Alhambra Council members, residents object to plans for elevated high-speed railway

The Alhambra City Council unanimously rejected the latest California High-Speed Rail Authority proposal, which would include a 74-foot aerial structure towering over the I-10 Freeway. Coming into Alhambra from the east, the train would run underground from Union Station to East Los Angeles, where it would emerge and continue above the median of the freeway.

The Council made their decision after attendees at the meeting voiced concerns about noise, safety, property value, and loss of homes. Alhambra resident Tony Garcia, 65, said he was worried after reading about accidents occurring on similar trains. “Imagine this train up in the air and something happens,” said Garcia. “It’s going very close to residential areas, and there’s also Mark Keppel High School. That could be a great disaster for us.”

Rendering of proposed map down 10 Freeway | http://www.alhambra123.org Gisela Adams, 67, shared her experience with high-speed rails during a vacation in Europe. “We were on the freeway in an enclosed car. We could still hear the noise from the high-speed train. It’s not quiet at all,” said Adams.

According to Jessica Keating, assistant to the city manager, it is estimated that the trains could run through the city once every 8 to 20 minutes. The statement drew a murmur of disapproval from the crowd.

No one spoke in support of the proposal. A representative of the CHSRA was not in attendance. But, the Pasadena Star-News reported high-speed rail officials said it's too early to tell how tall the structure will be.

"We have stressed to Alhambra and all San Gabriel Valley cities that the aerial alignment is not final and at this very early stage in the environmental process there are many details still yet to be pinned down," Rachel Wall, a spokeswoman for the Rail Authority, wrote in an e-mail to the Star-News. "We are still in the preliminary planning phase and we have a considerable number of options yet to consider with any corridor that may be carried forward after the preliminary report is heard before the authority board."

The CHSRA had requested that the city respond to the proposal within two weeks. After hearing the comments on the floor, council members unanimously agreed to send a letter that would oppose the plan.

The aerial proposal was considered after other options were rejected. An underground tunnel was deemed too costly to be constructed under the I-10, and Council members rejected plans for a rail to run at ground level through the city. According to Keating, the CHSRA is still reviewing the 60 Freeway as another option. 

City Council members voiced their frustrations with the CHSRA throughout the meeting, saying that the agency refused to cooperate at a local level.

“They’re just throwing this [proposal] out there at us,” Councilman Steven Placido said. “They don’t listen to any of the council members that have talked to them.”

The council also complained that a visual representation of the proposal was not made available.

According to Keating, construction of the rail will likely stall due to a lack of funding. She said that the CHSRA may engage in a public-private relationship with overseas investors for additional money.

Dan Bednarski, who maintains, a blog http://www.alhambra123.org resisting the high-speed rail from passing through Alhambra, writes that, “the Rail Authority board will meet on March 3 in the Metro Headquarters next to Union Station in downtown L.A. During that meeting, the Rail Authority staff will present its recommendations regarding the L.A. to San Diego train line. Public comments occur at the beginning of the meeting. Please attend if you have time and would like to express your opinion regarding its plans.”

8 thoughts on “Alhambra Council members, residents object to plans for elevated high-speed railway”

  1. Sinosoul: We are not China. We are a republican democracy and community resistance, changing values, and public criticism demonstrates that our democratic processes are working properly. For better or worse, China’s political structure allows it to push projects down local residents’ throats without really considering impacts or political fallout.

    NIMBY is an overused term that really has lost its meaning. Your use of NIMBY is synonymous with “if they’re not with us, they’re against us.”

    This issue is actually greater than just the affects on one portion of our community. Despite what simply appears to be a localized issue that affects only the areas surrounding the freeway, it affects the city as a whole.

