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Tehachapi officials cite concerns with High Speed Rail Project

TEHACHAPI — Like it or not, the California High-Speed Rail Project is coming to Tehachapi.

Tehachapi officials are up in arms about critical issues concerning negative impacts to Tehachapi neighborhoods that they say have gone ignored by the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

Mayor Phil Smith and City Manager Greg Garrett were joined by Jay Schlosser, development services director for the city of Tehachapi, and David Butler, president of Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley, in a news conference Monday afternoon to discuss numerous local impacts the HSR will have on the community, including, but not limited to, noise.

"We are concerned over the potential degradation of our neighborhoods that have been observed in other communities adjacent to (the) High Speed Rail Corridor in other cities," Smith said.

The high-speed rail is slated to enter Tehachapi through a mountain tunnel, which will be located about 1,000 feet to the east of the $100 million Adventist Health Tehachapi Valley hospital.

The city's issues were submitted in writing last spring in response to the authority’s Draft Bakersfield to Palmdale Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report released in February 2020.

The mayor said he and other city officials want the HSR authority to acknowledge the socioeconomic impact of the project as it is proposed at this time.

"We want a fair response for the concerns of noise and aesthetic that, if not mitigated, will result in blight in our neighborhoods," Smith said. "That's the last thing we want."

The California High-Speed Rail Authority's Southern California regional director, LaDonna DiCamillo, responded to those concerns via email.

"The authority is in the process of evaluating and responding to the city’s comments and the authority has been in contact with the city of Tehachapi recently in 2021. A Final Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (Final EIR/EIS) is in development, which will include consideration of comments received," DiCamillo wrote.

Smith said any impact to a part of the city will impact the whole city.

"This is not just a line on a map," he said. "It is a neighborhood where people live. It is their home. ... We want residents to know that we take this seriously."

City Manager Greg Garrett accused the HSR of trying to renege on its promises.

"We have been working with HSR for six to eight years, countless meetings. ... They continue to assure us that they will mitigate this section of rail. ... Our position has remained unchanged throughout this process. High Speed Rail is changing their mind for you, and that's not a good thing," Garrett said.

One hundred and fifty years ago, when the railroad first went through Tehachapi, the city was unincorporated and very little was located in the small community.

"Make no mistake. I'm not here to try to stop the HSR," Garrett said. "We want HSR to do the right thing. ... Today there are almost 40,000 people in this beautiful valley, and that matters. Great care needs to be taken to how this rail will go through our valley."

According to Schlosser, 20 high-speed trains will pass through Tehachapi each day.

Schlosser said many Tehachapi property owners will also have their land expropriated for public use, with payment of compensation, under the eminent domain act by the HSR.

Schlosser also said he is concerned about blight, with towns existing next to an industrial, high-speed rail. This will cause a decrease in neighboring property value. Other than the hospital, Schlosser said the Arabian Estates community will be greatly affected.

Of the 80 homes in the Arabian Estates, Schlosser said that about 50 percent will receive noise "buffer" walls, with the other 50 percent of homes to possibly be offered new windows and doors to help eliminate train noise.

"It has an impact on those neighborhoods in a pretty profound way. ... It tends to lead to more crime," Schlosser said.

Butler said he is most concerned about the unknown problems the hospital will face when it comes to the HSR.

"We don't know what kind of noise or vibration (the HSR) could interpose on the hospital," Butler said.

Butler, who researched the noise level of a train exiting a tunnel on YouTube, compared it to a "high-speed, low-altitude pass of a jet fighter plane."

Butler said his job is to ensure hospital patients receive a tranquil, peaceful rest.

"Can you imagine an orthopedic surgeon doing a total hip or knee surgery when this train comes in or out of the tunnel?" Butler said. "What's that going to mean to the hospital? Or a 9-1-1 code? What's that going to do to that code and the sound?"

According to the HSR authority's DiCamillo, it will continue to consider all public concerns during the environmental review process underway for this project section.

“The authority is working with the city of Tehachapi on mitigation measures as part of the environmental process," DiCamillo wrote. "We are reviewing their concerns and are hopeful we can come to a solution that works for both the community and the project."

DiCamillo also stated that President Biden recently laid out a framework for infrastructure investment in the United States with the administration’s American Jobs Plan. The plan would increase federal support for passenger rail nationwide by $80 billion over eight years.