L.B. Official Criticizes Preliminary Study on Trolley Line : Planning Director Says Environmental Impact Report Underestimates Potential Problems From Light-Rail Line

Community Correspondent

The city planning director has told county transit district officials that their preliminary environmental impact report on the proposed Los Angeles-Long Beach trolley line underestimates economic, environmental and traffic problems the line could cause the city.

At a public hearing Wednesday attended by 250 people, Robert Paternoster said the report has "serious inaccuracies or incompleteness" and does not fully examine the impact the light-rail route could have, especially on Long Beach neighborhoods.

If the trolley runs along the east side of the Los Angeles River, it may depress home values and make neighborhoods noisy and unattractive, he said. If the trolley runs along Long Beach Boulevard, it could have "an extremely damaging impact" on 222 boulevard businesses during a 30-month construction phase, Paternoster said.

But he added that "either the Long Beach Boulevard route or the river route would have a significant beneficial impact on the local economy, which are also underestimated."

The five Los Angeles County transportation commissioners attending the hearing did not respond to his criticism. Dan Caulfield, commission project director, said after the hearing that Paternoster's concerns would be addressed in the final environmental report.

The proposed $400-million to $420-million trolley line, expected to run 22.5 miles from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach, will be financed by a half-cent, countywide sales tax increase approved by voters in 1980.

If approved by the commission, construction on the line would begin this year and be operational by 1988. Nine routes are being considered, with the Long Beach Boulevard and Los Angeles River route being the most discussed at the hearing.

Opposition to River Route The comments of the 36 people who spoke at the four-hour hearing--most of them in opposition to the river route--will be addressed in a final environmental impact report, expected to be completed in mid-March, said Robin McCarthy, spokeswoman for the commission.

After the report is finished, the Long Beach City Council will recommend a route to the commission, Paternoster said. The commission is expected to choose a final route March 26.

The Citizens for Responsible Transit, a group of residents opposing the river route, dominated the meeting. They wore construction-paper badges that read "No LR on RR" (no light rail on river route) and vigorously applauded speakers who supported their position.

Their attorney, Bret Reed, spoke out against the environmental report, saying it "glosses over" many critical considerations, including relocation of utilities along the river route, neighborhood security, noise and vibration control and flooding problems.

Patty Maude, general manager of Long Beach Plaza, a 115-store shopping center, said store owners believe that the Long Beach Boulevard route "is a superior alternative" that will result in increased business and better service to the community.

Representatives of the Downtown Highrise Assn., the Project Area Committee for Downtown Redevelopment and Centro de la Raza, a community-service organization, agreed.

City Councilman Marc Wilder, a member of the Transportation Commission who chaired the hearing, cautioned that the presentation by those opposing the river route was "well orchestrated" but not necessarily representative of the city as a whole.

Opponents of the Long Beach Boulevard route said that congestion already slows traffic on the boulevard and the rail line will exacerbate the problem. Earl Cline, president of the Long Beach Boulevard Assn., cited his own experience of a test drive. He drove the boulevard at an average of 17 miles per hour in non-rush-hour traffic, he said, compared to the commission prediction of an average speed of 23 miles per hour.

"The transit authority did not take a long enough look at what will happen to Long Beach Boulevard as a result of the rail," he said.

His arguments were bolstered by a city traffic consultant.

Patrick Gibson said that serious traffic jams and more traffic accidents may result in the downtown area if the trolley runs along Long Beach Boulevard. South of 7th Street--where the trolley would share a lane with cars--traffic jams are inevitable, he said.

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