    First, there are schools that border the freeway. Property values for all those in the school district may be affected if parents no longer think Mark Keppel or Fremont schools are hospitable places to send their children. The trains might also be heard at Monterey Highlands and Marguerita. Second, we all use the freeway. Your ability to use the freeway will be impaired during and possibly after construction. Third, all that traffic currently using the freeway will need to go someplace during construction or if lanes are taken away. And lastly, areas bordering the freeway may be at a tipping point that turns them ghetto should the high speed rail become too great a burden. All are issues that will affect you, even if you live in North Alhambra or the hills of Monterey Park.

    As I told the City Council last night, Alhambra, other cities in the I-10 corridor, and, more broadly, the San Gabriel Valley and other stakeholders such as Metro and Caltrans need to talk about all the uses for the I-10 corridor now and in the future. We need to all talk practically and realistically about the corridor we want and need in 2050.

    Our population will only increase. Do we expect everyone to drive? Do we want that congestion?

    What quality of life do we want for those that follow?

    The I-10 corridor needs to get the maximum number of people moved. How do we do that while maintaining quality of life in the cities along the freeway corridor? We also need to relieve congestion and decrease pollution. With regard to pollution, auto exhaust is not the only problem. Apparently a lot of asthma near a freeway is tied to the particulate matter that comes from tires.

    We all need to be part of the conversation. Calling names and deriding those who disagree with you without reading the facts or having empathy for those bearing the heaviest burden will only see your opinion ignored or marginalized.

    1. Alhambra Resident

      Dan,

      So how many people in Alhambra do you think AGREE with the I-10 contruction of the high-speed rail? It seems like the only people complaining are the ones attending the council hearings. But frankly, unless everyone in ALhambra is forced to give an opinion, we don’t really know how much of Alhambra opposes the I-10 corridor option.

      I myself favor the I-10. It is the most direct route to the east towards the Ontario area train station. I don’t live near the freeway myself, but if I did, this is something I wouldn’t totally be surprised with. By the way, construction on the I-10 would be a pain, but it won’t stop the world. Besides, PROGRESS is the key. We all have driven through construction areas throughout our lives. This is a small term sacrifice that will have major impact of our LONG-TERM transportation infrastructure.

      1. As you pointed out, we do not know the answer to that question. We can only guess. The answer likely is complex and varies with the Rail Authority’s proposals.

        My guess is that 25-30% support the project as proposed, 30-35% oppose the project as proposed, and the remainder are indifferent. But again, that is only a guess.

        About 65% of 35,000 registered voters voted in the November 2008 election. Just under 13,000, or 56% of those who voted in the election, voted yes on the proposition. In other words, 36% of registered voted yes, demonstrating some level of support for the high speed rail bond, while about 29% voted no, demonstrating some level of opposition for the high speed rail bond. The remaining 35% were apparently undecided (i.e. could care less). In addition, the Census estimates that about 67,000 people over 18 reside in Alhambra. Only 35000 (52%) are registered to vote, for a variety of reasons including lack of citizenship and indifference.

        I think that fewer people who voted for Prop 1A (bond funding proposition) support the project as proposed because they had not thought of how it might affect the city (i.e. it won’t go here) or failed to support Prop 1A to begin with. The number of supporters in Alhambra and neighboring cities probably changes with the proposed alignment. So, for example, there is probably more support for an elevated platform that is 35 feet high than one that is 75 feet high. Fewer would support a street level set of tracks even if it took away a freeway lane or spending the extra money to put the trains in a tunnel.

        At this point, only the opposition have spoken up and given the the Alhambra City Council and our other elected representatives reasons to not support the proposed high speed rail alignment through the city. So if you support the project, let them know and why.

        Progress should never be the only reason to support or oppose a project. Unfortunately, that term has been applied to way too many major civic projects that did not turn out so well despite best intentions. We need to all get informed and consider the costs, risks, benefits, and whether there is a better way. Which is why I brought up the short-term affects of construction that will affect the area for several years. Note that I am speaking more generally about the term ‘progress’ and its misuse in public dialog; I do not mean to imply that you are not informed.

