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Plan to Extend Metro Rail Gains Support : Business, Homeowner, Jewish Leaders Call It Acceptable Compromise

Times Staff Writer

Legislation that would force transit officials to extend the downtown-to-North Hollywood Metro Rail line partly underground through the east San Fernando Valley to Encino picked up support Thursday, but some opposition remains.

The Metro Rail plan, offered two months ago as an alternative to a controversial proposal to extend light rail across the Valley on the so-called Chandler-Victory route, was endorsed at a meeting in Van Nuys by Valley business leaders, two homeowner leaders and representatives of a North Hollywood orthodox Jewish community that fought all previous plans.

Those endorsing the plan said it did not give them all they wanted but was an acceptable compromise. But a leading opponent dismissed the plan as “divide-and-conquer legislation” that weakened homeowners along the route by splitting the opposition.

Because Metro Rail is far more costly than ground-level light rail, the plan’s sponsors, state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana) and Los Angeles City Councilman Marvin Braude, acknowledge that there will be only enough money to extend the line from North Hollywood to Encino.

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As a result, Robbins and Braude envision passengers traveling to the West Valley and transferring to express buses at a station that would be built in the Sepulveda Basin.

One Voice

Robbins, who has spent weeks drumming up support for the plan, said: “For the first time in years, much of the Valley is speaking with one voice on the question of rail. We should be able to move swiftly with this bill.”

The Robbins-Braude plan utilizes the Southern Pacific railroad right of way that follows Chandler Boulevard, Oxnard Street and Victory Boulevard between North Hollywood and Encino.

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Much of the remaining opposition centers on the fact that while the plan would require that the top of the subway tunnel be at least 25 feet below ground between Laurel Canyon Boulevard and Woodman Avenue, it would allow transit officials more leeway elsewhere.

Between the Hollywood Freeway and Laurel Canyon and between Woodman and Hazeltine Avenue, the trains must be below ground but there would be no depth requirement and the line could be covered only by a grate.

Tom Paterson, president of the Valley Village Homeowners Assn., said that while homeowners, synagogues and orthodox Jewish community centers between Laurel Canyon and Woodman would be protected from noise and ground vibrations, “other areas are also residential, and they would be treated as second-class citizens.”

Tom Herman, who heads the Eastern Sector Transit Coalition, which has organized crowds of opponents at hearings on Valley rail proposals, said: “We see no reason why the entire route should not be a deep-bore subway.”

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But Kurt Hunter, president of the North Hollywood Homeowner Assn. and one of those endorsing the Robbins-Braude plan Thursday, said: “At some point, you have to take the best deal you can get and get this much-needed project going.”

In the same vein, David Fleming, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn., said his group would like to see a line that goes all the way to fast-growing Warner Center, but “all of us here today are saying that we are willing to settle for the possible. I think this is an historic occasion.”

Also remaining opposed is the Western Sector Transit Coalition, a well-organized group of homeowners living west of Encino, along the Southern Pacific route in Reseda and Woodland Hills, where the tracks follow Topham Street and Victory Boulevard.

The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, which is building a countywide network of rail lines, has determined that there is a strong need for an east-west line in the Valley. Commissioners have indicated a willingness to build the line along any feasible route that meets widespread support in the Valley.

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