This section of our website will provide answers to both frequently asked questions and questions/comments submitted at the January 13, 2015 Train Wreck meeting held at All Nations Church. The section is organized by topic. If you have another question, please email it to safe@dontrailroad.us and we’ll do our best to respond helpfully.

Note, the responses to questions have been prepared by volunteers using best available information and sources. We welcome feedback and input that would add to and/or correct information.Thank you.

For comments submitted by the attendees at the Train Wreck Meeting, please see COMMENTS.

Real Estate Issues and Concerns

Many Foothills area property owners were justifiably concerned in early January 2015 when they received “Permit to Enter” request letters from the High Speed Rail Authority” and in early December when they saw the East Corridor alternatives that were proposed to run through various parts of our Foothills communities. Rumors spread quickly about such frightening actions such as condemnation and eminent domain.

While such drastic actions at this time are not imminent, and may not happen at all, they are possible at some point if any of the routes under consideration as of January 22, 2015 remain under consideration, are studied in the EIR (Environmental Impact Report) or are chosen as the preferred alternative when the environmental process concludes.

We will provide you with information on these topics. If you have further questions, you should consult with your real estate professional, your attorney or your financial advisor.

What is Eminent Domain?

When the government decides they need your property for the greater good, such as the construction of a road or a school, they may make you an offer for the property. This offer should be based on fair market value, or the value of the property if it is put to its most profitable or “best” use. The fair market value will be determined by an appraiser hired by the government entity who is trying to take the property. If you do not choose to accept the offer, the government can still proceed with the process of the taking or “condemnation.” A hearing will be scheduled wherein you can objected on one of two grounds: you can assert that the government does not really need to take your property for the public good, or you can assert that the offer you received was not fair. If you do resist and you are successful at either stopping the condemnation or having the price adjusted, your attorney’s fees may also be reimbursed.

Eminent domain refers to the power of the government to take property for the public good. While there is a vested right to property ownership in the United States, and your rights to your land are considered important, ultimately the government has a stronger interest, and if necessary may be able to exercise its power of eminent domain if it is deemed in the public good. However, just because the government can take your land by eminent domain doesn’t mean that they don’t have to give you anything for it. To the contrary, whenever the government is going to take your land, they must provide you with “just compensation” and an opportunity to object to the taking (also called condemnation). To do otherwise would be a violation of your Constitutional rights.

Condemnation occurs when a local, state, or federal government seizes private property and compensates the owner. The power of the government to do this is called eminent domain, which essentially means the government takes private property for public use. The property owner is entitled to just compensation for the property during condemnation, but he does not have to give his approval of the sale. (see “What is Property Condemnation?” below)
By Jana Ace Wunderlich, Realtor, GRI,CRS, ABR,SRES, ECO

What is Property Condemnation?

Understanding Comdemnation

Condemnation occurs when a local, state, or federal government seizes private property and compensates the owner. The power of the government to do this is called eminent domain, which essentially means the government takes private property for public use. The property owner is entitled to just compensation for the property during condemnation, but he does not have to give his approval of the sale.

Most citizens are aware that the government can seize property for things like schools, roads, railroads, and other public building projects. However, many do not know that property can be seized for private use as well. One good example of this occurs when there is a severe housing shortage. In such instances, city governments may take property and use it to build condominiums or apartments. That way, more people can be housed in the area. In other situations, if an area is considered to be deteriorated, that property can be sold under the power of eminent domain without the property owner’s approval.

The Condemnation Process

The condemnation process may vary slightly depending on the situation, but in general:

  • Once the government has decided to take the property and has come up with a reasonable appraisal of how much the property is worth, or fair market value, it will offer the property owner a pro tanto award (a partial payment made by the government as compensation for the land being seized).
  • If the owner does not wish to sell, the government files the appropriate court action to exercise the right of eminent domain.
  • A hearing will be scheduled where the government has to show that the monetary offer is reasonable and the property is indeed being taken for public use.
  • During the hearing, the property owner is allowed to respond to the claims made.
  • If either side is unhappy with the decision, they have the right to appeal.