        Our long-term infrastructure will last and future generations will be stuck with our mistakes. For that reason, it is always good to take a step back and ask whether this is the right way to build the project, how this fits in our transportation system, what we want our transportation infrastructure to look like and operate, and whether we need to adjust our vision of the future (among other questions). That’s a lot of what I have been trying to do.

        BTW: I am not in the boondoggle or “no way, no how” camps and have been giving, or attempting to give, constructive feedback on improving the high speed rail system and the proposed alignment. I also have tried to be fair to all sides, although throwing out word bombs such as NIMBY or saying we should be like China do get strong rebukes. 🙂

      2. Alhambra Resident

        Dan,

        You make good points but I still don’t see how one can be “FAIR” to ALL sides. There will always be someone unsatisfied.

        Think about it. California has over 450 cities and we are trying to build a STATEWIDE transportation network. That’s why we also have the California High Speed Rail Authority established to develop and implement such a huge project. And yes, they are providing the public forum to address everyone’s concerns. But do you really think we can make everyone happy? Be realistic, it’s almost impossible to please everyone.

        I agree with SinoSoul, we need to stop kidding ourselves, especially with construction.

        Perhaps I over-generalized the term “Progress”. However, this project is a step forward to address our transportation needs. It may not be perfect, but I still think it’s progress, even if it may not be the perfect thing in the future. Why say this? Because no matter how we prepare, we can never predict the future.

        You say that if one supports this project then he/she should let the city council know why. Well, if you think we should reconsider and find a better way to build this network, then let the CHSRA know and sit in on their meetings…

        Much simpler said then done is my point. That’s why voting is so important, especially with Prop 1A…

      3. @Alhambra Resident: True, fairness can be a moving target. To me, fairness means that I am not rude, underhanded in my approach, or overly dismissive of opinions for those who may disagree with me. It means I do admit when the opposing argument is valid or well laid out. However, it does not mean I cannot address or debate the merits of a proposal or respond to attacks. It also means I take what I dish, eat my own dogfood, take my own poison, out, etc.

        With regard to the high speed project, fairness also means that all reasonable alternatives should get a hard look. 🙂

        I am practical and realistic. Someone will always be unhappy, especially with such a large infrastructure project. Truthfully, I will not be unhappy with the high speed rail project if it goes through the environmental review process and actually does consider the alternatives and reasonably excludes them. For example, the state lacks the power of eminent domain over the railroads. Although the engineers say that the route using the Union Pacific railroad right of way is the better route for a number of reasons, most notably because the trains can maintain a consistent high speed, it is reasonable for the state to exclude that route.

        I have taken an active role since August when we were told it may go through Alhambra. The way to improve the high speed rail project does not necessarily involve the Rail Authority since it is only following the path of least resistance and existing transportation corridors. For example, all initial proposals followed existing rail corridors but its plans have shifted in places to highway corridors, because it lacks the power of eminent domain over the railroads, and through farmland.

        First, we needed information. There is no way to give constructive feedback on how to improve the project without knowing more about it. Unfortunately, getting even the most basic information took time. Now that I know more about it, I have had a number of conversations with its outreach contractors and engineers and have given constructive feedback about the route and, more importantly, the presentations they give the community. In addition, as I learn more and have a chance to analyze that information, I have been posting it to

        Second, I am trying to get Congress to change the laws regarding eminent domain to give the state a (small) chance at using the Union Pacific right of way. If the engineers do think it is a superior route, this would come out during the environmental review process. The Rail Authority could also decide the 10 is the better route. The fact that it went through the process of evaluating and comparing the different routes would be excellent and an example of the process working. Such legislation would also help make it easier to roll out high speed rail across the nation, because there are underutilized rail crisscrossing the country, often near and connecting larger cities. The strength of the rail network is in going where people want to go.

        Third, I am now focused on organizing the 10 corridor so that we define the best way for the high speed rail to go through, if this is the route chosen. High speed rail is but one user of the corridor and we should use this as an opportunity to consider how we want the freeway corridor to look at 2050 and beyond. Nobody can predict the future but we can definitely see trends, plan accordingly, and readjust as time goes by.

