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Commentary by Andrew G. Fried
| Friday, Jan 22, 2016
Andrew G. Fried

Andrew G. Fried

You name it, and someone has tried to stick this community with it. Hog farms. Toxic waste dumps. Prisons. Landfills. Over the past half-century, this corner of northern Los Angeles County has fended off all of them.

A decade and a half ago, a group of concerned citizens formed Safe Action for the Environment Inc., a nonprofit organization promoting safe air, safe water and safe roads, with a focus on the environment and quality of life in northern Los Angeles County. For most of our existence, we’ve fought the proposed Cemex mine, the latest in a long line of proposals perpetrated by outside entities — governmental and private alike — to place undesirable projects within the greater Santa Clarita Valley.

More than 17 years later, that battle remains unresolved as we monitor the appeals process through which Cemex seeks to nullify the Bureau of Land Management’s decision to cancel the Soledad Canyon mining contracts.

However, as 2016 begins, we find ourselves in transition. Since the 1990s, the Cemex mine has been the latest and greatest threat to the overall well-being of our region, and SAFE has fought it — and will continue to fight it — in collaboration with the city of Santa Clarita, the Sierra Club, the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, Rep. Steve Knight, state Sens. Fran Pavley and Sharon Runner, state Assemblymen Scott Wilk and Tom Lackey, and various other jurisdictions and individuals.

Yet, there are other threats demanding our attention. Among them: the proposed $68-billion-and-counting high-speed rail project linking the Bay Area to Southern California.

As a member of the North Los Angeles County Communities Protection Coalition, SAFE is working with members of the Santa Clarita City Council, officials from the cities of Los Angeles and San Fernando, state Sens. Pavley, Runner, Robert Hertzberg and Carol Liu, state Assembly members Wilk, Lackey and Patty Lopez, Supervisors Michael D. Antonovich and Sheila Kuehl, and the Acton and the Agua Dulce town councils.

Together, coalition members are urging the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board of Directors “to eliminate the devastating impacts to all communities located within the … project.”

Admittedly, the high-speed rail project has a massive scope — and is being hotly debated statewide. At this juncture, we see key areas where locally based advocacy is crucial.

If the rail line is to be imposed upon the people and environment of this region, it’s imperative that an alignment be chosen that causes the least possible disruption to the local population.

It is cause for extreme community concern when we hear of potential alignments that would bring high-speed trains near existing schools, churches and residential neighborhoods, and would disrupt wildlife corridors and disturb natural habitat, while potentially destroying private and public wells and natural aquifers.

Without question, some people with a home, property or business along any of the proposed alignments will be forced out to make way for the HSR project. Even a church in Sand Canyon will be destroyed, and the city of San Fernando will literally be cut in half by the tracks.

And what potential alignment would prove less devastating: a surface alignment potentially running parallel with State Highway 14? Or a long tunnel burrowing beneath the San Gabriel Mountains? It might boil down to a choice of the lesser of two evils, which is one of the questions the Communities Protection Coalition is evaluating.

Many agree the rail line has the makings of a historically significant government boondoggle. As one commentator put it, with the advent of “smart” highways and driverless cars appearing more and more imminent, it seems more and more like the high-speed rail line would have been a good idea — for a previous century.

Now, with autonomous vehicle technology making strides, it’s increasingly clear that, for California at least, a high-speed rail line’s best window of opportunity has passed. Soon enough, Californians who are already predisposed to use personal vehicles will be using personal vehicles they don’t even have to drive.

Simply put, when it comes to high-speed rail, if they build it, few will ride it, yet many will be impacted by it.

This, on top of the fact that California and its car-oriented culture, ingrained over many decades, is traveling on many roads and highways that are over capacity and in disrepair. Clearly, there’s something better the state could be doing with precious transportation dollars.

Looking to the future, SAFE will continue to advocate against the Cemex mine — but we are mindful of the fact that the mine (and now the high-speed rail issue) represent neither the first nor the last time an outside entity will attempt to place something undesirable in northern Los Angeles County.

The SAFE board pledges to remain vigilant, helping to ensure local residents’ voices are heard regarding mining, high-speed rail, water issues — and whatever comes next.

