High-speed rail’s proposed Valley route faces LAUSD challenge

Robbyn Battles High Speed Rail ProtestLAKE VIEW TERRACE >> The nation’s second largest school district may soon face down a proposed bullet train through the last swath of Wild West in Los Angeles.

Two months after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to oppose an above-ground high-speed train proposed through San Fernando Valley horse country, the Los Angeles Unified School District is poised to follow its lead.

Monica Ratliff, an LAUSD board member who represents the Northeast Valley, will introduce a motion Sept. 20 to block a bullet train route proposed over Big Tujunga Wash, with a vote expected by the seven-member Board of Education in October. She announced her motion late Wednesday in Lake View Terrace during a community protest against high-speed rail.

“I have been watching this,” said Ratliff, a teacher who lives in Sunland and is running for the Los Angeles City Council seat being vacated by Felipe Fuentes.

“Schools are being impacted,” she told more than 100 protesters, a quarter of them on horseback.

“There will be a noise impact. There will be a dust impact. There will be a drop in enrollment … I look forward to joining you, as a school board member, to fight this fight.”

Since the California High-Speed Rail Authority two years ago proposed various routes to link Burbank to Palmdale for its $62 billion bullet train across the state, communities across north Los Angeles County have risen in protest.

But despite hundreds of meetings with local officials, community groups and the public, there seems little agreement on how to launch the 220-mph bullet into Los Angeles.

High-speed rail officials say the voter-approved train now under a lengthy environmental review would safeguard the environment. Supporters say it would create good jobs near underserved neighborhoods.

Local residents, members of a Save Angeles Forest for Everyone coalition and local officials have demanded that the Big Tujunga rail route be removed from a lengthy environmental study, but high-speed rail officials say it’ll roll through to the final draft.

“We understand the concerns of the Los Angeles County supervisors, the SAFE coalition and the community,” said Adeline Yee, a spokeswoman for the California High-Speed Rail Authority. “At this point, there’s no one single reason to remove an entire alternative route from consideration.

“Environmental studies will evaluate all three possibilities. We will identify a preliminary early alternative early next year. We have to consider the environment and engineering. We must be able to build this train safely.”

The California High-Speed Rail Authority will host three community open houses this month on Sept. 14 in Palmdale, Sept. 17 in Acton/Agua Dulce and Sept. 22 in Sun Valley.

The three Burbank-to-Palmdale rail routes are now undergoing a state and federal environmental review. A draft is expected this spring, the final study by the end of 2017, Yee said. A preferred alternative is expected to be released in January or February.

The high-speed rail routes have evolved despite the studies.

One plan would have sent the train barreling down Highway 14 before looping through parts of Santa Clarita and into the Northeast Valley, disrupting hundreds of homes, businesses and a San Fernando police station, dividing working-class neighborhoods with 20-foot-high walls.

That plan, now known as the Refined SR14 alternative, was tweaked in the spring by the rail authority to avoid surface routes from Santa Clarita to Sun Valley, because of “social justice concerns.”

Other routes proposed along an East Corridor would send the trains under the San Gabriel Mountains through more than 20 miles of tunnels, to emerge in the Valley before pulling into a Burbank station.

One such Angeles National Forest plan, now dubbed Refined E-1, would send the train underground around Hansen Dam before surfacing near Branford Street in Sun Valley. Critics say it would displace a Fed-Ex distribution warehouse.

But it’s the forest plan now known as Refined E-2 that has had residents of foothill horse communities — and a growing number of Los Angeles officials — snorting in opposition.

After popping out of a tunnel in Lake View Terrace, the train would soar over environmentally sensitive Big Tujunga Wash — while potentially frightening 3,000 local horses — before burrowing to re-emerge at Branford.

Critics say both mountain routes would destroy wetlands, disrupt water supplies, kill horse-related businesses and ruin an equestrian way of life in foothill communities from Lake View Terrace to Kagel Canyon, from Shadow Hills to Sunland-Tujunga.

They say a decade of tunnel excavations could also require thousands of truck trips, exacerbating air pollution.

At Wednesday’s protest outside a small high-speed rail community working group meeting at the Lake View Terrace Branch Library, protesters brandished signs saying “Save Big Tujunga Wash,” “Don’t destroy my horse arena” and “Don’t railroad us.”

The one-hour protest included two dozen horses, a lamb and at least one goat.

“There’s one word to describe a viaduct over the Big Tujunga Wash … to hold our community hostage,” said Dave DePinto, president of the Shadow Hills Property Association and a member of the SAFE coalition formed to fight the train. “There’s only one word … about why they won’t admit the obvious and that they’re wrong: Unethical.”

County supervisors, led by Michael Antonovich and Sheila Kuehl, signed a letter to the rail authority opposing the E-2 above-ground Northeast Valley train “due to serious impacts to homes, quality of life and sensitive environmental areas in local communities.”

A draft motion by Ratliff to the LAUSD board would oppose the E-2 train through horse country on grounds it would disrupt recreation near Hansen Dam, displace 100 residents and force 288 businesses to shut down.

It also says the train would pass within 1,500 feet of four public elementary schools and two public high schools, with noise, traffic and congestion that could drive families from an area now experiencing declining school enrollment.

“I’m hoping it’ll get through,” Ratliff told the Daily News of her motion. “Because I think it’s really important. The impact for the schools would be huge.”

By Dana Bartholomew, Los Angeles Daily News
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