Getting Help

If you have received a notice of condemnation, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney for assistance (there are those that specialize in Real Estate Law) as soon as possible to make sure you have a legal advocate throughout the process.
By Jana Ace Wunderlich, Realtor, GRI,CRS, ABR,SRES, ECO

What is a Permit to Enter (PTE)?

High Speed Rail recently mailed “Permit to Enter” letters and forms to property owners. At the time and again, we urge patience, calm and the need to be properly informed.

Most area residents received the letters the week of December 22, 2014 . We have confirmed that most, if not all, of the letters were sent to property owners along the proposed East Corridor routes E1, E2 and E3. We’ve heard of letters being sent to Lake View Terrace, Kagel Canyon, Shadow Hills, Sun Valley, and Burbank. We’ve also heard of instances of wrong addresses, or wrong tract information, or other property information errors.

HSR has assured us this is not the beginning of an eminent domain process as there is no specific project yet. They state it is a request to collect information about the area from private property owners so that more accurate information can be collected and understood about each rail line alternative. They add that rail line alternatives are regularly refined, added or eliminated based upon community and technical information and that is part of the process the project is in at this point.

We’ve heard a variety of comments from community members about what some people feel are the purpose of the PTE’s but we do not have knowledge needed to confirm, deny or even comment on any of those random comments.

Finally, we have confirmed that the decision to grant the “permit to enter” is solely that of the property owner and no one else. It is completely voluntary and while HSR requested prompt replies, there is no real deadline.

About the “ongoing” lawsuits in this regard, I am concerned that if we don’t join them maybe via class action, we will become an alternative location for the bullet train?

About the “ongoing” lawsuits in this regard, I am concerned that if we don’t join them maybe via class action, we will become an alternative location for the bullet train. Don & Michele B. Shadow Hills

Presently we are monitoring lawsuits pending in the Central Valley and Northern California. We are in communication with people in those areas and have received briefings on those lawsuits. Right now, there is not a lawsuit that we would join from those areas. Locally, we are evaluating our legal options as well, and will be presenting a real estate workshop to answer people’s questions related to real estate. As you know, the routes so far are “preliminary” so we are not in position to take legal action on their specifics which can and will change. That said, we are monitoring every move CHSRA makes and have several attorneys donating their services right now to make sure we protect our rights. We are very concerned about and studying the ongoing, depressive effect the entire HSR discussion is having on local property values and real estate transactions and investments. The S.A.F.E. website as well as Daily Fodder (shpoa@shpoa.us) are the best sources of ongoing updates.

Route

I have a business off San Fernando Road in Sun Valley. No matter what route is chosen will affect us, our homes, and our business.

I have a business off San Fernando Road in Sun Valley. No matter what route is chosen will affect us, our homes, and our business. You are all my customers and I support you. Please support us over in Sun Valley. – Cindy S. from Sun Valley

We are concerned about the impacts of HSR throughout the northeast San Fernando Valley and that includes the East Corridor routes through the forest and Foothills communities, as well as all the communities along the San Fernando Road corridor such as Sun Valley. We are communicating with Neighborhood Councils along the routes to provide information and assistance, and we are communicating with all the Council offices which represent those communities. Soon, a Community Advisory Committee process will begin and we will use that to advocate on behalf of all potentially impacted communities. Let’s make HSR do the job right – if they can’t satisfy local communities, our elected officials should fight to stop HSR. You definitely should communicate with Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council and Councilwoman Nury Martinez.

Voters thought the high-speed train was going from San Francisco to San Diego. When did all these side bar projects (Palmdale to Las Vegas) become so important?

