Santa Monica to Buy Site Next to Proposed Rail Line

Times Staff Writer

Santa Monica city officials have evened the score in a continuing behind-the-scenes fight with Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky over a future light-rail line along Exposition Boulevard.

The Santa Monica City Council agreed Tuesday to buy a nine-acre site next to the proposed rail route in Santa Monica for $17.2 million. The purchase comes a month after the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission--at Yaroslavsky's urging--decided in executive session not to open negotiations with Southern Pacific Transportation Co.

Although the commission opted not to purchase the site, in an industrial area north of Michigan Avenue between 26th Street and Stewart Avenue, it decided to help Santa Monica buy the land. The commission plans to lend Santa Monica 40% of the purchase price, or about $6.9 million. The city will come up with the $10.3 million balance from its Proposition A transportation monies, which come from an additional half-cent in Los Angeles County's sales tax. The pay-back period and interest rate for the commission loan are to be determined.

Keeps Prospects Open

Transportation Commissioner Christine Reed, who is also a Santa Monica councilwoman, said the purchase by Santa Monica keeps open the prospects of an Exposition Boulevard light-rail route and lessens the potential for political repercussions.

Mayor Dennis Zane, who, with Reed, has led the city's efforts in promoting the Exposition line, tried to downplay the friction between Santa Monica and Yaroslavsky.

"The purpose is to keep open the possibility of a transit system on the (Exposition) corridor," Zane said. "We have no interest in getting back at Zev in any fashion. We hold him in high esteem. We have a difference of opinion in this issue, but we have no spat with him."

Yaroslavsky was out of town, but his chief deputy, Alisa Katz, said she was concerned about the way the sale was completed.

"It appears to us that this is a back-door approach to do something that they could not do through the front door," Katz said.

"We are very concerned about this. It is a deal that was done quickly and quietly without much public input. We are very concerned that the purchase of this parcel with Prop A rail funds prejudices future decisions on this parcel and the Exposition right-of-way. We remain opposed to the purchase of the Exposition right of way."

Southern Pacific in May offered to sell 76.5 miles of railroad right of way in the Los Angeles area to public agencies for transportation purposes. Southern Pacific had set today as the deadline for public agencies to have priority in acquiring the Exposition Boulevard site.

The 14-mile Exposition Boulevard line runs from Santa Monica to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC area. The Exposition route would connect there with the Los Angeles-Long Beach light-rail line already under construction.

Yaroslavsky, responding to homeowner concerns in parts of his West Los Angeles council district, has objected strongly to both the route and the aggressiveness with which Santa Monica has pursued the Exposition rail line.

Santa Monica officials have taken the lead in promoting electric streetcars for the route, contending that a streetcar line would be cheaper and quicker than extending the underground Metro Rail system, which Yaroslavsky favors.

If the transportation commission decides to use the Exposition line for light rail, the property will be used as a storage and maintenance yard, Santa Monica City Manager John Jalili said. If the rail line is not approved, the land could be sold for private development, he said.

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