Like many Californians, I am excited when I imagine a 21st-century high-speed train racing from San Francisco to San Diego. It is incredible to consider that we Angelenos could comfortably ride a luxury train from Los Angeles to San Francisco in under three hours. However, my dream comes to a screeching halt when I awaken to the nightmare this venture could impose on many communities affected by the high-speed rail project, like mine in the northeast San Fernando Valley.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has proposed three routes through our backyard. If that isn’t concerning enough, officials are rushing to slip it by the community without properly informing and discussing the consequences of each proposed route. The Pacoima High-Speed Rail Coalition is a diverse coalition of concerned community members formed when we recently discovered the CHSRA’s plans. Our Coalition supports the concept of the CHSRA project – but only when the optimal route is one that is least disruptive. However, that is not what’s in the works.
The worst proposed route is one that runs above ground along side San Fernando Road. This particular high-speed rail route includes a huge, 20-foot sound wall that would divide our community in half. Once this sound wall (dubbed “death wall” by Coalition members) becomes a reality, life as we know it will dramatically change. Families will be displaced from their homes, small mom-and-pop businesses will be forced out, historical sites will disappear, environmental damage will occur, and daily traffic routes will be upended by cul-de-sacs created on every street running across San Fernando Road. The recently completed multi-million dollar bike trail along San Fernando Road, highly prized by the community, will be wrecked. Our densely populated community finally has a beautiful, well-lit, safe bike trail where families exercise and spend time together. The proposal to build this giant “death wall” will take that precious resource away.
At our Pacoima High-Speed Rail Coalition meeting, Sylvia Ballin, San Fernando Mayor, coined the term "death wall." Referring to the proposed sound wall running along the HSR Route on San Fernando Road. She said, "Once the sound wall is built it will divide communities and that will be the death of our community." Another Pacoima steering committee member, an ex-gang member agreed and said, "I can't tell you how many new gangs that will form when this wall is built. This opens the door to graffiti and we already have a huge problem with it."
All throughout history walls have symbolized suppression of people, for example; the Berlin Wall, Great Wall of China, and Mexico US border wall. These massive Walls are designed to keep people out or to hold people in like prisons. When the High-Speed Rail builds a huge sound wall in the middle of our town communities will be divided. Where once people had easy access to travel cross San Fernando Road they will now be required to travel long distances to cross. Once the sound wall goes up many streets will become cul-de-sacs with limited options to gain access to the other side.
Our Coalition hoped the CHSRA would make the right moral decision and not locate the rail through our densely populated, working class community of color. Our quality of life is just as important as those wealthier communities with vast undeveloped land who are trying to dump the route on us. We are asking the CHSRA to slow down, to conduct a fair and transparent hearing process that is inclusive and sensitive to the community’s needs. This is why we have come together and are planning a huge push back with town hall meetings and various other outreach activities. We believe the high-speed rail route with its death wall beside San Fernando Road is untenable and should be taken off the table as an option. Our Pacoima High-Speed Rail Coalition is growing and will soon expand to the San Fernando and Sylmar communities. We encourage interested individuals in these communities to also get involved; in the near future, we will be changing our name to reflect their inclusion
We understand the CHSRA has a project timeline to meet in order to preserve its federal funding; however, they must slow down and consider the impact on communities and individuals before they continue hurtling down the pathway of progress. The CHSRA Selection Process of determining the routes must be fair and it must be the least disruptive. Stay tuned for upcoming actions in the next few weeks. We count!
In addition to serving as President of the Pacoima Neighborhood Council, Gonzales is also a local LAUSD 3rd Grade Teacher, Vice-President of the PTA, A first time Pacoima homeowner, and Community Activist.