Voters thought the high-speed train was going from San Francisco to San Diego. When did all these side bar projects (Palmdale to Las Vegas) become so important? – Patricia J. from Shadow Hills

The answer to your question locally is “politics.” Supervisor Antonovich and local, Antelope Valley leaders proposed and lobbied for the Palmdale station nearly a decade ago and he was instrumental in having high speed rail go to Burbank rather than the city of San Fernando (note: Burbank is in his District and San Fernando is in Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s District). There are economic benefits possible when a city hosts a station. It is worth noting that Supervisor Antonovich has served as a board member and past chair of Metro and had significant clout about Metro funding and decisions for several decades. Likely, similar situations have led to the proliferation of stations in far more communities that originally intended. This is having many negative effects such as increasing the cost and slowing down the train. The legislation called for the train to achieve and maintain its high speeds. The proliferation of stations makes that harder and harder to achieve.

Why build the route through the Angeles National Forest, digging tunnels, when it would be cheaper and easier to go through the 14 Freeway corridor?

You are correct that the proposed tunneled routes are FAR more expensive than original routes which followed existing transportation and utility corridors. The tunneled approach through the Forest was created by HSR in August 2014 after a request from Supervisor Antonovich to study “tunneled” approaches from Palmdale to Burbank. Some people believe Supervisor Antonovich has always been behind the idea to tunnel through the Forest and through our Foothill communities due to political pressure from communities along the SR14 route such as Santa Clarita, Acton, Agua Dulce, etc. The LA Times, for example, attributes the East Corridor routes to Supervisor Antonovich. Supervisor Antonovich claims HSR came up with the East Corridor routes, not him. It is worth noting that Supervisor Antonovich has served as a board member and past chair of Metro and had significant clout about Metro funding and decisions for several decades. Thus, Supervisor Antonovich was a big reason why Palmdale and Burbank received stations along the HSR system as they are both located in his district and would receive extensive amounts of project-related funding and economic development activity – those actions have led to all of the routes ultimately traversing through the San Fernando Valley en route to Burbank. We feel the LA City Council has not done as a good job of representing the interests of constituents along the proposed HSR routes as Supervisor Antonovich has representing his constituents in the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys and has more or less dumped his problems into our Foothills and San Fernando Road Corridor communities. We are addressing this issue with our local elected officials.

Why can’t High Speed Rail go directly from Los Angeles to Palmdale?

Why can’t High Speed Rail go directly from Los Angeles to Palmdale? Why does it have to go through and stop in Burbank? A direct route between Los Angeles and Palmdale would avoid the Lakeview Terrace area, Acton, Agua Dulce, and Santa Clarita. Burbank passengers could easily go to the Los Angeles station. – Kathie W.

We lack information to answer this question at this time as the Palmdale decision was made nearly a decade ago before S.A.F.E. existed and before many of us followed this issue. We have heard there were earlier proposals to do just that, but that those proposals, which would have been made nearly a decade ago, were not approved. Such a direct route would also have to go through the National Monument and Angeles National Forest, so there is no easy solution. We do not believe CAHSR has prepared well or has figured out how to best enter densely populated areas. We believe there is a good change that these complexities and obstacles may overwhelm the Authority causing delays, cost overruns and possible collapse of the entire project.

Why can’t the high speed rail travel above the freeways?

Why can’t the high speed rail travel above the freeways? – Tracey A. from Lakeview Terrace

We believe in many situations it could. But, remember HSR needs to travel at a relatively flat and straight route due to its high speed, so not all freeway locations would be adequate. Also, we don’t believe all freeway locations are wide enough from a right-of-way standpoint to accommodate all the existing traffic lanes plus all the space required for two HSR tracks going in opposite directions.

Why did they change the original route & why aren the Foothill routes being considered?

There are several reasons for this. First, as explained above, many stakeholders in the Antelope and Santa Clarita Valleys were unhappy with the long-studied SR14 routes. Supervisor Antonovich called for the “tunneled” approach from Palmdale to Burbank which led to HSR proposing the Yellow Banana/new study alternative and the East Corridor routes. Second, environmental studies call for study of multiple alternatives prior to selection of the “preferred route.” Third, there may be slight speed advantages to the tunneled routes through the Forest and speed is tantamount to CHSRA per its enabling legislation. We feel strongly, however, that the National Monument and National Forest are no place for a high speed train and no place for politics! So, some of the reason is political and part is technical. We believe the original SR14 route complies with the law, however, we empathize with and support communities who find those routes to be unacceptable. We feel our very poor experience with high speed rail is mirrored in many other communities throughout California.

