Chanting, "The High Speed Rail Has Got to Go," Residents from the city of San Fernando and Pacoima held a protest rally at Las Palmas Park, both outside and inside an Open House meeting organized by the High Speed Rail Authority (HSR). Holding signs and a banner, reading "Hell No," and "People First, No to SR 14," the boisterous group filed into the room, disrupting the start of the HSR meeting for about thirty meetings.
"We open our door to you, and you slam the door in our face." Mayor Pro Tem Sylvia Ballin said, referencing the agency's refusal to allow residents to ask questions at this meeting.
Talking into a microphone from the back of the room, the protestors were able to drown out the HSR consultant who struggled in her attempts to get the protestors to leave. "We have heard you," Genoveva Arellano. told the protestors, "Now, we'd like to start our meeting."
The protestors, however, many of them members of the Coalition Against Displacement, (CAD), persisted in stating their concerns to HSR representatives and attempted to ask them questions. Xanaro Ayala, a long time activist,speaking in both in English and Spanish said the SR 14 route proposed to go through the Northeast San Fernando Valley communities that include Sun Valley, Pacoima, the city of San Fernando and Sylmar told those in the room that it is the most disastrous route that impacts the greatest number of people, "We have seen this before when they've built the freeways and divided up our community. We are saying, No to you, you are not going to displace our families."
Most of the residents who were involved in the protest said they had attended previous HSR meetings and were fed up with the agency and their failure to have a public dialogue. The City of San Fernando had requested that the HSR representatives allow for a question and answer period during the meeting, but were refused. Mayor Pro Tem Sylvia Ballin said that was a primary motivation for her to pick up a protest sign. My first question is, will you answer our questions?" asked Ballin. Arrelano refusing to change the planned power point presentation, still would not respond to questions.
"We've seen your slides, and your power point presentation before," said Michael Gonzales, "We know you are just checking off the boxes," he told the HSR representatives.
Former Assemblywoman Cindy Montanez joined the protestors at the microphone at the back of the room, "I have fourteen questions," she said. Seeing that Arellano would not budge, Montanez asked, "Are you willing to make arrangements come to the city of San Fernando? I believe he's a good man." Ballin chimed in, "He came [here] to Mission Hills when he was campaigning many years ago and I supported him then." Before exiting the meeting room, Gonzales encouraged people to sign their petition to stop the process to place the bullet train through the Northeast valley.
San Fernando Mayor Joel Fajardo said previously, the High-Speed Rail Authority shouldn't go any further and should remove SR 14 route from the next step, their environmental study. "The Authority would never entertain a proposal to build the High-Speed rail through Old Town Pasadena or Third Street Promenade, and they must afford us the same treatment they provide to more affluent communities," he said.
"It is disingenuous for the High-Speed Rail Authority to claim that SR 14 must go through the environmental review process before they consider eliminating this disastrous route. They have already made significant revisions to alignments based on water well locations and other pertinent data, and San Fernando deserves the same level of consideration given the adverse consequences and irreversible damage SR14 would cause." said Fajardo.
Speaking for residents who live in Pacoima, Michael Gonzales, the Co-Chair of Communities Against Displacement, said the SR 14 route will impact the greatest number of people.
"We believe the cost to human beings should be the biggest consideration. Our community is dense and has the largest population, the SR 14 route will impact thousands of people and displace them from their homes."
The nonprofit community based organization, Pacoima Beautiful cites as many as 8,000 people could be forced from their homes and as many as 10,000 structures that include businesses, schools and churches would be affected.
Residents have taken notice that other than San Fernando city council, their elected officials including — local, state and national representatives —have not supported them in their opposition to the route.
Assemblywoman Patty Lopez represents both the East and Northeast Valley where routes are being considered both in the East Valley of rural Shadow Hills and through the Northeast Valley communities. At a meeting in Lake View Terrace attended by the "horse community,"she announced that she would represent the concerns of her constituents even if it went against the wishes of the Governor Jerry Brown, to oppose both of the High-Speed routes in her district.
Lopez, however, now appears to be taking more of a wait and see position. When asked for comment this week by the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol, Lopez replied in a statement: "With such large public works projects creating consensus can be difficult. However, I am currently researching all options by listening to my constituents, meeting with other stakeholders, and reviewing all pertinent information. I am going to meet with High-Speed people so they can't say I didn't listen to their side before I take a position on that issue."
Lopez added that she supports the concerns of her constituents but "needs time."
The San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol requested comment from Congressman Tony Cardenas' office and received the following statement from his spokesperson Paul Kincaid, "The Congressman has been in contact with the folks working on planning the routes and wants them to continue talking to people in the area, to make sure they have the most input possible before they figure out what route they want to use. Because it’s early in the process and there have been no environmental or other studies done, and because this is more a state and local issue, he’s not taking a position on any specific route."
Los Angeles City Councillman Felipe Fuentes, at a previous community meeting in Pacoima told residents that there were incentives and the High-Speed Rail would bring improvements to the community/ But residents aren't buying it. Pacoima Beautiful has countered the HSR public relations presentations with a power point presentation of their own that indicated the scores of residents that would be displaced and businesses that would be lost.
The High-Speed Rail Authority hired Latino public relations firms to help facilitate the HSR meetings in the Northeast Valley. There has been Spanish language translation at some of the meetings.
"We know that they've got deep pockets, but they should save their money. Whether they speak to us in English or Spanish, our community knows when they are being hustled." said a long time business owner who requested anonymity. "My business will be one of those hit by this route, where are we supposed to go? We can't trust anything they tell us and we know whatever amount of money they'll give us, won't be enough to get us back on our feet and rebuild customers."
"Do they think that they can just carve through our Latino communities for their luxury train? Ballin asked. "Our kids and families can't afford a ticket to ride it but will have the pleasure of just waving at it as it races by and it will be our community that will be harmed. It will be the poorest people in the valley who will have to put up with it the noise, vibration and safety issues as it speeds through. It's important that the High-Speed Rail Authority see that we will come together as a community to protect our city from the destruction and devastation by the proposed Sr 14 route
We won't be their dumping ground and we won't quietly accept this," said Ballin. "There is a name for their plans and it's called economic and environmental injustice"
To read more on this issue, see Commentary on Page 8