By Jason KUROSU
Residents packed the Crescenta Valley Town Council Thursday night meeting, as opposing sides of the state’s high speed rail project delivered their takes on an issue which could have major ramifications on the Angeles National Forest. The proposed Palmdale to Burbank portion of the project consists of two corridors, one along the I-14 freeway, the other cutting through the Angeles National Forest before splitting into three routes that converge at Burbank Airport.
Michelle Boehm of the High Speed Rail Authority said that a number of environmental studies were still yet to be completed before final recommendations are made to the High Speed Rail Authority Board in June. Boehm said that a planning study process must be completed before routes are selected. Currently, the High Speed Rail Authority is conducting field studies and will be compiling feedback from the public at community meetings and online sources.
Among the most frequent comments that the High Speed Rail Authority has received from the public are concerns about maintaining community character, preserving the environment and the technical details of the train. Boehm said that the public’s comments were being taken into consideration and that if those concerns were reflected in subsequent environmental studies, changes to the proposed routes were still a possibility.
Speaking specifically to concerns about rail lines rerouting natural springs and affecting the state’s water supply, Boehm said, “We will study the issues with the groundwater and the water pressure and, indeed, if we find out that those tunnels cannot be built without irrevocable damage, then that route will not be selected. But at this point, we don’t know. We haven’t done that investigation yet.”
A draft Environmental Impact Report is expected to be completed by June 2016 with a final EIR expected for release in June 2017. A draft Environmental document for the Palmdale to Burbank section of the rail line is anticipated for late 2015.
“We are looking for ways to bring high speed rail to Southern California as quickly as we can because the majority of the population of California does live down here,” said Boehm. “So it is important that we bring the benefit of this traffic relief and greenhouse gas emission relief project to California.”
Dave De Pinto of Save Angeles Forest for Everyone (S.A.F.E.) countered the High Speed Rail Authority with a presentation from the perspective of residents. De Pinto, who is also the president of the Shadow Hills Property Owners Association, drew parallels with local opposition to the 710 tunnel proposal, as residents from De Pinto’s area are also concerned with a tunnel alternative.
“We’re concerned about eminent domain, declining property values and this cloud, just like you all with the 710,” said De Pinto. “How long are we going to have to live with the threat of this happening and potentially depressing real estate values in the area?”
De Pinto’s presentation also highlighted a number of other factors which S.A.F.E. believes will be affected by the project, including detrimental effects to the environment, water supply and endangered species living within the Angeles National Forest.
“Those maps show that a huge portion of these Forest Corridor Lines go through both the (San Gabriel Mountains) national monument and the national forest. That’s an important issue because the legislation calls for the routes to go along existing transportation and utility corridors.”
S.A.F.E. argues that the train will not meet a number of promises made to voters who approved the train in 2008, including not reaching the stated 220 mph speeds and ticket prices that would exceed what was originally proposed.
“We’re very concerned about how far the project has strayed from the intent of the legislation and the implications that has for all of us,” said De Pinto.
S.A.F.E.’s ultimate goal is to have the proposed routes through their area taken out of the next draft of the Environmental Impact Report.
“There should not be a presumption that high speed rail has to happen,” said De Pinto. “We believe there is a project alternative or alternatives that we haven’t even seen yet that require consideration. In the upcoming meetings with High Speed Rail, we’re looking forward to seeing how much they’ve been listening.”
While the CV Town Council did not come to a consensus on whether or not to support S.A.F.E. or high speed rail, Town Council President Robbyn Battles pushed for discussing concerns over the high speed rail project at a future meeting.
“We should discuss what our residents have asked us to do, because it’s our job to represent our residents,” said Battles.
The town council did hold a discussion on streetlight installation, a topic of contention within the Crescenta Valley, where many residents are vehemently opposed to streetlights in residential areas.
James H. Chon of the L.A. County Dept. of Public Works’ Traffic and Lighting Division took residents through the process that the county undergoes when considering streetlight installation.
Chon described a petition process in which 60% of the residents in a given area must approve of installing streetlights. Once the signatures are received, it takes about 12 months for the county to review whether lights are warranted.
Since the 1920s, 47 petitions have been requested in the Crescenta Valley. Thirty-four of those petitions passed, with 33 of the petitioning areas annexed for streetlight installation. Chon did say that about 50% of petitions the county receives don’t go through, due to disagreement amongst residents. An active petition for the block from Sanborn to Los Olivos along La Crescenta Avenue is currently under review.
Some residents in attendance were dismayed that residents could petition for lights without notification to all residents in the petitioning area.
“Most of us bought homes up here because of the environment being very rural. For somebody to start a petition without the community knowing about it is very unacceptable,” said resident Steve Pierce. “It’s really up to the town council to bring this to our attention. I really object to a resident starting a petition without people in the community knowing about it. Even if it’s a few blocks away and seems like it doesn’t affect us, it does affect us because we end up with a glow in this community that we don’t want.”
The meeting also featured an announcement from Glendale Unified School District Board Member Nayiri Nahabedian. Nahabedian announced that she had been placed on the April 7 ballot for the board of education earlier that day. Nahabedian’s intentions for retaining her seat on the board of education were in question after city officials said she had turned in her campaign papers after the submission deadline of Feb. 3. Nahabedian filed a lawsuit in turn and a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in favor of her on Thursday.
“Today, the system worked,” said Nahabedian. “The core values of democracy and inclusiveness beat out bureaucratic roadblocks and I am pleased to see the legal system upholding my right to be on the ballot.”
The Crescenta Valley Town Council will be holding a GUSD school board candidates’ forum on March 19.