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Forum on 101 Widening Draws Crowd

Times Staff Writer

John Ashby was filled with misgivings when he first heard about a proposal to widen the 101 Freeway.

On Thursday night after examining large California Department of Transportation aerial photographs with superimposed lines showing the likely impact of the freeway expansion, his misgivings gave way to anger.

“There’s a new street through my living room, according to the pictures,” said Ashby, a 48-year-old Woodland Hills attorney. “This project is pure insanity.”

Ashby and more than 80 others, many of them anxious homeowners, had come to a Caltrans meeting in Calabasas to learn more about a $3.4-billion proposal to widen the Ventura Freeway by at least two carpool lanes in each direction, from Thousand Oaks to Studio City.

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Not everyone was upset. Michael Schaaf, a Hidden Hills real estate consultant, pointed to a speck on the map, with a red line through it. “That’s my house ... these are all multimillion-dollar homes,” Schaaf said. But if it has to go to make way for the freeway, he said, so be it.

“We’re way under-freewayed,” he said. “There’s a price for anything that’s positive.”

The widening would save drivers a cumulative 78,000 hours a day. But it also could affect 545 acres of adjacent property, including about 780 homes and apartments, 250 commercial buildings, 27 schools and churches and eight parks and recreation areas, according to Caltrans estimates.

Any freeway widening could be years from approval and funding, especially in light of the current state budget crisis. But the prospect of a wider Ventura Freeway already has generated strong reaction on both sides.

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This week, Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn and state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica) expressed support, saying the corridor, already one of the busiest in the state, needs more capacity to serve the growing region. But opponents, including U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, note the high cost and the prospect of destroying homes and businesses in Valley communities along the freeway.

The proposal, announced last week by a group of transportation planners, also calls for adding a regular lane to western portions of the freeway, from Topanga Canyon Boulevard to Thousand Oaks, which now have only four lanes in each direction.

While the proposal includes public transit improvements, some residents wondered why more couldn’t be done. Premila Mandyam, a 65-year-old claims adjuster who lives in Agoura Hills, said she would rather see all $3.4 billion earmarked for a subway or monorail.

At a meeting in Hollywood earlier this week, some residents expressed relief that their segment of the 101, between Universal City and downtown, is not being recommended for widening. But they also criticized the project as an unfair subsidy that would benefit only people in Ventura County and cities such as Calabasas and Agoura Hills who commute to Los Angeles.

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On Thursday, some local officials rebutted those complaints.

“The Ventura Freeway is not a one-way street,” said Jeff Reinhardt, mayor of Agoura Hills and a member of the transportation committee of the Southern California Assn. of Governments. “There’s a two-way commuting pattern. We’re seeing a large number of people from the valley ... even Lancaster and Santa Clarita coming to Agoura Hills, Thousand Oaks to work.”

Improving the 101 “is for the entire Valley,” Reinhardt said. “It’s enhancing the mobility of people across this Valley.”

Calabasas Councilman Dennis Washburn said, “We’re all in the same canoe. All the segments are suffering.”

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The proposal will be discussed on May 23 by a steering committee of elected officials and representatives from transportation agencies, who will decide what to forward to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board for a vote.

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Another community meeting on the 101 will be held Monday at Valley Beth Shalom Temple, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino.


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