Why don’t they put a monorail-type of high speed train over the existing railroad tracks along San Fernando Road? It would be clean, efficient, and not spoil the country/natural space.

Elevated track sections along San Fernando Road have been studied by HSR and Metro staff, but have not gained favor politically or with local residents and businesses, despite some advantages such as opening up grade crossings, providing economic development funding and elevating the source of noise. Clearly, however, even an elevated section would produce tremendous construction impacts, as well. There are portions that would be elevated along the route, but we’ve not seen any preliminary plans or routes that would convert the entire system to a monorail/elevated design. We have heard that plans developed by staff to build an elevated section along the San Fernando Road were never presented to elected officials and communities along that Corridor. Only “at-grade” proposals were presented and reviewed.

Because the existing rail right of way along San Fernando Road is an existing transportation and utility corridor, all of the proposed HSR routes ultimately wind up on or near San Fernando Road on the way to Burbank. There are studies called “the blended approach” that would change the existing diesel rail lines to electric, and convert Metrolink, which is diesel, to electric. Those proposals would lead to cleaner air, however, the technical and physical requirements for track for high speed rail are different and more complicated than for Metrolink and freight rail.

Why should High Speed Rail be built in Palmdale when that is not considered a major tourist destination, when there is an existing Amtrak station in Lancaster that connects with the Burbank Amtrak station?

Why should High Speed Rail be built in Palmdale when that is not considered a major tourist destination, when there is an existing Amtrak station in Lancaster that connects with the Burbank Amtrak station? – Ed from Sunland Tujunga

The answer to your question is “politics.” Supervisor Antonovich and local, Antelope Valley leaders proposed and lobbied for the Palmdale station nearly a decade ago. There are economic benefits possible when a city hosts a station. It is worth noting that Supervisor Antonovich has served as a board member and past chair of Metro and had significant clout about Metro funding and decisions for several decades.

Cost

Former Senator Darrell Steinberg introduced Senate Bill 1 – will legislators abolish or repeal Senate Bill 1 which establishes a committee to issue bonds without voter participation and do eminent domain without explanation?

Former Senator Darrell Steinberg introduced Senate Bill 1. Will legislators abolish or repeal Senate Bill 1 which establishes a committee to issue bonds without voter participation and do eminent domain without explanation? Solve CalPERS unfunded $754 billion. Solve CalPERS unfunded $166 billion. Solve Health Care Program unfunded $72 billion. Caifornia is the #1 state in poverty. Before taxing California residents, solve the above liabilities! — David A. from the North Valley

We don’t have an answer or information about this question at this time.

Given the financial debt and condition of the State of California budget, why spend the billions of dollars on the HSR project?

Given the financial debt and condition of the State of California budget, why spend the billions of dollars on the HSR project? The state cannot and should not overspend in this manner. – Lisa F. from Shadow Hills

Voters approved a ballot measure, Prop 1A in 2008. That is the primary enabler of the high speed rail project and the current, controversial situation. In what we have come to regard as “The Big Oversight”, the State gave far too much latitude and discretion to local politicians, elected officials bureaucrats and consultants who are making policy and financial decisions that make a mockery of the original legislation. Your question is very fair and we concur with you that the project we are seeing today is not what voters approved, not what legislators approved and not what the Governor approved. Some estimates project the cost of HSR to be in excess of $100 billion. The construction costs and cost of servicing the debt is a major risk to California’s bond rating and financial health. The legislation called for funding from federal, state and private sources. Well, federal funding is being cut off. Not one dime of private funding has been raised to date. And the only way the State is able to fund HSR is through the “cap and trade fund” which now charges you for every gallon of gas you purchase. Yes, when you buy gas for your car, you are indirectly funding high speed rail. How we remedy this is the big question. There are legislative, legal and other actions being taken and/or contemplated to address this situation. S.A.F.E. will update you as we know more.

