Who’ll Stop the Train? Foothill communities united in opposition to high-speed-rail route

By Eddie Rivera (News Editor)

A controversial high-speed rail route has galvanized a community and drawn the attention of media and transit observers from all over Southern California, and the country.

Residents of the foothill communities overwhelmingly oppose an alternative plan, developed by L.A. County Supervisor Mike Antonovich, to create a tunnel route through the Angeles National Forest and under the San Gabriel Mountains as an option for the Palmdale-to-Burbank section of the $67.6 billion (and growing) California high-speed rail system. The so-called Antonovich alternative would directly effect Lake View Terrace, Kagel Canyon, Shadow Hills, and the Little and Big Tujunga washes, among other areas.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) recently broke ground to mark the start of building the high-speed rail between Los Angeles and San Francisco. Phase one of the project is expected to be completed by 2029, creating a three-hour, 200-mph dash between the two cities. Eventually, the route would also include about 24 stations between Sacramento and San Diego.

According to the CHSRA, the original plan for the Palmdale-to-Burbank segment was for a route called SR-14, which would travel to Soledad Canyon from Palmdale and to Sylmar in the City of Los Angeles. The route would then follow the existing Metro/Metrolink railroad line to Burbank Airport and then on to Los Angeles Union Station. That corridor includes both the Highway 14 and Union Pacific Railroad routes between the Antelope Valley and Santa Clarita.

Thousands gathered at HSR Meeting at All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace (Photo by Krystee Clark)

Thousands gathered at HSR Meeting at All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace (Photo by Krystee Clark)

Residents in those communities also complained that their neighborhoods and businesses would be severely affected by the train.

In response, the CHSRA and Antonovich then proposed the 35-mile route through the Angeles National Forest, marking an “east corridor.” This alternative, now called the E-2 and E-3 proposals, includes parts of Lake View Terrace and the Hansen Dam area, and the western boundary of Shadow Hills and La Tuna Canyon. The E-1 route would directly affect Kagel Canyon and Pacoima.

A January 13 meeting at All Nations Church in Lake View Terrace, organized by the group S.A.F.E. (Save Angeles Forest for Everyone), saw an estimated crowd of 2,000-plus residents, speakers, and elected officials and their representatives discussing the issue, with residents clearly united in one direction—against the idea of any high speed rail anywhere near the Angeles National Forest, and their communities.

Many at the meeting stated what to them was obvious—keep the original planned route, away from the forest.

Kagel Canyon residents spoke out in a video at the community meeting, voicing their concerns about the effect on horses, water storage, and septic tanks. Said one resident: “The horse is my high-speed-rail system.”

Nancy Woodruff, vice president of the La Tuna Canyon Community Association and vice president of the Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council, discussed the proposed tunneling underneath La Tuna Canyon.

Artist rendering of High Speed Rail by Gerardo Barrientos

Artist rendering of High Speed Rail by Gerardo Barrientos

“We’re concerned about the depth of the tunnels, seismic concerns, the ground water issues, and soil stability,” she said. “Will the train need to take a steep dive at Wentworth in order to be sufficiently below the levels of both the Burbank and La Tuna Canyon flood control channels?”

Cindy Cleghorn, Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council (STNC) Chamber of Commerce representative and past president of the Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce, said “We have to challenge this and stop this” project. “The tone that we’re hearing,” Cleghorn continued, concerns “noise, property values, traffic, and environmental disruption, and what community benefits do we get from a train rushing through our community.”

A number of local community experts also spoke on the negative effects of a rail route in the foothills area. Arguments ranged from the disruption of local wildlife, the noise and pollution generated by construction, the mismanagement of local water use and the harm to water tables (or springs), the seizing of homes by eminent domain, and the overall environmental damage to a remote and beloved semirural area of Southern California.

“Most of the 15 percent of water that the City of Los Angeles doesn’t buy from other areas, comes from right here in the valley,” said local activist Kristen Sabo.

Sabo told the crowd that the headwaters of the Los Angeles River and most of its local springs, including Oak Springs channel, are located in Little Tujunga Canyon, in which part of the new rail route would travel.

In addition, much of the area to be harmed by the proposed plan is horse land, owned and managed by horse owners.

As local resident and ranch owner Dale Gibson, president of the Equine Advisory Committee for the City of Los Angeles, told the overflow crowd, “I don’t want to ride my horse under the rail, over the rail, around the rail, or near the rail.”

Gibson discussed the impact of high-speed rail on the local horse community, including ranch owners, feed shops, and horse realtors. And more than one local horse owner commented on the affect the construction noise and commotion would have on area horses. Horses, one expert said, have a “flight instinct” and may suffer emotional and physical harm from the years-long disruption of construction, and from the train itself.

Local attorney Bill Eick also addressed the issue of a recent mailer sent by the CHSRA to select residents that requested access to their properties. Cutting to the chase, he said, “You don’t have to answer those questions. Our goal is simple: We simply don’t want to be part of their environmental process.”

Local politicians have already weighed in on the proposal. U.S. Representatives Adam Schiff (28th District) and Judy Chu (27th District) have asked the CHSRA to completely remove the Angeles National Forest alternative. In addition, Schiff told the Daily News, “I think the environmental consequences, the public opposition and added cost to the line all make this a very implausible alternative.”

Newly elected California Assemblywoman Patty Lopez (39th District) issued a statement following the meeting, saying, “I am listening to all the concerns raised throughout the 39th Assembly District in regard to a High Speed Rail going through the San Fernando Valley. I am in the process of meeting with the CHSRA and gathering concerns from my constituents, to be fully briefed. I will make my position known after weighing the information from the CHSRA and all of my constituents’ concerns.”

L.A. Councilmember Felipe Fuentes (District 7) opposes not only the Highway 14 route, but any route that disrupts the Angeles National Forest.

According to a spokesperson, Councilmember Fuentes believes that the CHSRA can “still give us other options.” Fuentes is sifting through the community reaction to the various routes, and he believes there is a way to “come up with a route that provides maximum benefit to the community with a minimum of disruption to the community,” the spokesperson added.

In a letter to the CHSRA last summer, Fuentes wrote, “I’ve been thinking about it non-stop. . . I refuse to accept the four (rail) options as an end-all and be-all. . . All of us who choose to live in the foothills understand that it needs to be protected from bad decisions. Whether it’s this, or too much density, we want to protect the rural lifestyle.”

Fuentes’s final choice might still impact a rural or semirural community, where the effect on animals and wildlife is particularly important.

As Dana Stangel, local wildlife expert and STNC animal issues representative, said to the All Nations Church audience, “The Wildlife Waystation would cease to exist, if the E-1 route is chosen,” referring to the legendary 40-year-old animal sanctuary in Little Tujunga Canyon. She added, “There are keystone species here,” in the foothills, “like coyotes and mountain lions. We need to protect the Angeles National Forest for them. Our legacy is leaving the Angeles National Forest for our children and their grandchildren, in its current condition.”

More information on the proposed route is available at dontrailroad.us and from hsr.ca.gov.

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