 

Andrew Fried is president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc. For more information, visit www.Safe4Environment.org.

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4 Comments

  1. Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D. says:

    Having a high speed rail system effectively connecting Southern California and Northern California will be convenient, save resources, and provide transportation options. The present plan though is a financial and logistic disaster, defying common sense as it is financially wrapped around special interest lobbyists.

    As a physician, I know the body central nervous system runs down the spine connecting through peripheral nerves organs, arms, and lower extremities, directly to the toes. It doesn’t take a by-pass to the gallbladder in it’s route to the legs, which would slow our mobility down.

    A monetarily uninfluenced high speed rail system should go directly up Interstate 5, and not by-pass to the Antelope Valley. That can be done through peripheral routes that would not interrupt our existing domain.

    Even with technology, transportation has room for improvement. Keeping the evil forces of politics entering this realm will remain a public battle. I support you in your efforts.

    Gene Uzawa Dorio, M.D.

    • Stil says:

      Going up the I-5 route would not be a good idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it goes against good principle of routing transit and railway lines, in which you want swerve the line to connect to major job and housing centers, but at the same time keep the line straight enough so that it’s perceived by transit riders as “direct enough” given the geography. This concept is called “Be on the way” on Walker’s Human Transit blog: http://humantransit.org/2009/04/be-on-the-way.html
      Secondly, an I-5 route would bypass many important and rapidly growing population centers in the Antelope Valley and the Central Valley. It should be noted that these areas have traditionally been behind the richer coastal metropolitan areas of the state (Bay Area and LA) in terms of educational attainment, poverty levels, air quality, economic diversity, employment rate, etc. By routing the rail line through these cities, a tremendous economic opportunity is created because these cities are suddenly less than 2 hours away for the price of discounted airfare from the major metropolitan areas. High-speed rail will create jobs and economic opportunities not only through construction, but by making these areas much more accessible to the rest of the state: http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/Newsroom/reports/2015/FINAL_FULL_CENTRAL_VALLEY_ECONOMIC_STUDY_REPORT_020515.pdf
      Finally, under Proposition 1A of 2008 that authorizes the use of bonds to fund the project, the rail line MUST connect to Palmdale, Bakersfield, and Fresno in defined segments. You can read it here under Article 2 of the law’s text:
      http://repository.uchastings.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2279&context=ca_ballot_props
      Transportation projects are inherently political because they are large, long-lasting undertakings that involve a great number of stakeholders and resources. You can go on believing that transportation projects can be done without politics, but personally I think that’s a little naive.

  2. Benjamin Turon says:

    Not only will driverless cars eliminate the need for HSR, but the need for airlines, buses, walking, horses, and cycling will also be gone. Driverless cars will do everything, including taking us to infinity and beyond.

    Imagine, driverless cars traveling at speeds of 150, 200, 300, or even 500 mph not just along city streets and winding mountain roads, but literally across the Pacific, like Jesus walking on water. All in complete safety at a cost we can all afford.

    People need to face the fact that the Age of George Jetson is finally here. No other nation is investing in HSR today…

    NONE! Except for a few stupid countries like Japan, France, Spain, Italy, Germany, Britain, Russia, Turkey, Morocco, Poland, Belgium, Holland, Saudia Arabia, Switzerland, Austria, Sweden, Denmark, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea…

  3. Allan Cameron says:

    A common ruse typically used to foist horrid land use proposals onto an unsuspecting public, is to provide only a terse, woefully incomplete description of the entire proposal. This “deception by omission” tactic has been steadily employed with the CEMEX mine. Just as with the Porter Ranch gas well leak, it is unfortunate that the staggering costs of cleaning and restoring a heavy industrial site are often ignored. So it has been with CEMWX. The costs for cleaning the CEMEX site after it contaminates the ground water, the costs in air quality degradation, the use of precious drinking water to wash rock, and far more, has been, and is still now being ignored, when cost/”benefits” are put forth by the tiny number of mine advocates. Fortunately, Safe Action for the Environment, Inc., along with the hundreds of other well informed CEMEX mine opponents have been steadfast for the last 17 years, and will remain so, until the CEMEX mine is no more.

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