The proposed budget is $68 billion. Can you comment on the accuracy of that estimate?

Most press reports now use that $68 billion figure. We’ve seen estimates from the World Bank exceeding $100 billion for the completed project vs. the $9 billion approved by voters. In addition to the construction costs, are the operating costs which are not calculated into the $100 billion figure. We’ve heard there may be some legislative or ballot measure activity related to reigning in projects like this that exceed by large amounts what voters approved. This subject is a moving target. Every two years, per the legislation, HSR must submit a new “business plan.” The last plan was 2014 and the next plan will be in 2016. We think that will be the next time HSR comes out with extensive financial information.

What is the estimated cost of each route? Are the Alternative Routes more cost effective?

What is the estimated cost of each route? Are the Alternative Routes more cost effective? I don’t think so. – Patricia J. from Shadow Hills

You are correct based on everything we know and what we’ve been told by HSR management and consultants. We don’t have any estimates for these “preliminary” routes, as configurations such as how much elevated, how much at-grade and how much tunneled are not final. But there are rules of thumb in the rail industry. Basically, tunneling can be anywhere from 5-10 times as expensive as at-grade construction and the deeper the tunneling, the greater the cost. Other known “big ticket” variables include if water is involved, if bridges need to be built, if above ground utility lines need to be moved, if underground utilities need to be moved, and if freeways need to be circumvented, closed or rebuilt. It’s known that the tunneling at the northern end of the proposed East Corridor lines would have to be very deep due to the height of mountains and the need to decline about 2,000 feet in elevation from Palmdale to Burbank. We also know from speaking to high speed rail engineers at the various meetings (and you get a different answer from each engineer) that the East Corridor routes are all considered to be more expensive than the SR14 routes which follow existing transportation and utility corridors.

What is the timely ROI – Return on Investment?

We do not have an answer to this question at this time. We don’t know if such an analysis was ever conducted on the high speed rail project. In fact, we do not believe ridership will ever support the ballooning costs of HSR and that, in the end, it would not only well over budget to construct and operate, it will operate at a significant deficit and require ongoing subsidy from taxpayers and discourage private investment due to the inability to turn a profit.

Lifestyle & Equestrian Concerns

How does or will Survey LA historic research help or hurt?

Currently “Survey LA” has people identifying places of social, historical, and architectural significance along the Foothills. “Survey LA” is being done via the City of LA Department of Planning. How does or will their historic research help or hurt? Three homes on my block were photographed just today. What is the stance of the City of LA with respect to this High Speed Rail project? – Denise P. from Sunland Tujunga

We do not know the answer to your question about Survey LA at this time. We will post information as we receive it.

Regarding the City of LA’s position on high speed rail, recall that until recently only a very general description of high speed rail was available. This is what we call the “big oversight” in the legislation. Voters, legislators, city councils and county supervisors really did not know what they were voting for and left far too much latitude and discretion to politicians/elected officials, bureaucrats and consultants to make monumental financial, technical and policy decisions affecting our communities. There is a Motion proposed by Councilman Tom LaBonge and seconded by Councilman Felipe Fuentes, from June 2014, very supportive of high speed rail and their efforts to get tax dollars dedicated for the project. Since we became aware of that Motion in February 2015, and are now aware of the many flaws in HSR’s plans involving the City, we have requested Councilman Fuentes to create a new Motion reflecting the issues and concerns being raised in the City in multiple Council district and that the City take vigorous and strong positions that protect residents and businesses.

General

Have you contacted V.O.I.C.E (Verdugo Hills Golf Course) or KPFK 90.7 FM for some coverage or community involvement?

Suggestion: Have you contacted V.O.I.C.E (Verdugo Hills Golf Course)? Contact KPFK 90.7 FM for some coverage or community involvement. – Mike D.

Yes, we are in touch with leaders of V.O.I.C.E. and they have been very helpful and supportive. We have made three speaking appearances in La Crescenta which has also brought us in touch with members of the communities involved with V.O.I.C.E.