By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Another debate is over downtown’s historic Union Station. The rail authority seems bent on making Union Station the hub for multiple lines that would meet there. But residents of mostly Latino, mostly working-class Lincoln Heights, Cypress Park and Glassell Park worry that trains will tear up their communities.
Nagami says he’s pressuring the state to consider building an annex near Union Station to serve as the high-speed hub. “We’re getting the sense the rail authority has its chosen route and is going to push for that,” adds Nagami, whose organization helped to successfully sue the state eight years ago, when it tried to sell empty land near Union Station to an unpopular developer. “The whole point of an environmental-impact review is to carefully examine a range of options.”
Perhaps the most emotional and complex issue is the fate of the Los Angeles River. The river has long been both a target for jokes (“L.A. has a river? You mean the giant half-pipe where they filmed Terminator?) and the object of a slow but concerted revitalization effort, which some fear will be quashed by a train route touted on some maps.
Since 2001, California has spent roughly $100 million developing parks along the river, and many of those newly green areas could be ruined by the bullet train.
“This project, if it’s done wrong, will undo years and years of work, on top of the millions of dollars that have been invested,” says Sean Woods, in charge of L.A. parks for the California State Parks department. Though employed by the state, Woods is part of the coalition fighting to make sure L.A. isn’t steamrolled.
At stake are two parcels near the L.A. River, commonly known as the Cornfield and Taylor Yards. Eight years ago, activists, including lawyers from the NRDC, sued the state and essentially forced it to buy the abandoned plots on the northern edge of downtown Los Angeles and turn them into parks.
Then-Mayor James Hahn vowed to spend $800,000 each year to maintain the Taylor Yards site, half of which is now El Rio de Los Angeles Park. While river supporters want the parks to provide access to the river, one obstacle is the train tracks slicing through Taylor Yards.
“Rail has been the barrier to access to the river,” says L.A. River activist Joe Linton, who writes the “Creek Freak” blog. “For eight miles in the downtown area there are tracks along the river. The high-speed rail can either make that a worse barrier or it can make that less of a barrier.”
The plan apparently favored by political types who dominate the rail authority would make that barrier worse. Linton says the inviting green areas now envisioned could mutate into an industrialized backyard for a supertrain. “Those were huge struggles that resulted in parkland for communities that absolutely needed it,” Linton says.
An expensive alternate plan calls for the high-speed rail to go underground. Lewis MacAdams, a poet and founder of Friends of the L.A. River, who is also creating a working group of architects and urban planners, known as the Piggyback Group, to propose a new vision for the land around Union Station, says, “That’s the only way to reconnect the city to the river.”
Correction: This article erroneously described Russ Burns as a union leader for train engineers. His union represents construction workers and equipment operators. The $10 million figure for the rail bond should have read $10 billion. Mehdi Morshed is not a member of the rail authority board, but is its executive director.