Supporters, Opponents Address Panel in Fresno Regarding State High-Speed Rail Plan
By Alan Kandel
A hearing on California high-speed rail was held in Fresno Sept. 20th at Fresno’s Convention Center downtown. The hearing, held from 3 to 8 p.m., gave the public a chance to address their concerns regarding both the Merced-to-Fresno and Fresno-to-Bakersfield Draft High-Speed Rail Environmental Impact Reports/Statements (EIR/EIS). However, it was clear from the comments of several people going before the panel, that they had not read the reports beforehand.
Case in point. One interested party who has a business that could possibly be impacted by the high-speed rail line made a plea to the panel that livelihoods would be adversely affected by HSR and urged the panel to reconsider its plan. Because the addressee feared his business would be impacted, his recommendation was that the existing freight railroad, located across the way from his “potentially” affected business, instead be made use of to provide high-speed passenger train services.
Steve Geil, meanwhile, from the Fresno Economic Development Corp. who, incidentally, fully supports HSR, stressed to the panel that property owners whose properties would be impacted, need to be treated fairly. Geil, a property owner himself, has property that is likely to be so affected.
At the hearing there were far more positive comments than there were negative, but few in my opinion were in direct response to either EIR/EIS. Here are some more hearing highlights.
In one opposing view, the speaker pointed out that a typical flight on a per- passenger-mile basis, required a subsidy of 13 cents, whereas a Boston-to-Washington, D.C. train ride requires a subsidy of 75 cents per passenger mile. What was interesting if not surprising is that this person said he was “guessing” that the state HSR project would be a $500 billion project when all is said and done.
One staunch supporter from Kingsburg, a town located about 25 miles south of Fresno made an impassioned speech. In fact, this individual in effect said he couldn’t wait until the day he can make the short trip to Hanford to board a high-speed train.
Not only this, but the extremely important point was made that Los Angeles had been transformed from a place where the car was once king to a locale that now has a wealth of transportation choices thanks to the voter approved Measure R. The Kingsburg resident’s words were: "Today's Los Angeles is not your father's L.A." and went on to exclaim that Metrolink commuter rail, subway and lightrail systems have made possible far-improved connectivity and access, in short touting the southland’s passenger rail success.
Moreover, this individual wanted no one to lose sight of the fact that in sprawling Los Angeles, rail-based alternatives have been brought to the forefront and naysayers, detractors and critics who once railed against such ideas saying these were a waste of money and that passenger rail would never go anywhere, were wrong. Also talked up was high-speed rail's development potential and how there would be connectivity and continuity to outlying areas via feeder rail systems.
Another supporter emphasized the need for an academy to prepare workers and students for high-speed rail work, while still another, Marie Elena Ramirez, approached the panel asking for work. She indeed got the attention of many.
Then there was Larry Thomson, manager of livestock-supplement company Church & Dwight in Madera County, who “said one of the potential routes north of Fresno would slice through his facility – something he said he didn't learn until last month,” wrote Tim Sheehan in a Fresno Bee article.
“Thompson said the environmental report fails to address ‘the economic and social impacts of losing a business such as ours.’”
“‘These must be addressed. ... The authority must do a much more extensive review of the businesses, farms and homes along each of the routes,’ he said,” Sheehan wrote.
Finally, officials in support addressing the panel were Fresno County supervisors Susan Anderson and Henry R. Perea, a representative from U.S. Congressman Jim Costa’s office, State Assemblymember Henry T. Perea and Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin.
In fact, Supervisor Anderson made mention of three Hanford-area residents – brothers Adam Souza, Travis Souza and Nate Yockey – who are in the midst of a month-long trek walking the proposed HSR route from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The three, who just so happened to be passing through Fresno earlier in the day, briefly met and spoke with Anderson. The brothers are to speak about their documented experience, which is scheduled for September 30th at a creative arts center in San Francisco.
Alan Kandel is a concerned California resident advocating for new, improved and expanded freight (and passenger) rail service. He is a retired railroad signalman previously employed by the Union Pacific Railroad in Fremont, California.