High-speed rail mired in outrage

high-speed rail fly californiaReacting to a new analysis showing how California’s high-speed rail could stretch between Palmdale and Burbank, affected residents descended on downtown Los Angeles to voice outrage and anxiety before train officials.

“The coordinated protest,” noted the Los Angeles Times, “presents a potent political challenge as state officials push to speed up construction of the $68-billion system in densely populated Southern California.”

For the beleaguered train project, championed by Gov. Jerry Brown, the turbulence reflected just one more round of defiance, building steadily across the Golden State as communities come to grips with the disruption it will bring.

Public outcry

“About 150 residents and city officials from communities and cities such as Santa Clarita, San Fernando, Acton and Sylmar spoke for a total of six hours during public comment to tell the eight member board about the potentially devastating impact the project could have on their area,” as LAist observed. “According to the analysis, the track just within that segment could affect 20,000 homes, 47 schools, 48 churches and 25 parks when completed.”

The crowd presented the High Speed Rail Authority with “complaints about potential harm to groundwater and home values, hints of lawsuits to come and indignation that the government wasn’t listening to the people it serves,” the Associated Press reported.

The meeting — L.A.’s first in two years — followed on last month’s acrimonious hearing in San Fernando. There, “elected officials joined residents in confronting state officials, going so far as to set up their own public address system in the auditorium to express their grievances,” according to the AP.

With controversy swirling around the train, already beset by delays and challenges, officials took a conciliatory but vague approach to the criticism. “High Speed Rail Authority Chair Dan Richard asked for patience among the protestors, saying it was still early in the process and they would continue to work with the community to analyze all options before making a decision,” noted Southern California Public Radio. “He said they are not at this time considering any routes other than the ones presented in recent weeks at community meetings.”

Unpopular choices

Were public opposition to push the Authority away from the San Fernando plan, officials falling back on other plans would confront outrage from different quarters. “The other three options all involve tunneling under the Angeles National Forest,” as the LA Weekly reported. “Environmentalists, equestrians and other activists hate this idea. Even though the train would run underground, there will have to be multiple access points, both for maintenance and in case of emergency.”

“Even worse, running the train through the Angeles National Forest would, according to environmental activist Kristin Sabo, endanger the region’s water supply, since it would cut through the San Fernando Groundwater Basin, one of the few sources of water DWP owns and therefore doesn’t have to buy.”

Funding at risk

At the same time, Republicans in Congress have pressed ahead with a fresh round of concerted opposition to the pricey bullet train, which still relies on Washington dollars. As CBS Sacramento reported, the Authority “may soon not be able to spend federal funds on the project under its current $3 billion matching grant with the federal government.” House Republicans voted through a new measure that would wipe out the agreement struck between the Authority and the Federal Railroad Administration — if the Senate opts to go along.

“This amendment would have no material impact on California’s high-speed rail program, even in the unlikely event that it is enacted,” said Richard, according to CBS. Although Hill watchers have not anticipated a swift Senate shift away from funding the train, if the situation in California continues to sour, that calculus could change.

Related Articles

California considers exempting teachers from state income tax

A new bill in the California Senate would scrap state income taxes for teachers in the state, as part of

Brown struggles to hit education stride

With education becoming a major state issue just in time for the election, Gov. Jerry Brown has found himself in

Californians distrust state government

Nine out of 10 Californians believe state government wastes their tax dollars. Two-thirds believe state government is run for the benefit