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Homeowners face challenges from high-speed rail project

Posted: May 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

While the planned California high-speed rail isn’t expected to arrive in the Santa Clarita Valley for 20 to 30 years, homeowners are already being held hostage to what some call a boondoggle and others say is a step into the modern transportation era for the state, some local residents say.

At a recent Southland Regional Association of Realtors committee meeting in Canyon Country, realtors were told they must disclose the train plan to any prospective buyers of homes along the planned route. Homeowners and realtors say such disclosures can reduce the value of a home or even render it un-sellable.

Nancy Lulejian Starczyk, chairwoman of the government affairs committee, said

Assemblywoman Diane Harkey told her the rail plan would become reality, like it or not.

“She said the best SCV can do is to be aware of what the plan is for our local area and to do our best to protest what we don’t like,” Starczyk.

The mammoth project may affect dozens of homes, a church and two schools in Sand Canyon alone as it makes its way along the east side of the Santa Clarita Valley and through Agua Dulce and Acton on its way to the Antelope Valley. Homes in Agua Dulce, Acton and Fair Oaks Ranch could also be affected, association members said.

California voters approved the high-speed rail in 2008 at a cost of about $10 billion. Plans call for it to connect Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim to San Francisco, with additional links at large state population centers — including the Inland Empire, Orange County, Sacramento and San Diego. The train would travel at speeds as high as 220 mph.

Cost estimates for the project have soared as the proposed route meets with opposition and lawsuits up and down the line.

Meanwhile, Santa Clarita city officials say they remain hopeful they can convince authorities to tunnel the train underground through Sand Canyon to avoid the problems cited by realtors and homeowners. Councilwoman Marsha McLean noted local hardships during the realtors’ meeting.

“For one thing, houses that are in the path are kind of being held hostage because they have to disclose this is a possibility,” McLean said. “If they want to sell their home this is hanging over them.”

But the proposal to take the train underground was rejected as a possibility during the environmental review process for the project, according to a report released in April 2012.

“Because of operational, maintenance and safety issues and high capital and operational costs associated with tunnels, tunneling is only considered when the topography of the ground makes it necessary or there is a major significant impact which cannot be mitigated in any other way,” the report reads.

The situation in Sand Canyon does not meet the necessary criteria for tunneling, the report concluded.

Still, residents and city officials were encouraged by a visit to the Sand Canyon area by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, the agency charged with overseeing the project, in late February. It was the first time some high-ranking members of the authority, including Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Morales, had visited the area, according to McLean.

Coming out of that meeting, city officials expressed optimism that the option of tunneling the train could be brought back for further consideration.

Two routes are being considered for the train as it makes its way through Sand Canyon. The first would directly affect an estimated 23 homes, as well as the Evangelical Free Church of the Canyons and both Sulphur Springs Community School and Pinecrest School, according to route details approved by the High Speed Rail Authority’s board of directors last May.

The second route would more closely follow Metrolink tracks and pass within several hundred feet of the church, Sulphur Springs School and Pinecrest School.

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