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San Fernando Valley residents sound off on proposed bullet train routes

San Fernando Valley residents sound off on proposed bullet train routes
Dan Richard, chairman of the board that oversees the California High-Speed Rail Authority, gestures to a map showing the proposed initial construction of the bullet train. In a board meeting on Tuesday, San Fernando Valley residents said the proposed route would devastate their community. (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

Another chapter in the war over the California bullet train erupted Tuesday at a board meeting of the state's high-speed rail authority as San Fernando Valley residents said the proposed routes would devastate their communities, jeopardize endangered species and cause visual blight.

Residents said routes under consideration between Burbank and Palmdale would ruin the rural character of their neighborhoods, including many equestrian areas.

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A detailed plan released Friday that shows possible routes through the area "is a piece of garbage," said Gerri Summe, a Lakeview Terrace resident who appeared in a T-shirt that read Democrats Against High Speed Rail. "This train is a fiscal disaster."

Another opponent, Cile Borman, sang a song to the board about racial diversity and her pride in living in Lakeview Terrace. "Cowboys and accountants, housewives and movie stars, people of every creed, this is Lakeview Terrace, yes indeed," she sang.

But a succession of union leaders representing painters, drivers, steamfitters and electricians said failure to execute the project would harm their members and damage the region's economy. The union officials suggested that the board ignore the protests of people who were merely trying to protect their own backyards.

"Let's rise above shortsighted, short-term, parochial interests," said David Cameron, a senior official of the Teamsters union.

In business actions, the rail authority approved a plan to bear about $100 million in expenses for impacts to Burlington Northern Sante Fe railroad, which operates freight lines near the future route of the high-speed rail in the Central Valley.

The agreement, which has taken years to negotiate, would allow the railroad to bill the state for costs that include moving its tracks, setting up new signals and building separation barriers. Until Tuesday, the rail authority had said it couldn't confirm reports that the deal would cost $100 million.

"We are causing an inconvenience and an effect on their business," rail authority chief counsel Tom Fellenz told the board. "We need their cooperation."

The rail board also heard from an attorney and two owners of a rail contractor who alleged that the state's failures to pay bills on time had caused multimillion-dollar losses and destroyed their business, Ultra Systems. Rail authority Chairman Dan Richard said, "I don't know about this issue."

And a half-dozen Central Valley officials came to the Anaheim meeting to express dissatisfaction with the new business plan, in which the state proposes to build an initial operating segment from San Jose to a temporary station in a farm field north of Shafter.

The plan would "guarantee urban sprawl," damage agriculture, fail to connect to existing transportation systems in the area and lose the massive ridership that the Los Angeles basin could provide, said Lauren Skidmore, director of Kern Citizens for Sustainable Government.

Bakersfield, Shafter and Kern County officials offered similar concerns.

The plan to stop north of Shafter would kill an effort by Kern County to win the construction of a heavy maintenance facility at a site in Shafter, which they say is shovel ready.

But the bulk of the action at the meeting involved a long public comment period in which residents of the San Fernando Valley railed against the effects that three routes through the San Gabriel Mountains would have on communities between Palmdale and Burbank.

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In the series of analyses released Friday, the rail authority eliminated one of four possible routes. The remaining three routes have long tunnels that would end in the rural areas of Acton and Aqua Dulce, eliciting strong protests among area residents.

One of those routes also would surface in the Lakeview Terrace and Shadow Hills area, traversing the Big Tujunga Wash on a long viaduct.

"It is the last rural area in the northeast valley," said Josie Zarat, a Shadow Hills resident. "If you put up a high-speed rail, it will destroy the northeast valley."

In its analyses, the state eliminated the so-called E3 route, citing concerns with the depth of the tunnel. But residents said the very same problems affect the route they hate most, the E2 route that requires the viaduct over the Big Tujunga Wash. The activists wore circular badges with a strike through E2.

Tom Williams, a member of the Sierra Club, said the state should put the entire high-speed rail line underground from Union Station to Palmdale. The suggestion is not official Sierra Club position, club officials said.

The state hopes to determine a final route for segments from Bakersfield to Anaheim by the end of next year.

Twitter: @RVartabedian

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