Passing, Failing Grades on High-Speed Rail

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Computer-generated image of the proposed high-speed trains for use in California.

Community leaders from throughout the NE San Fernando Valley have had extensive contact with all elected officials in the northeast San Fernando Valley over the past four years related to the high-speed train project (CHSRA).

Our communities, including nearly a dozen community-leading non-profit organizations and Neighborhood Councils, are ALL aligned in opposition to ALL above ground routes, thus, our elected officials should reflect the will of our communities. 

We want you to know what we have experienced — who has worked well with us and who has disappointed us. The following “Record” summarizes our experience, trials and tribulations with our local elected officials.

Passing Grades for Local Elected Officials 

We received early, unequivocal and consistent support from the following elected officials and their staffs. We are grateful and respect their transparency, responsiveness, trust and the clarity of their positions:

•Congressman Adam Schiff

•Councilmember Paul Krekorian

•Former LAUSD Board Member Monica Ratliff

•Present LAUSD Board Member Kelly Gonez

•Former Assemblymember Patty Lopez

•Former Assemblymember Raul Bocanegra

•Assemblymember Luz Rivas

It took a little bit more work and time but, ultimately, the following elected officials aligned with us and adopted positions opposed to the local train proposals. We thank and respect these elected officials for their understanding, trust and commitment to ongoing dialogue and communications:

• Congressman Tony Cardenas

•Senator Bob Hertzberg

•Senator Anthony Portantino

•Former Senator Carol Liu

At the county level, we received strong, initial support from several elected officials such as former County Supervisor Mike Antonovich and present Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. However, in the past year we were frustrated by county board member involvement with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Monica Rodriguez on the bogus, infeasible “Metrolink Alternative,” which was pursued pointlessly for nearly a year, delaying our communities’ efforts to have the above ground train proposals eliminated from consideration.

We had been advised by CHSRA years ago, that Prop 1A funds (approved by voters) could not be used for such purposes.

•We commend, appreciate and respect Supervisor Kathryn Barger and her staff for their ongoing communications, their opposition to above ground high-speed train operations in the northeast San Fernando Valley as communicated in the Board’s 5-Signature letter in 2016, and their attendance and testimony at the CHSRA Board meeting in November 2018.

•While we have not had as much interaction with Supervisor Kuehl or her staff, we commend, appreciate and respect her early support of the Board of Supervisor’s 5-Signature Letter. We have been advised by her staff that an updated position statement is under development, and we look forward to its release.

We’ve recently obtained stronger support and opposition to the high speed train project from LA Councilmember Nury Martinez. This occurred as the Sun Valley Area Neighborhood Council officially stated its opposition in November of 2018. 

•While we appreciate Martinez drafting a Council Motion opposing the Preferred Alternative/SR14 route, we call upon her to lead the City Council to amend that Motion to include ALL route alternatives under consideration.

Failing Grades for Local Elected Officials

Several elected officials proved to be conflicted, non-responsive, disrespectful and/or disingenuous in their dealings with the SAFE Coalition.

Their positions remain either ambiguous or contrary to the best interests and will of our communities. These elected officials let us down, wasted our time and demonstrated loyalty to special interests ahead of the interests of the northeast San Fernando Valley.

•LAUSD Board President Monica Garcia blocked a LAUSD Board Motion/Resolution proposed by former board member Monica Ratliff that would have opposed all above ground high speed train routes. Board President Garcia and her staff strung us along, did not honor a commitment to tour the impacted areas, and killed the motion at the behest of local labor unions.

•LA Council President Herb Wesson was one of our biggest disappointments as he was caretaker for Council District 7 after the resignation of Councilmember Fuentes. Wesson attended a community meeting at All Nations Church several years ago and, before hundreds of residents, promised his support of our fight and his opposition to the proposed routes. He did not keep his word and follow through on a City Council Motion he had co-authored opposing high speed trains, and withdrew his support of the Motion at the request of Councilmember Rodriguez who we were advised stated she would draft a new motion…but never did. After more than two years of effort by the SAFE Coalition, there is STILL no City Council Motion opposing the trains. There was no representative, nor any statement from the President Wesson’s office, at the recent train Authority Board meeting in November 2018.

