The Hard Truth about High Speed Trains in the NE San Fernando Valley: How Will Go/No Go Decisions Be Made About the High Speed “Train” Threat in the NE San Fernando Valley?

The project was approved by a fairly slim margin by voters in 2008…voters who were not aware of or thinking about the cost, the environmental impacts or the local damage the project would create. It is a pet project of Governor Jerry Brown, who is trying to move the project as far along as he can before he is termed out next year, with the election for his replacement being in November 2018. A well-funded public relations campaign persuaded enough voters to approve the project and we are left with the consequences. As they day, the “devil is in the details” and many voters did not know how damaging the local impacts would be when they voted.

The project has been called the largest infrastructure project in the United States. The budget is a staggering amount in excess of $60 billion and is expected to rise due to cost overruns and additional studies that reveal how expensive tunneling and other construction activities are. However, they don’t have the money to build it out, yet we all remain “hostage” to ongoing planning/studies and the potential of the project being completed. The project requires environmental review at the Federal and State levels, with input from government agencies at the county and municipal levels, as well as from the public, prior to a final decision being made by the Board of Directors of the California High Speed “Rail” Authority (CHSRA), which has a project team of both employees and consultants (The SAFE Coalition always uses the word “train” and never uses the word “rail” as we believe that, too, is deceiving). One unique twist to this environmental review is the involvement of the Federal Railroad Administration. When you get into the nitty gritty on the project, it’s true that given America’s history, railroads enjoy special treatment and the CHSRA is trying to benefit from that.

Given the size and geographic scope of the project, it has been broken down into “project sections throughout the state of California,” each of which has its own project management team and budget. The routes threatening us here in the NE San Fernando Valley are within the “Palmdale to Burbank” project section, which has a budget of about $12 billion. Those funds have yet to be identified yet the project moves forward). Recent statements from CHSRA have projected that environmental studies would be completed by 2018 and the trains would be running in our area by 2029. Today, November 15, 2017, CHSRA publicly disclosed yet another two-year delay in the completion of their environmental studies to 2020, but they did not make any comment about how this delay would affect the start of operations, still projected for 2029.

Click to read that story.… THE HARD TRUTH is that a go/no go decision on the project and the above ground routes cannot be made until the environmental studies are completed, which now means 2020 at the earliest. That means each of us and our communities could be held hostage by this uncertainty and threat for another three years if we don’t unite and fight!

About a year ago, it was revealed that the Authority was spending or had a burn rate of $1.4 million per day. That’s your tax dollars at work! What voters approved was a project budget of just over $30 billion, with mixed sources of funding from the federal government (federal funds have now been cut off), private funds (there are zero investors to date), and state tax dollars. Because the project keeps proceeding despite its dire financial situation and cost overruns, the press and others often refer to the project as a “boondoggle,” a “money pit” or a “bait and switch”. This is an old-technology “train” project amidst more modern technology such as MagLev, HyperLoop and driverless cars. And don’t forget the availability of convenient, fast and affordable airplanes, as well as increasing numbers of electric and alternative-fuel vehicles and bicycles.

The state tax dollars, the life-line for the project, come from what is known as the Cap & Trade program. THE HARD TRUTH is that nearly every one of us contributes to the cap & trade fund when we purchase gasoline. About 12 cents of every gallon you purchase goes to the cap & trade program…and, by law, 25% of cap & trade dollars goes to the high speed train project. So when you fill up your gas tank, you’re contributing to the high speed train project! We consider that to be a very deceptive funding mechanism.

This complicated political set-up provides insight to the overwhelmingly political nature of this project. While the authority, the governor and others will tell you that the project has environmental benefits such as reducing greenhouse gases, and that decisions will be determined based on environmental laws, the hard truth is this is and always has been a political project and nearly all decisions are based on politics. And the politics on this project involve billions of dollars being spent with labor unions and large contracting firms…many of which are large contributors to our elected officials. The SAFE Coalition has conducted extensive research to identify how much money has been donated by high speed train supporters to our local elected officials. You can visit the Authority’s website to learn more about their Board of Directors (appointed mostly by the Governor and Legislature) which will make the final decisions about the project (hsr.ca.gov/).

The SAFE Coalition does not believe the Board of Directors is independent, impartial or responsive to local input, thus, trusting their decision alone would not be wise. As a result, the SAFE Coalition has been engaged for several years in identifying “common ground” that is shared by elected officials and stakeholders in the NE San Fernando Valley in the interest of creating a coalition or “United Front.” Our objective is to create such a strong coalition of elected officials, residents, businesses, community leaders and community organizations that the CHSRA Board would be unable to ignore our community input – there would be no “wiggle room” and the CHSRA Board would be forced to remove these above ground routes due to united local opposition.

That local opposition in increasingly diverse and united. We’ve found there is nearly unanimous consensus that above ground routes in or near densely populated areas, as well as above ground routes in or near sensitive environmental areas, are wrong, infeasible and must be removed. Over the past three years, despite thousands of letters, phone calls, emails and public testimony opposing the above ground routes, CHSRA has not made sufficient changes, the routes remain in play, and the following communities remain threatened by the high speed train project: Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, Sun Valley, Pacoima, Sylmar, La Tuna Canyon, Sunland-Tujunga and Kagel Canyon.

Thus, we are using the occasion of this “three year anniversary” to broaden our public information campaign and communicate forcefully that the above ground routes must be removed IMMEDIATELY, not at the end of the never-ending environmental review period. THE HARD TRUTH here is that our elected officials have been relatively slow to take on the governor, the legislature and high speed train supporters. That’s why our grassroots “united front” campaign is so important. One by one our elected officials are signaling their opposition to these above ground routes.

In a future edition of this series, we will share the letters, Motions and Resolutions we’ve received from various NE San Fernando Valley elected officials so you may read for yourself the extent of our political support. As recently as yesterday, November 14th, we received copies of new letters from County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and LA Councilmember Monica Rodriguez stating their concerns with the above ground routes and joining with the SAFE Coalition and other elected officials in calling for the high speed train concept to be abandoned from Palmdale to Burbank and to re-purpose those funds toward Metrolink improvements.

For further information please write me (safe@dontrailroad.us) and I’d be happy to take your input and answer your questions.

Thank you.

Dave DePinto
President, Shadow Hills Property Owners Assn.
Member, SAFE Coalition