About 300 protesters from the San Fernando Valley showed up Tuesday at a meeting of the California High-Speed Rail Authority in downtown Los Angeles to complain about the proposed bullet train route through Southern California.
Outside the Ronald Reagan State Building, about 50 of them carried signs saying "Devastation and Destruction" and "NO HSR, YES H2O" in objecting to a route that would head into the heart of the Valley. And at 10 a.m., the line to get into the session snaked around the block while protesters chanted "Hell, no! High-speed rail has got to go."
Joel Fajardo, mayor of the city of San Fernando, said the proposed route would destroy his community by dividing it in two.
"Every single person here knows they would never consider these routes in downtown Pasadena," Fajardo said.
The coordinated protest by residents and elected officials from suburban Santa Clarita, blue-collar San Fernando, Pacoima and other communities, presents a potent political challenge as state officials push to speed up construction of the $68-billion system in densely populated Southern California.
Officials and homeowners groups are demanding the state abandon a route that would roughly parallel California 14 through the mountains between Palmdale and San Fernando. That alignment would include a considerable amount of above-ground track and a series of tunnels.
The coalition of communities says only routes that are predominantly underground should be considered.
Dave DePinto, with the group Save Angeles Forest for Everyone, said the proposed route would be too destructive to these small communities, running through them every day. He said he thinks this is the first time the route has tried to pierce a densely populated area.
He said he thinks they have to fight the route early to ensure it doesn't become part of his community.
"Once this train is installed, it's there forever," said DePinto, who lives in Shadow Hills.
The growing resistance is coming in part from urban, working-class neighborhoods that are portraying the surface route as an environmental injustice. Notably, those communities are longtime supporters of state Democrats who championed the project.
When the auditorium reached its 250-person capacity, many protesters had to settle for watching the meeting from a television screen in the lobby.
Ness Hernandez was one of the last people to make it into the building. He owns a dance studio with his sister in San Fernando, and he believes the rail route would include a huge wall built in front of his studio.
He said he thinks the route would be bad for businesses and destroy the up-and-coming downtown San Fernando, where his studio is located.
"Even when construction starts, we'll probably have to move," he said.
Rail authority chairman Dan Richard said in reaction to the crowd, "When we get it built, people will see the value of it."
Once the rail board's meeting got underway, a spokesperson for State Sen. Carol Liu came to the microphone to ask members to use "extreme caution when considering any route through the Angeles National Forest."
Los Angeles Councilman Felipe Fuentes also appeared, saying he thinks the route is a great way to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but he is worried about how it would affect the communities of the San Fernando Valley.
On the other side of the debate, Palmdale Mayor James Ledford said he supports the route. Getting workers home in 30 minutes instead of 2 1/2 hours, he said, would be a "game-changer" for families.
He said he thinks the infrastructure will bring jobs and help combat the high rate of unemployment in the high desert.
A line of about 20 formed at the microphone when a board member called for residents of Acton, a community about 10 miles southwest of Palmdale. They included actress Tippi Hedren, who operates the Shambala Preserve, an animal sanctuary in Acton.
"You are going to take this beautiful little town of Acton ... and you are going to destroy it with this train," Hedren said. Noting that she has big cats at her preserve, Hedren said, "I am more afraid of you."
Acton town council member Pam Wolter thanked the board chairman for visiting the city last month but said she needed him there three years ago “when this whole thing started blowing up in our face.”
Board members didn't visibly react to comments, many of which were hostile. But most members were taking notes.
There was some jeering whenever a supporter of the bullet train went up to speak.
San Fernando Mayor Fajardo said the current surface route would reverse the progress his small working-class community has made in recent years, splitting the city in half with a 20-foot-high sound wall. The route would cut through the city's downtown, he added, displacing businesses that provide 7% of the city's tax revenue. The surface route also could require demolition of the city's police headquarters, he said.
"Our calls for social, economic and environmental justice have been ignored," Fajardo said. "The city could go into bankruptcy."
Marsha McLean, mayor of Santa Clarita, also has spoken out forcefully. "The high-speed rail cannot come barreling through our community. Some of the plans will be devastating," she said.
Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman for the rail authority, said the agency has been active and engaged with all the communities. "We will continue to have open dialogue with them," she said. "This is the hard part of the process."
A 62-page analysis by the rail authority that was released last week details some of the effects of various routes on the communities. The analysis shows that within a half-mile of the track, there could be noise and vibration affecting about 20,000 residences, 25 parks, 47 schools, 48 churches and nine hotels, as well as archaeological sites and wetlands.
The analysis also indicates that at least one route would require trains to travel at 160 mph in a long curved section of track, despite past projections that trains could travel 220 mph after leaving L.A.'s Union Station.
The complaints have caught the attention of some Los Angeles city and county elected leaders. Last week, two members of the county Board of Supervisors and L.A. City Councilman Felipe Fuentes wrote a letter to rail authority Chairman Dan Richard, calling the overland train route "untenable."