|  By Andrew Fried, SAFE President  |
May 6, 2016

Over the years, the acronym NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) has taken on a widely recognized negative connotation: People who oppose things like new construction or government infrastructure projects get labeled, derisively, as NIMBY’s:

The implication is that a NIMBY is someone who doesn’t care about the greater good, or the rights of another land owner to develop his or her property. If the new project is in a NIMBY’s “back yard,” figuratively speaking, he or she is likely to oppose it, blindly failing to see the big picture.

Many times, a NIMBY is someone who is under the mistaken impression that owning a piece of property comes complete with the right to control all that happens on all surrounding property.

However, in some cases, a NIMBY is justified. Especially if, as in the case of the proposed California high-speed rail line, the phrase “not in my back yard” isn’t just a figurative reference. It is to be taken literally.

How literally? Looking at the latest route maps from the California High-Speed Rail Authority, it appears inevitable that the project will require the seizure and destruction of private property as the state shoves Gov. Jerry Brown’s $64 billion pet train project right through some back yards.

No wonder, then, that many in the Santa Clarita, Antelope and San Fernando Valleys remain extremely concerned about the latest proposed routes for the Palmdale-Burbank leg of the High-Speed Rail line that would link Los Angeles and San Francisco with a very fast train that very few people will ride.

The High-Speed Rail Authority’s publicly distributed materials on the revised Burbank-Palmdale routes provide a “50,000-foot-level” view of where the new alignments would go; and, there are up sides to the new routes, as compared to their predecessors.

The routes have been modified in response to public input, in order to avoid heavily populated areas. Each of the three routes essentially would bypass the City of Santa Clarita, sparing a rather populous area from the bullet train’s most troublesome impacts.

However, if you start with the 50,000-foot-level view, and zoom down to where it is actually possible to see individual properties, it becomes more clear: This project will be seriously disruptive. It may avoid some of the more heavily populated areas, but there are still numerous individuals and businesses that will be profoundly impacted.

At minimum, there are obvious concerns about noise and safety for properties that are near the proposed routes. At worst, there are property owners whose “back yards” literally may be standing in the way of the train.

For their part, local government leaders in the region are advocating alignments that would go further to avoid impacts on property owners, even in less heavily populated areas.

The Santa Clarita City Council, for example, retains the position that they adopted on July 14, 2015, in which the council supports only fully underground alignments within the Palmdale to Burbank project section, in order to minimize negative impacts to all of the communities potentially impacted by the high-speed rail project.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich also has called for alternatives that spare not only the larger cities, but smaller communities as well.

“All the affected communities between Palmdale and Burbank are in my district, and I take very seriously their concerns and issues with the remaining High-Speed Rail alternatives,” said Antonovich. “While I am pleased that the High-Speed Rail Authority developed new alignments that avoid Santa Clarita, Sylmar, Pacoima, and San Fernando in response to my request in 2014 to develop routes that avoid these communities by tunneling under the Angeles National Forest, I remain focused on removing or modifying the final three alternatives that impact remaining communities like Acton, Agua Dulce, Lakeview Terrace, and Shadow Hills.”

One of the routes, in particular, would have significant impacts on the Acton-Agua Dulce area: The so-called “Refined SR14” route generally would run parallel to State Route 14. While less disruptive to populated areas than the original proposed routes, the fact remains that the bullet train southbound would shoot right through Acton and Agua Dulce before ducking underground near Lang Station and Soledad Canyon Road, where the line would tunnel beneath the San Gabriel Mountains in the Angeles National Forest on its way to Burbank.

The other proposed revised routes – called Refined E1/Refined E2 – would not entirely avoid impacts on Acton. However, make no mistake: While these two routes may avoid some of our “back yard,” they’re going through someone else’s back yard just the same.

While the revised routes have put the proposed High-Speed Rail line along a path of reduced resistance, that doesn’t mean they have avoided significant impacts on the “little guys” who may feel powerless to stop the High-Speed Rail juggernaut.

Add all of this to the fact that all three proposed routes would require lengthy, expensive tunnels  through a seismically active region, traveling beneath a national forest. It is difficult to imagine how this project can be built safely and without unacceptable impacts on communities and the environment.

All three of the proposed new routes are under review; and while at this point it might seem naïve to hope that “none of the above” emerges as the final answer, that indeed would be ideal. Failing that, we all should consider ourselves to be on alert: There’s a bullet headed for our back yards and, at the risk of being branded as NIMBYs, we need to find a way to stop it.

Andrew Fried is president of Safe Action for the Environment Inc. 

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