By Michael J. ARVIZU
Residents have until midnight on Aug. 31 to submit comments for a controversial high-speed light rail project that, when completed, would connect the cities of Palmdale, Burbank, Los Angeles and points farther north and south.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), which is building the high-speed rail line project, opened the project to comments at the end of July, according to Michelle Boehm, CHSRA Southern California Regional director.
Boehm added that comments would be welcome even after the Aug. 31 deadline.
By the time it is completed in 2029, the high-speed rail line would connect the cities of San Francisco and San Diego via an 800-mile track running along California’s Central Valley. It would support a train traveling at speeds upward of 200 mph, allowing it to complete a journey between the two cities in three hours.
At a meeting of the Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council on Aug. 13, Boehm outlined the Palmdale to Burbank and Burbank to Los Angeles project sections for residents.
The $67.6 billion project will be completed in sections, with the first 45-mile section running from Palmdale to Burbank, and the second 15-mile section running from Burbank to Union Station in Los Angeles. According to a report by Capital Public Radio, only $6 billion has been funded for the project.
Similar sections will be built, or are already underway, in the Central Valley and Northern California, including Fresno, Bakersfield, Kings/Tulare and San Francisco.
Farther south, sections will be built in Anaheim, Riverside and San Diego. An XpressWest line is also in the works, and would take passengers to Las Vegas.
But it is the 45-mile Palmdale to Burbank section that has local residents worried as tunneling through the San Gabriel Mountains and underneath the Angeles National Forest is necessary to bring the line to the Antelope Valley.
And before the section gets to the Angeles National Forest, it would have to first traverse communities such as Sun Valley and Lake View Terrace on its way from Burbank.
Residents believe that such tunneling could disrupt the forest’s fragile ecosystem and wildlife.
“If you want to know what’s going to happen when you ask the people of this community … people are going to say, ‘Do not go underneath our Angeles National Forest,’” said Dana Stengel, Sunland-Tujunga Neighborhood Council Animal Issues representative. “The people I represent care about our wildlife. Our wildlife lives in the Angeles National Forest.”
Speaking directly to Boehm in open forum, Stengel pointedly said that the CHSRA would face huge opposition if they “choose to take on the people who live around the Angeles National Forest.”
CHSRA officials say, though, that it is too early to tell what impact, if any, tunneling would have on the Angeles National Forest. A project environmental impact report and environmental impact statement will be published no earlier than fall or winter 2015, at which time “robust public comment,” Boehm said, would accompany their publication.
“It’s too early to comment on that because we haven’t examined the alignments in detail yet,” said Richard Carney, CHSRA regional construction engineer. “So we don’t actually know what those impacts are going to be in the forest area.”
Boehm’s presentation to the neighborhood council preceded a “scoping meeting” in nearby Lake View Terrace on Aug. 14. It was one in a series of seven meetings, beginning on Aug. 5, held in neighborhoods potentially affected by the project, including Sylmar, Burbank and Santa Clarita.
“The comments that you give tonight are the comments that we’re going to utilize as we take a look at the corridors that will actually go into and be studied through and EIR/EIS process,” said Boehm to residents at the Lake View Terrace scoping meeting. “We have not yet begun that process. We are just here in the scoping phase to give you some information.”
The EIR/EIS documents will cover a range of topics, including aesthetic and visual appeal, regional growth, air quality and global climate change, and hydrology and water resources, among 20 others.
“If the line goes close to Little Tujunga Canyon, closer to our area, it’s going to affect some residents,” said Hoorik Telle, a resident of Kagel Canyon, a community located north of Lake View Terrace. “I hope that the EIR/EIS will evaluate all of the impact and not just look at some of the portions.”
CHSRA touts the project as a way to make regional transportation improvements, and facilitate high-speed rail travel to Southern California, with connections to L.A. Metro, Metrolink, San Diego MTS, and Metrolink/North County Transit District in Oceanside.
“This is a very, very good project for Southern California,” said Boehm. “We want you to let us know, in writing, what are your thoughts about the high-speed project and about the ideas that you’ve seen presented today.”
Thomas Van Cott, a resident of Lake View Terrace, doesn’t oppose the project.
“I think high-speed rail is a good thing,” he said. “We need other methods of moving people about the state. There are 20 million people here. Not everyone can fly. This gets us into alignment with Europe and the Far East. Other countries have high-speed rail. The United States is probably the only industrialized country that doesn’t have it.”
Residents can submit comments by directing them to Mark A. McLoughlin, director of Environmental Studies, Attn: (Specify which project section), California High-Speed Rail Authority, Southern California Regional Office, 700 N. Alameda St., Room 3-532, Los Angeles CA 90012.
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