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Valley Transit Routes : Another ‘Final’ Rail Showdown

Times Staff Writer

In five years of study and debate over a San Fernando Valley rail line, there have been several showdown meetings to determine the routes, once and for all.

But each time a decision was made, the issue was later scrambled through the lobbying of one of the contending parties in this long-running controversy.

On Wednesday, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission has scheduled still another such “final” meeting.

Ostensibly, commissioners are meeting to consider mid-course corrections to an engineering and environmental study of cross-Valley route options.

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But the commission staff has warned that the proposed changes could delay the study so long that the Valley could lose its place in line for a rail system.

Competing Projects

Commission Chairwoman Christine E. Reed said that since a consensus on a rail route for the Valley might be impossible to achieve at this time, the commission should consider committing its available funds to two competing projects--a downtown-to-Pasadena light-rail line and a northern extension of the Century Freeway light-rail line already under construction.

“It may be necessary for the Valley to wait until after the turn of the century to get a rail line,” said Reed, who also is a Santa Monica councilwoman.

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Some local elected officials, noting the Valley’s political clout in Sacramento and among Los Angeles City Council members, have scoffed at warnings that the Valley might be dropped from consideration.

Nonetheless, the warnings have touched off a storm of organizing activity by rail proponents--mostly business groups, civic organizations and a few homeowner leaders.

Hoping to pressure the commissioners into keeping the study process on track, chambers of commerce and other groups are providing bus transportation to the 1:30 p.m. session in the Board of Supervisors hearing room.

Homeowner Leaders

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The show of force by proponents is being countered by homeowner leaders, who in recent years have formed three formidable coalitions to fight the proposed intrusion of rail into residential neighborhoods.

Opponents say that they would favor a line that completely avoids single-family areas, and they have turned out as many as 700 people at past hearings in the Valley.

Since this session is downtown, “far fewer are expected,” said Encino homeowner leader Gerald A. Silver, a founder of the Coalition of Freeway Residents, which is fighting a proposed Ventura Freeway line.

However, Silver said the coalition, which was formed by six south Valley homeowner organizations, has recently expanded its mailing list and has sent pamphlets to 4,300 people who live or own property near the Ventura Freeway, urging them to protest at the meeting.

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Opposition has been building since September, when the commission voted to restart the $2.1-million environmental study it had interrupted one year earlier in the face of angry protests from affected homeowners.

Routes Being Studied

Routes under consideration in the study are the Ventura Freeway right of way from the planned Universal City Metro Rail station to Warner Center in Woodland Hills and a Southern Pacific railroad freight right of way that roughly parallels Chandler and Victory boulevards between Metro Rail’s northern terminus on Lankershim Boulevard in North Hollywood and Warner Center.

The commission voted to study the freeway route as a ground-level or elevated Metro Rail extension, and to study the Chandler-Victory route in three configurations--as an all-subway Metro Rail extension, as a Metro Rail extension in a deep trench through residential areas and elevated through commercial areas or as a light-rail line placed in a shallow trench in residential areas.

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Making the 15-mile, cross-Valley line a light-rail system, which would have about one-third of the capacity of the faster and costlier Metro Rail, would require passengers to change trains in North Hollywood to get to Hollywood or downtown.

On the other hand, transit planners say that light rail might provide all the capacity the Valley needs and that it could be built for the $800 million the commission expects to have over the next 11 years to build additional rails systems.

Cost Estimates

Preliminary cost estimates for other Valley options are $1.3 billion for the freeway elevated line and as much as $2 billion for an all-subway line.

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When the Valley study, which is required by state environmental law, was restarted in September, it was expected to be completed by October and to serve as a basis for picking a route and a technology.

But in January the staff recommended changes and the Valley study has since been slipping behind.

Most of the changes originated with the office of the Los Angeles City Council’s chief legislative analyst, which contends that the commission’s September action misinterpreted the council’s wishes.

While the commission, which is composed of the five county supervisors plus council members from several cities, has the final say in route selection, its practice has been to obtain approval from affected cities.

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Recommended Changes

The recommended changes include adding as an option the construction of a Metro Rail extension only as far west as the Sepulveda Basin, with completion to Warner Center after funds become available in the next century.

Also, a light-rail line in a shallow trench should be dropped from consideration because it was not what the council had in mind when it endorsed the Chandler-Victory line provided the impact on homeowners was minimized, the legislative analyst’s office said.

Another recommended change is to study the freeway as a light-rail line. It would use the same computer-controlled system--but without unsightly overhead power lines--that is being employed on the Century Freeway and will be used on the Coast line when it is ultimately extended north past Los Angeles International Airport to the north Valley.

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When the commission’s four-member Transit Committee took up the changes last month, protesters were there in force.

After the committee voted to recommend that any line along the freeway be subway in residential areas and that magnetic-levitation and monorail technology also be studied, staff members warned that such changes would substantially delay the Valley study.

Similar Studies

Similar studies of the proposed Pasadena line and the proposed Century Freeway line extension north to Marina del Rey will be finished by June.

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Richard Stanger, commission rail development director, noting that both competing projects have widespread local support and virtually no opposition, predicts that commissioners “will come under severe pressure to move ahead on one or both of those rather than wait for the Valley.”

In past hearings, homeowner opponents have argued that trains, running as frequently as every three minutes, would bring intolerable noise, traffic congestion and ground vibrations to their neighborhoods. They complain that even if a line is a subway, the stations, situated every mile, would bring many of the same problems as would above-ground trains.

Proponents argue that no route completely avoids residential neighborhoods, but that trenching or placing the line underground will eliminate all or most of the noise.

They also have argued that public opinion polls have shown wide support for a cross-Valley line, whether it is on the freeway or the Chandler-Victory corridor.

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Assemblyman Richard Katz (D-Sylmar) is among those who think the Valley has the political leverage in Sacramento to edge out the two competing lines.

Noting that the commission regularly needs legislation approved in Sacramento, Katz, chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said commissioners “know that my response to any request from them will be conditioned by how they treat the Valley rail line.”


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