Agoura Hills and Westlake Village, angered that public bus service between the San Fernando Valley and Thousand Oaks may soon be ended, are considering forming their own rapid transit district.
Officials of the two cities on Thursday said they may set up their own bus line and pull out of the Southern California Rapid Transit District, taking with them an estimated $900,000 a year in tax revenues they generate for Los Angeles-based RTD.
The money would be used to pay a private contractor to operate public routes through their two cities and east through Calabasas to Woodland Hills, Canoga Park and perhaps Encino, they said.
The officials said their do-it-yourself bus system may be the only way to prevent the isolation of hundreds of elderly and handicapped residents of western Los Angeles County who rely on buses for transportation.
Groundwork for the new transportation district was laid Tuesday when Agoura Hills and Westlake Village officials met with representatives of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission and the Los Angeles city Department of Transportation.
The county pledged to provide funds to keep RTD buses running long enough for the cities to start their own bus service, according to Alan Patashnick, a senior analyst with the transportation commission. Los Angeles city officials agreed to study joining the bus venture because the new buses would also serve Valley residents.
The maneuvering comes at a time when RTD officials are grappling with an anticipated $5-million drop in federal subsidies because of congressional budget cuts.
The cutbacks were expected to force the RTD to eliminate its hourly Canoga Park-to-Westlake Village Line 161 on Jan. 26. A second RTD route, Line 423 connecting Westlake Village with downtown Los Angeles three times a day in each direction, had been earmarked for ending July 1. Cancellation of the two lines would save the RTD about $500,000 a year.
But RTD directors were told Thursday that federal cuts have been delayed and that no reductions will be required before March 30.
"This is a very brief respite," said Gary Spivack, director of planning for the RTD.
Spivack said he will make final recommendations on shutdowns to RTD directors on Feb. 27. Fifty-one RTD routes are being considered for elimination.
The two lines passing through Agoura Hills and Westlake Village are on the cutback list because of low ridership. Only 135 commuters ride Line 423's six trips daily, Spivack said, and Line 161 averages 471 passengers a day on its 24 trips.
The cutback proposal has drawn protests at both ends of Line 161 from riders who fear they will be isolated without transportation through the 80-square-mile western county area.
"I'm just furious about this. What are people like us going to do?" asked Lottie Fishman, 77. She lives in Woodland Hills and rides Line 161 nearly every day with her husband, Nathan, 79, to visit their son or a doctor in Westlake Village.
Fishman said she has phoned RTD officials and written letters to the agency protesting the proposed cutback. During the 45-minute bus trip on the Ventura Freeway, she also lobbies other passengers to protest, she said.
Senior Citizens' Meeting
In Westlake Village, senior citizens gathered Wednesday night to urge the City Council to help finance public transportation. The city has collected more than $190,000 over the past four years from the extra half-cent sales tax imposed in Los Angeles County under Proposition A, passed by voters in 1980 to fund transit projects.
Council members were asked to set up a dial-a-ride program in the five-square-mile city. A reasonably priced door-to-door transportation system is needed whether or not RTD buses continue to pass through Westlake Village, residents said.
"You have no idea what it's like not to drive until you don't drive," Elinor Gordon told the council. Gordon said she shops once a month when a nephew from Woodland Hills takes her to dinner then to the market.
"It cost me $8 to take a taxi to the dentist last week. The dentist brought me home," she said.
Although the RTD has asked cities to spend their Proposition A revenue to help finance the RTD, council members in Westlake Village have balked at the idea. They said Wednesday that they will decide in February or March where the money will go.
In Agoura Hills, Proposition A money is being spent on a $55,000-a-year dial-a-ride program, City Manager Michael Huse said. The weekday service, using taxicabs, offers 50-cent rides anywhere in the eight-square-mile city. It averages 1,600 riders a month, Huse said.
Huse said Thursday that it is unlikely his city will give the remaining $100,000 it receives yearly from Proposition A to help finance RTD Lines 161 and 423.
If Agoura Hills pulls out of the RTD, he said, the city probably will try to get for itself the estimated $600,000 its residents contribute to the RTD through various taxes.
"If we're not going to be served by a particular district, we should have our contributions returned," Huse said.
The RTD's Spivack, however, predicted that his agency would fight to prevent Agoura Hills and Westlake Village from pulling out of the district. He also said the agency probably would oppose an attempt by the cities to divert RTD funds.
Spivack said he knows of no city that has pulled out of the RTD, and is uncertain what Westlake Village and Agoura Hills would have to do to leave the district. "I know it can be done. But what happens to the money is a legislative decision," he said.
Instead of fighting the RTD, the two cities should join in discussions with the transit district about how to save Lines 161 and 423, he said.
"I'd encourage their community leaders, mayors and council persons to come to . . . meetings we've established to talk about service standards and policies--about minimum levels of service," Spivack said.
A Thousand Oaks official also suggested new discussions about public transit alternatives.
Carol Williams, head of Thousand Oaks' three-bus municipal transit system, said Thursday that she is anxious to meet with Westlake Village and Agoura Hills officials to discuss a possible regional bus system that would cross the Los Angeles-Ventura counties line to link all three cities.
"We met with Agoura Hills and Westlake a year ago, but they weren't interested in a regional program then," Williams said.
Now, she said, they might be very interested.