Ending two years of debate and dogged pressure from numerous merchant and civic groups, the City Council has endorsed Long Beach Boulevard as the route for the southern end of the proposed Los Angeles-to-Long Beach trolley system.
The council voted 6 to 3 following a 45-minute discussion Tuesday morning to recommend the boulevard route to the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, which has the final say on the light-rail route.
"A light-rail line down Long Beach Boulevard does the least damage to our community and provides the most service to the most people," said Councilman Warren Harwood.
The three opposing council members, however, said the 22.5-mile system should not even be built, arguing that it would be too expensive and represents an antiquated approach to the transportation problems of the region.
Councilman Wallace Edgerton, who voted against the trolley along with colleagues Edd Tuttle and Eunice Sato, predicted construction costs for the system--currently estimated at more than $400 million--will balloon to more than $1 billion "within two years."
'Just a Revival'
"It may be a streetcar named desire, but no matter how much you desire it, it's not going to help you," Edgerton said. "This is not rapid transit at all. This is just a revival of a World War II trolley system."
But Councilman Marc Wilder maintained that a high-speed transit system, a more ambitious project than the trolley, would cost in excess of $15 billion, a price tag that would make construction of such a rail line unlikely.
"I don't think another alternative to this light-rail line is going to be proposed," Wilder said.
Mayor Ernie Kell said that "as the freeways become more clogged and more clogged, this system may look rapid in the very near future."
Endorsement of the boulevard route is expected to be a major factor in the Transportation Commission's final decision on the transit system, which is slated to run from Long Beach through Compton and the Florence-Willowbrook area to downtown Los Angeles. The commission is to choose the route March 27 following two days of public hearings.
Although the commission is not legally required to abide by the Long Beach council's decision, it will likely go along with the choice of Long Beach Boulevard, according to Transportation Commission staff members.
The trolley line, if built, would be financed with funds generated by Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax increase that county voters approved in 1980. Construction would start in the fall, with the system expected to be in operation by 1989.
More than a dozen routes were initially considered for the trolley, including several along Atlantic Avenue, but were scrapped after residents complained.
In recent months, the choices were narrowed to two: The boulevard, which cuts through the central downtown region, and a route along the Los Angeles River on the city's west side, with an elevated extension passing through the World Trade Center and ending adjacent to City Hall.
During numerous public hearings held as part of the selection process, auto dealers and other merchants along Long Beach Boulevard opposed the use of their street for the trolley, arguing that the line would snarl traffic and ruin their business. Residents of the Wrigley neighborhood along the west side, meanwhile, came out against the river route, saying construction and operation of the rail line would ruin the area.
On Tuesday, Wrigley residents cheered and applauded as a tally of the council's vote flashed onto the green display screen in the council chambers.
"It was a long, hard fight," said Jeff Baker, president of Citizens for Responsible Transit, a group composed of Wrigley residents.
Wilder, the city's representative on the county Transportation Commission, said the boulevard was preferable because it would put the trolley closer to neighborhoods where traditional riders of transit live.
"Long Beach Boulevard makes much more sense both now and in the future for the development of the city," Wilder said.
City officials say routing of the trolley will have a significant influence on the direction of future growth in downtown Long Beach.
"I think where these tracks go, so will go economic development in the city," Councilwoman Jan Hall said. "Because of that, we should put the rail line where we want economic development."
'Enhance the Businesses'
Councilman James Wilson, whose 6th District includes a milelong segment the boulevard, agreed. "I think light rail will enhance the businesses," he said.
In recent weeks, council members reported receiving numerous telephone calls, letters and visits from groups supporting one or another of the routes.
The Southern California Assn. of Governments and the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce endorsed Long Beach Boulevard, but another influential business organization--Downtown Long Beach Associates--backed the river route. The chamber had initially supported construction of the trolley along the river, but switched sides last week after Hall and Wilder pushed for the boulevard during a meeting of the chamber board of directors.
While the staff of the county Transportation Commission recommended the boulevard route, the Long Beach city staff favored the river route.
In a written report to the council, city Planning Director Robert Paternoster said the river route could be more easily upgraded "to a true rapid transit system" in the future, would provide better commuter service to downtown Long Beach and would be a better link to a regional system envisioned for the Los Angeles basin.
Although the boulevard route would be geared for service to local residents, the river route would be used mostly by persons traveling to downtown Long Beach for work, Paternoster said in the report. The river route "offers the fastest travel time, fewest stops, greatest safety and most operational reliability," he said.
Transportation Commission staff members recommended the boulevard route because it could be built and operated at less cost than a route along the river but would serve a similar number of riders.
While construction and land acquisition along the boulevard would cost $47.5 million, the river route would cost $57.1 million. Operation costs would be $8.4 million a year for the boulevard, compared to $8.5 million on the river route.
The commission staff estimates the 55-minute commute time between Los Angeles and Long Beach on the boulevard route would be six minutes longer than on the river route. But Paternoster predicted travel time along the boulevard would be inflated even further because trolley cars would likely make more frequent stops.
Paternoster also said the trolley's noise and the "visual impact" of the tracks in residential sections along the river route could be minimized at less cost than along Long Beach Boulevard. While a sound wall could be built and a grassy parkway established along the river route, environmental problems along the boulevard "are largely unmitigatable," he said.
But Transportation Commission staff members contend Long Beach Boulevard, a busy commercial thoroughfare, could better accommodate the trolley than the quiet, residential sections along the river route.