•Former Councilmember Felipe Fuentes was a “closet supporter” of the train project due to his labor union ties. He pitted communities against one another and negotiated a “back room deal” which unevenly applied Environmental Justice principles that abandoned the communities of Lake View Terrace, Sun Valley and some parts of Pacoima. His betrayal is largely responsible for the train threat remaining.

•Mayor Eric Garcetti is another huge disappointment. By trying to please everyone such as unions, the Governor, his own political aspirations, and our communities…he failed to represent Valley constituents. Years ago, he issued an ambiguous letter that had good and bad points, but never clarified his position. He also was part of a yearlong delay tactic in which he and Councilmember Rodriguez pursued the infeasible “Metrolink Alternative.” Senior staff in the Mayor’s office inexcusably refused to meet, tour and communicate with SAFE Coalition leadership for more than two years. In addition, there was no representative, nor any statement from the Mayor’s office at the recent train Authority Board meeting in November 2018.

Worthy of a “No Confidence” vote if not “Recall”

By far, Councilmember Rodriguez is the worst of the elected officials with whom we have dealt.

Upon her election, we expected her to seize upon this issue to be the champion that we lacked in the City Council. We expected Council District 7, the District most impacted by the threat of the high speed train, to be the leader in the fight against the Project. Unfortunately, we received nothing but failed leadership, lack of truthfulness, hostility, laziness and disrespect.

Rodriguez’ campaign for office included no mentions of the train project on her website or campaign materials. During her campaign, she ignored and missed a well-documented SAFE Coalition deadline for attending a candidate interview session to answer questions about the train project.

We viewed the proposed interview as an easy, “softball” opportunity for each of the candidates to firmly back, align with and support our communities. We had no intention of endorsing either candidate. When the SAFE Coalition gracefully extended the interview opportunity for the candidate to a Sunday evening at Bolton Hall, she arrived unprepared, and was evasive and unfriendly.

At that meeting, she unexpectedly LIED (we have her comments preserved on tape recording) to all in attendance about her acceptance of campaign contributions from high-speed train contractors and CHSRA employees/board members (posing a major conflict of interest). The lie was so blatant, such a sign of disrespect, and so against the community’s best interests, that the SAFE Coalition leaders in attendance at that meeting, representing nearly all the communities located in the NE San Fernando Valley, voted overwhelmingly 21-2 to endorse her opponent in the election.

Further, 18 months later, she still refuses to meet with the SAFE Coalition and directs her staff not to meet with the SAFE Coalition. Paid and sworn to represent us, she and her staff have consistently failed to attend several major train-related community meetings at convenient locations such as All Nations Church, Lake View Terrace Recreation Center and Lake View Terrace Public Library. Thousands of residents found the time to attend these meetings, but our own Council representative did not show up.

Further, at the November 2018 train Authority Board meeting in Burbank, neither Councilmember Rodriguez, her chief of staff, her Planning Deputy, nor her District Director attended and she issued NO statement….but a junior staff member did attend but DID NOT speak or submit any public comment.

Councilmember Rodriguez was the key player in the flawed “Metrolink Alternative” delay tactic, despite being advised by the SAFE Coalition of the proposal’s infeasibility. She had the audacity to claim “credit” in a press release for getting the train Authority to hold a board meeting in the northeast San Fernando Valley but, when the Authority refused and scheduled the meeting for downtown Burbank on a work day, the Councilmember was silent.

Councilmember Rodriguez has destroyed relationships with many community leaders and community organizations so as to further her relationship with Mayor Garcetti, train Authority Chairman Dan Richard, and labor unions that would benefit from the high speed train project. Campaign contributions from these unions have been flowing non-stop from since she was elected.

If the high speed train ever happens, it should bear her name as it tears through the Northeast San Fernando Valley. We will never forget her failure and her hostility, and we will hold her accountable.

Dave DePinto is Co-Founder of the SAFE Coalition, and a board member of the Shadow Hills Property Owners Assn.

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