Part 5 – Posted 11/24/17 – HARD TRUTHS About High Speed Trains – The Early Politics, Deceit And Lack Of Transparency

In August 2014, months before the SAFE Coalition was created, residents throughout the area received a postcard in the mail indicating that an area through the Angeles National Forest was going to be studied for possible high speed train routes. THE HARD TRUTH was we learned about the high speed train threat via a postcard in the mail.

The area spanned from Palmdale to Burbank and it was referred to as the “yellow banana” cause that’s what it looked like on a map (see attached map). Normally, the Authority notifies elected officials ahead of time whenever they are making major announcements in their Districts, but, THE HARD TRUTH is not a single elected official briefed community leaders or organizations ahead of time. Again, we found out via a postcard in the mail.

There was some very general awareness that a high speed train project was in the offing due to the vote in 2008 but most of what we knew was that it was far away from the northeast San Fernando Valley and there was a general assumption that it would follow the 5 freeway. Little did we know that detailed plans impacting the Antelope Valley down through Santa Clarita had been opposed by residents north of us for some time. As a result, then-Supervisor Antonovich, per the LA Times, called for the Authority to study routes that would spare such communities by being underground and tunneled from Palmdale to Burbank. The response by the Authority was the “yellow banana.”

From August until December 2014 the high speed train Authority held a number of meetings throughout the area and residents and community leaders began protesting the concept of routes through the Forest. It was during this time period that leaders of the communities of Shadow Hills, Lake View Terrace, Sunland-Tujunga, Kagel Canyon, La Tuna Canyon and Sun Valley realized that the yellow banana threatened all of their communities, so we created the SAFE Coalition (“Save Angeles Forest for Everyone”).

The leadership of the SAFE Coalition included and continues to include the most knowledgeable and experienced members of our region’s volunteer leadership, drawing upon: Shadow Hills Property Owners Assn., Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council, Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council, Sunland-Tujunga Chamber of Commerce, Lake View Terrace Improvement Assn., Kagel Canyon Civic Assn., La Tuna Canyon Community Assn., local churches and businesses, and more. Due to the regional nature of the proposed project and the various levels of government having jurisdiction, a regional Coalition and “United Front” is needed. No one group, person, elected official or community leader can represent or manage the entire issue.

In October 2014 the new San Gabriel Mountains National Monument was announced by President Obama. We felt certain the National Monument designation would block the high speed trains, but THE HARD TRUTH was that after meetings involving several of our community leaders with the national forest service, including a two hour phone call i had with the forest service’s local director of angeles national forest on the day before thanksgiving 2014 (three years ago), we learned that the authority could apply for a “special use permit” and possibly be able to operate high speed trains in angeles national forest. Despite a November 2014 letter from Congressman Schiff (LA Times Article) expressing his and his constituents concerns about building the train and tunnels through the Forest and our communities, the high speed train Authority moved forward. Community leaders from throughout the area were getting very, very concerned.

That brings us to December 2, 2014, a rainy evening on which the Foothill Trails District Neighborhood Council had an equestrian committee meeting scheduled. We’d also learned that the train Authority was holding a meeting in Santa Clarita to provide an update on their project. I drove by myself to that meeting in Santa Clarita to learn what I could.

THE HARD TRUTH, and it was THE HARDEST TRUTH in our region’s recent history, was that I saw maps for the first time showing High Speed Train Routes, E1, E2, E3 carving through our communities (see map). It made me sick to see this in such a far away location with no advance warning fromt he authority or our local elected officials.

I raced back to Shadow Hills that evening and shared the news with the FTDNC Equestrian Committee at their meeting and, later that night, with every community leader I could think of. On my drive back, I called Councilman Felipe Fuentes on his cell phone and told him what I’d just learned. He did not seem surprised, and I was later advised by the train Authority that they had briefed local elected officials prior to December 2.

We began an ongoing, tense dialogue with Councilman Fuentes and other elected officials throughout the northeast San Fernando Valley, under the theme of “common ground,” the premise being that we should all agree that the above ground routes were unacceptable. In the next “PART” of this series, we’ll share more of the individual elected officials’ responses to the SAFE Coalition.

Five members of the SAFE Coalition leadership obtained an emergency meeting with Councilman Fuentes in his downtown office to review the maps and the train threat. It was at that meeting where we learned the next HARD TRUTH: that Councilman Fuentes, if pressed, would not fight all the routes, but would prioritize fighting the routes passing through the western portion of CD7 due to the larger number of voters. His exact words to all five of us were “do the math.” 

I’d also attended a Pacoima Neighborhood Council meeting around that time at which Fuentes defended and promoted the high speed train project as a job creator and having the potential to clean up many of the intensive industrial businesses along San Fernando Road. He was harshly criticized by the public and the press such as the San Fernando Sun in attendance at that meeting. He was clearly a high speed train supporter, even at the expense of his District.

The shockwaves began to spread like wildfires through our area. The SAFE Coalition scheduled an emergency community meeting at All Nations Church that would be attended by more than 2,300 people on January 13, 2015 to deal with this crisis. Fueling the blaze was the mailing on Christmas eve, December 24, 2014, of “Permit to Enter (PTE)” letters to hundreds of residents asking to access their properties for various geological and environmental studies. As long-time community leader and past president of SHPOA, Elektra Kruger, said to a group of us, “You won’t have any trouble filling All Nations Church on January 13th with those letters reaching people’s homes” and stoking fears of eminent domain and worse. As posted previously, video of that meeting at All Nations Church may be viewed in the video section of the SAFE website.

Leaders of the SAFE Coalition went ballistic. We called foul on the train Authority for the location of the routes, the manner in which they were announced outside of our impacted area, and the insensitivity of sending PTE letters out on Christmas Eve. THE HARD TRUTH is that when I spoke to a representative of one of our elected officials about this, they stated exasperatedly, “The authority told me they would not send the letters out on Christmas Eve.” That meant our elected officials were briefed…..yet again, but did not share the information with us.

A final note on disgraced, former Councilmember Felipe Fuentes. This same Councilmember two years later arranged a back room deal with the train Authority to remove high speed trains from some parts of his District, but not all. This deal was not communicated to residents, to other elected officials or to the press until a San Fernando Valley COG meeting in Van Nuys, attended by CHSRA Chairman, Dan Richard. This is the same Fuentes who shortly thereafter resigned his position to become a Sacramento lobbyist. I was proud to be one of the first people in the area to publicly call for his resignation and was quoted in numerous news publications for betraying the people in his District. SAFE’s comment, as well as that of leaders united from throughout the area at the time the nearby local route was eliminated was, “When we said remove all the above ground routes in the region, we mean ALL the above ground routes. The Authority’s work is not done.”

So, anyone who wonders why the SAFE Coalition is tough, demanding, and, at times, stubborn, in defending our communities, or why our slogan is “Don’t Railroad Us,” needs to understand THE HARD TRUTH that we were lied to early on, that the authority does not operate with transparency, and that public information was not always shared with us on a timely basis by our elected officials and the high speed train authority.

Remember, THE HARD TRUTH is the above ground routes E1, E2 and SR14 still threaten our communities with all the impacts explained in part 4 of this series. The worst is where tunnel openings would exist in Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, Sun Valley and Pacoima, as well as where above ground track would run through Lake View Terrace, Shadow Hills, Sun Valley and Pacoima. Ongoing operations and the construction phase spell doom for the entire region.