| By Andrew Fried, SAFE President |
Jan. 22, 2016
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.
Over 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 Tome 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 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 may 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 driver-less 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 past. 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.
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