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MTA to Study Rail, Bus Route That Skirts Upscale Areas

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Bowing to intense opposition from Westside homeowner groups, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s board Thursday launched an environmental study of building either a busway or a light rail line from USC to Santa Monica.

However, the route the board voted to study would avoid upscale neighborhoods by veering off the Exposition Boulevard right of way the agency already owns.

In a major compromise that dramatically underscored the power of politically potent neighborhoods, the MTA board voted 11 to 1 to back a plan that would keep a future transit system from running on the right of way through affluent residential areas from Cheviot Hills west to the San Diego Freeway.

“Why punish ourselves on a route that has so many problems,” said MTA board member and county Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky. He acknowledged that the new route is a longer and less direct connection between downtown Los Angeles and the beach city, but said it would serve more people.

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Instead, the study will examine the environmental impact of a transit project that would run west from USC on Exposition Boulevard only as far as Venice and Robertson boulevards and then follow Venice all the way to Sepulveda Boulevard before turning north and then west again to rejoin the Exposition right of way to downtown Santa Monica.

“We are totally against light rail coming through our neighborhood,” said Stan Arcader, vice president of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners Assn. In a more detailed letter to the board members, association President Benjamin W. Cate vehemently opposed using the right of way for either light rail or bus transit. He said residents were concerned about safety, noise, pollution and negative impacts on schools and traffic patterns.

Those concerns were repeated by others who did not want any transit project in their backyard.

Transit advocates and Santa Monica officials called on the MTA board to analyze the use of the Exposition right of way through the neighborhoods. Santa Monica Councilwoman Pam O’Connor said that the right of way is a real resource and that the Westside needs major transportation improvements.

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But after hearing from many speakers, it was clear that backers of the original Exposition route were both outnumbered and outmaneuvered by opponents.

Indeed, only at the last minute did the board agree on a 7-5 vote to add a light rail line to the study, which otherwise would have been confined to a busway.

The board’s action authorizing the study of the revised Exposition route came just a month after MTA directors voted unanimously to proceed with environmental studies for a light rail line from Union Station to the less affluent Eastside, an exclusive busway on Wilshire Boulevard, and another busway across the San Fernando Valley.

The MTA board also asked planners to consider putting the busway or light rail line to the Westside underground as it passes in front of the USC campus.

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The agency’s chairwoman, county Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke, won backing to seek federal funds to study another bus rapid transit route, running north to south from Wilshire down Crenshaw Boulevard toward Los Angeles International Airport. “This agency should be out getting every penny it should get,” she said.

The atmosphere of late at MTA offices is a sharp change from January 1998, when the agency halted work on subway extensions to the Eastside and Mid-City areas, as well as transit planning in the Valley, because of financial problems.

But a strong economy and a bulging budget surplus in Sacramento have fueled expectations that funding for some of these long-sought transportation projects may become available. MTA wants to be ready if the hoped-for funding should become a reality.

The prospect of new money has created a climate in which MTA board members again are struggling to gain an advantage in securing transit projects for their districts.

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After meeting for hours, the board was reminded by Eric Mann, head of the Bus Riders Union, that it still has obligations under a landmark consent decree to reduce overcrowding and improve its bus service. And he questioned how the agency can appeal in federal court against a judge’s order to buy more buses while studying a series of costly new transit projects.

Members of the bus riders group unsuccessfully sought a six-month extension of express bus service from the San Fernando Valley to downtown Los Angeles to give passengers a choice after the Metro Rail subway opens to the Valley the weekend of June 24-25. But the board approved rerouting most of the Valley express buses to feed passengers to the subway.

There will be free rides on the subway system when the final 6.3 miles of rail line from Hollywood to Universal City and North Hollywood opens.

To coincide with the subway’s opening, the transit agency will launch its new red-and-white rapid buses with frequent service and limited stops from Warner Center across Ventura Boulevard to the Universal City subway station in the Valley, and along Wilshire and Whittier boulevards from Santa Monica to the Eastside.

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