority has mailed thousands of letters to residents as well published notices in more than a dozen local newspapers, yet people who live along the SR 14 route claim to not even know about the project.

More than one community member at this meeting said the rail authority needs to try harder, especially in Pacoima where stakeholders are not very reliant on email and social media.

Although this meeting was to inform and engage the community of the plan, not everyone in attendance was there for that.

Karina Ceja, a member of Communities Against Displacement– a grassroots organization of residents and organizations that formed to oppose the SR 14 route- presented a statement on behalf of the group to remove that route from consideration.

“As Communities Against Displacement we will hold the California High Speed Rail Authority accountable to their 3 guiding principles: 1) To protect natural resources and the environment 2) To preserve communities and 3) To improve mobility,” she read.

“We collectively agree that the SR14 would be the worst option and most contradictory to the California High Speed Rail Authority guiding principles, given that it will not preserve our community, it will not improve our local mobility and it will create more environmental impacts during the long construction phase.”

Arellano thanked Ceja and the rest of the attendees for the comments, and welcomed them to submit all comments and concerns to the Authority in writing for consideration.

The route analyses are slated to be presented to the California High Speed Rail Authority Board this summer.

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