Too Many New Jobs Portend South Bay Gridlock : Housing Unlikely to Keep Pace, Forcing Longer Commuting

Times Staff Writer

Light-rail trains, car-pool lanes, busways and the Century Freeway are all part of the South Bay's transportation future.

So is gridlock.

Despite major transportation improvements, planners predict that traffic congestion will worsen in the next two decades as the combination of a shortage of housing and a bounty of new jobs forces longer and longer commuting to work.

Unless that imbalance of housing and jobs is corrected, freeway traffic will slow to a crawl--a daytime average of 15 m.p.h. in the year 2010--and the quality of life in the South Bay and throughout the entire Los Angeles region will suffer dramatically.

'Horrendous Prospects'

That bleak view was sketched Tuesday at a Torrance transportation forum sponsored by the South Bay Assn. of Chambers of Commerce.

"Our prospects for transportation . . . are just horrendous," said Frank E. Hotchkiss, director of regional strategic planning for the Southern California Assn. of Governments.

Jacki Bacharach, a Rancho Palos Verdes councilwoman and member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, agreed, "It's not a pretty picture."

In an interview later, Hotchkiss said: "We're heading into a total breakdown of the system. It's really going to take extraordinary cooperation and extraordinary measures to work our way through this."

He said computer projections show that growth throughout the Los Angeles metropolitan area during the next 22 years could lead to a tenfold increase in traffic congestion, primarily because "the housing is going where the jobs aren't."

While most of the population growth will occur inland, the projections show that the South Bay and Santa Monica Bay area, from the edge of Long Beach to Pacific Palisades, will add 253,000 new residents by 2010, a 19.5% increase from the 1984 population of 1.3 million.

At the same time, the area will see an increase of 300,000 new jobs, a 39.5% gain from 759,000 jobs in 1984. This sharp projected increase would greatly aggravate the job-housing imbalance.

Hotchkiss suggested that local governments might want to concentrate less on increasing jobs and more on encouraging housing.

"It makes sense for the South Bay to modulate that employment growth to keep things really livable there and cut down on the regional commute," he said.

Hotchkiss had tough words for the audience of more than 70 business and community leaders, representing chambers of commerce from Westchester to Long Beach, whose main goal is expanding business.

"We can't have growth if we keep compounding the traffic problems in our communities," he said.

But efforts to control growth may not be successful because of rising birthrates among new immigrant families and the economic vitality of the region, which keeps generating new jobs.

"We don't believe that growth can be stopped," Hotchkiss said. Instead, the answer lies in a closer link between jobs and housing and better use of transportation facilities, he said. Such improvements would include road improvements, more rail and bus lines, freeway on-ramp meters, car-pool lanes, changes in work hours and workweeks, and incentives to get people out of their cars.

A representative of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, John Dunlap, noted that the smog control agency has decided to require major employers to offer incentives to encourage employees to use mass transit, car pools or van pools.

One idea was turned aside by Bill Britcil of the El Segundo Employers Assn., who said that aerospace companies are not ready to charge their employees for parking because workers view free parking as sacred--"kind of like mortgage-interest deductions."

A Hughes Aircraft representative said that charging workers to park would be "an employee relations disaster."

Instead, Britcil said, the association's membership--which includes aerospace firms with the largest concentration of jobs outside the downtown Los Angeles area--favor road and transit improvements.

Councilwoman Bacharach said the South Bay is better off than many areas because business groups and elected officials have pressed for transportation projects such as the Century Freeway, the Harbor Freeway busway, an exclusive car-pool lane on the San Diego Freeway, and light-rail lines.

The forthcoming Century Freeway, from Norwalk to the eastern edge of Los Angeles International Airport, will be finished by 1993 with the small portion west of the San Diego Freeway open earlier, she said.

Bacharach said the route will be "the 21st Century-model freeway" with three traffic lanes in each direction, a high-occupancy vehicle or car-pool lane, and a light-rail line down the center.

She painted a glowing picture of light rail crisscrossing the South Bay. Already, plans call for extending the Century Freeway light-rail line three miles beyond the road's end to the El Segundo aerospace employment center.

Future extensions could be built north to LAX and Marina del Rey, or south through Redondo Beach to Hawthorne Boulevard through Torrance, she said.

With San Fernando Valley leaders uncertain about their transit plans, Bacharach said that the South Bay has an opportunity to compete for $700 million in local transportation funds that will become available in the early 1990s.

However, she went on to say that a committee composed of South Bay cities has not discussed the light-rail line or preparation of a required preliminary environmental-impact statement for months. Leadership on the issue must come from Redondo Beach and Torrance, she said, adding:.

"Now is the time for these very key cities to say that they are interested."

Council Dissatisfied

At their meeting Tuesday night, Torrance City Council members were miffed both by the suggestion that they were not moving on light rail and by the failure of their staff to inform them of the forum, which was held at the Holiday Inn less than a mile from City Hall. A staff member was at the forum but did not participate.

While the city has been generally supportive of the concept of light rail, Mayor Katy Geissert suggested that transportation planners were being "just a little heavy-handed" in pressing for swift action on the environmental impact statement.

City Councilman Bill Applegate objected to any rail line that would end near Hawthorne Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway in south Torrance. "I'm not going to become a parking lot for the Palos Verdes Peninsula," he said.

The transportation forum ended after a speech by Rep. Glenn Anderson (D-Long Beach). When the panelists and audience departed, they unconsciously illustrated the difficulties of getting people to change their driving habits. Virtually all of them ignored the two bus lines that serve the hotel, and most left, one to a car.

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