        🙂

    2. Dan,

      I’ll refer you to 2 things: [1] Amy Chua’s Tiger Mom book: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/books/20book.html , and President’s transcribed SOTUS: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/01/26/state-of-the-union-transcript_n

      And I’ll rebut your “may”s point by point:
      1) Per “anon” above, without surveying land owners & parents of Alhambra SD, your “may” is simply an opinion, which is almost as baseless as my “name calling”. And referring to the reactions to [1] above, I will conclude Asian parents don’t care about a high speed rail’s proximity to Keppel/Insert-Any-HS-with-high-Asian-population-here, they care about academic performance. With high academic performance comes higher real estate value. Fact, not conjecture.

      2) Construction traffic — Let’s not kid ourselves. We’ve all driven on the 10 during the last 2 years of “remodeling”? Congestion? We’ve already suffered and we all “survived”, just like the pioneers. And who are we kidding here? A few years? What’s the compared to the Three Gorges Dam? Building a rail through Alhambra, especially with a stop, will sustain growth and relieve traffic post completion. Pres Obama clearly stated: “Within 25 years, our goal is to give 80 percent of Americans access to high-speed rail.”[2] This is from the man the country voted in.

      3) Possibility vs. fact. Alhambra has suffered for decades due to 710N’s incompletion. Need I say more? I mean, really, the Arc de triomphe of Alhambra? How does that help in “connecting every part of America to the digital age.”? I detest driving from Alhambra to Pasadena. Why stick it to the city again?

      Lastly, please don’t assume those who support the initiative don’t bear burden. I’ve previously lived through the opening of a Gold Line station & it sucked donkey balls for years. There are those who support public works despite the inconvenience, especially because “We are not China”. The process is working? When was the last time you sat through 4 red lights just to make a left turn onto Fremont from Valley? Is what what Obama meant when he said “we do big things?”

      1. @Sinosoul: Yes, the process works. The process required by our environmental and other statutes forces decision makers in government to consider the environmental impacts of their actions. They also force the acting agencies to reach out to the general public and affected communities to collect and address the issues and concerns about the project’s impacts.

        The 710 debacle continues to plague Alhambra because Caltrans ran out of money and then when it restarted its project did not follow the process/law. But Caltrans and Metro have begun the process again. Scoping begins this month (Feb.) to complete the 710.

        My points regarding the high speed rail impacts is that there are impacts that are city-wide, not only immediately adjacent to the proposed route. You might not have issue with traffic/short-term construction impacts but others might.

        I have read Amy Chua’s essay and heard her several times on the radio. She may appear to be concerned only with academic performance but she also spends the money to provide her daughters with the resources and tools necessary to succeed. Using her as a proxy for Asian parents would also suggest many Asian parents spend the money necessary to give their children a leg up on the competition. That would help explain the high number of tutoring and SAT prep places in the area. It would also suggest that Asians are willing to pay a high price to buy or rent real estate because a school district provides their child a leg up on competition relative to other area school districts. If the opinion changes and parents feel like the school no longer provides their child an advantage, is not conducive to learning, or their child is no longer safe, will those parents send their children elsewhere and school continue to see such high academic performance? This is part of the broader discussion we need to have as a community.

        Critics serve a vital role in all major public works products. In fact, critics can and often are proponents who feel the project can be done better. We provide constructive criticism, point out ways to make the project more cost effective and/or scalable, highlight errors in ridership/revenue forecasts, identify conflicts of interest, and more generally inform our communities.

        btw: I avoid the Fremont/Valley intersection as much as I can and never turn left when coming from the 710 area.

  2. China built high speed rail between Shanghai & Hanghzou (125 miles) in 20 months. It reaches the speed of 300kph (188mph) and has allowed Hangzhou’s tourism to blossom. It’s been 10 years and Cali still has yet to begin high speed rail construction.

    The NIMBYS need to wake up & stop pretending their homes near the 10 freeway are currently whisper quiet.

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