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Debate on Light Rail and Its Route Heats Up : Transit: Some critics don’t want Blue Line-type cars to connect Santa Monica with downtown Los Angeles. Others object to running it along Exposition Boulevard.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The way Darrell R. Clarke sees it, the Westside is long overdue for a light-rail transit system. Clarke’s citizens group, Exposition Rail Committee, says the area has the population to support such a line.

But for Sara Berman, who represents several thousand homeowners in Rancho Park and Cheviot Hills, light rail spells more noise, congestion, and an outright threat to residential property values.

Clarke and Berman are on opposite sides of an ongoing public debate over a proposal to build a light-rail line on the railroad right of way that runs along Exposition Boulevard from Santa Monica to Exposition Park near the Los Angeles Coliseum.

That debate heated up once again last Wednesday night when county transportation officials introduced a variety of transit options and routes to residents as part of a six-month preliminary planning study. Although light rail was but one of several options discussed during three community meetings, it appeared to generate the most controversy.

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Many opponents of light rail insist that it will reach too few people if it follows the existing right of way, which travels through light industrial sections of Santa Monica. The opponents, backed by Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky, also have questioned whether residents will flock to park-and-ride lots near the proposed line.

“We do not believe there is enough ridership along the right of way to warrant a rail line,” said Berman, president of the West of Westwood Homeowners Assn., at the meeting attended by about 200 people at Hamilton High School. “If Los Angeles is going to be liveable, we need mass transit that reaches the maximum number of people.”

The Los Angeles County Transportation Commission indicated late last month that it intended to provide money to build a public transit system on the right of way. Steve Lanz, Westside area director for the transportation commission, said that forms of mass transit other than light rail, including electrified trolley buses and a transit-way for car-pools and van-pools, also are being considered. In addition, transportation officials are studying four alternate routes, three of which bypass the Rancho Park-Cheviot Hills area.

Many homeowners support an alternate route that veers south from the right of way at Robertson Boulevard down Venice Boulevard. They also favor the use of electric trolley buses.

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Many of those who oppose the light rail say their views have not been taken into account.

“Is this a done deal?” asked Elizabeth Roth, a Cheviot Hills homeowner. “I don’t know. But we think the cards are stacked in favor of light rail sitting atop the right of way.”

Lanz said that any decision will be based on public input and on a planning study over the next several months. Transportation officials will probably make a decision on the type of transportation and the route by January. Another series of community meetings will be held at that time.

Supporters of the light-rail proposal believe it is the only viable solution to the Westside’s growing transportation needs. They recalled that three transit-funding propositions have passed decisively in recent elections. And they note that Santa Monica city officials already favor a light-rail link with downtown Los Angeles via the Exposition line.

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The Exposition Rail Committee also found that the Westside has the second highest population density--12,800 per square mile--of all rail routes in Los Angeles County. Only the area along Red Line Metro Rail route in Hollywood has a higher density. Supporters also point to the apparent success of the Blue Line, which runs from Long Beach to downtown. More than 30,000 commuters use the Blue Line light rail, up from about 6,000 when it started operating last year, according to the rail committee.


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