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Rail Transit Plan OKd for Warner Center Expansion

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Under fire from a City Council member, developers and others, Los Angeles city officials confirmed Tuesday that they will include a proposed commuter rail line in plans to double the size of Warner Center.

“I was infuriated that the first traffic study did not contain mass transit” assumptions, said City Council member Joy Picus, who represents the Warner Center area.

The rail line--the so-called Canoga Avenue extension--could reduce the need for costly and widely unpopular elevated roadway improvements that had been proposed to support more development in the commercial complex.

It would also reduce the costs of “trip fees” charged to developers in order to deal with traffic from an expanded Warner Center.

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The recently unveiled, city-prepared Warner Center Specific Plan claimed elevated roadways would be needed to handle new traffic if the urban center were allowed to double in size by the year 2010.

But the raised roadway idea has drawn fire from homeowners and developers alike. “Elevated roadways? That scenario doesn’t exist,” Picus said recently. “Only over my dead body.”

“It was an unjustifiable failure,” said attorney George J. Mihlsten, a lobbyist for several of Warner Center’s largest landowners.

Last July, the city unveiled a 20-year plan for Warner Center to permit 26.8 million square feet of development in the 1,100-acre urban complex, or about 11.8 million more square footage than now exists.

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But accommodating the extra traffic connected with such growth would require construction of $1.3 billion in traffic improvements, including the controversial elevation of streets as they course through the center, so through-traffic would not clog local roadways.

To finance such improvements, developers would have to pay $14,990 for each daily car trip that their projects would generate. Builders have complained that the trip fee is so onerous it will doom any additional development.

T.K. Prime, a senior official in the city Department of Transportation, confirmed Tuesday that the city is now preparing to “re-run the traffic model to see what effect” transit alternatives such as the Canoga Avenue extension and Metro Rail might have on development.

Last week, Picus and her colleague councilman in the West Valley, Hal Bernson, began to put more flesh on one of these transit alternatives by urging city participation in the $23-million purchase of the Canoga Avenue extension railroad line.

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The rail line that Picus wants the city to help buy would connect Warner Center to the Chatsworth commuter rail station near Devonshire Street and Canoga Avenue.

The station is situated at the juncture of two Southern Pacific lines--the main one, running roughly east-west, has already been purchased by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission for a commuter line linking Simi Valley to downtown Los Angeles. The other rail line at this junction runs southward to Warner Center. The commission has already agreed to buy the segment of track between Chatsworth station and Sherman Way. And last week, Picus and Bernson introduced a motion to have the city join the county transportation commission in buying the line south from Sherman Way into Warner Center.

The extension is potentially “a significant asset to Warner Center--to reduce the traffic and reduce the trip fees,” Picus said.

“I think we can get 21 million square feet in Warner Center without requiring the elevated roadways, and if there’s mass transit then we can possibly go beyond that,” the councilwoman said. Warner Center now has 14.4 million square feet of commercial development.

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“I think the Canoga Avenue extension is a real easy one” to crank into the transit equation, said Assistant City Planning Director Robert Sutton. “The probability of it being purchased and working is real high--so it needs to be considered” as part of the Warner Center plan.

“We’d be glad to have mass transit connections to Warner Center,” Sutton said. “It’s an avenue for the plan to be responsive to the various needs of the city.”

More problematic is whether it would be appropriate to assume as well--during the upcoming rewrite of the traffic study--the completed construction of Metro Rail to Warner Center by the year 2010, Sutton said.

“We haven’t got enough information yet to be positive about Metro Rail reaching Warner Center by the year 2010"--the final year of the Warner Center plan, Sutton said.

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But Sutton said the Warner Center plan is generating “a new push for transit that’s helping us.”

There has “been a lot more interest in Metro Rail among developers and others” because of this plan, Prime agreed. “All along, it’s been largely a question of developing a political consensus about Metro Rail’s alignment in the Valley and whether it’s above or belowground. The big question is if the Warner Center debate can break this stalemate.”

Prime said neither a commuter rail link nor Metro Rail were assumed to exist in the city’s first Warner Center Specific Plan traffic study. “The information we had then was that we had no specific proposal for running trains along Canoga Avenue, nor did we assume Metro Rail would be ready by the year 2010,” Prime said. Now, such assumptions will be added into the traffic study, he said.


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