LONG BEACH — Faced with recommendations from city and county staff members as well as intense pressure from merchants' and civic groups, the City Council is scheduled Tuesday to endorse a route for the Long Beach section of a proposed Los Angeles-to-Long Beach trolley.
The choices have been narrowed to a route along Long Beach Boulevard in the central part of town or to one along the Los Angeles River on the west side, with an elevated extension passing through the World Trade Center and ending near City Hall.
The placement of the tracks is widely seen as an important influence on the future of downtown Long Beach, which the city government has been rebuilding for nearly a decade.
In interviews during the past week, council members have indicated there is a growing consensus for the Long Beach Boulevard route, though most have not yet committed their votes.
The council's endorsement will be a major factor in the final decision by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission on whether and where to build the 22.5-mile system, which would run from Long Beach through the Compton and the Florence-Willowbrook area to downtown Los Angeles. The commission is slated to choose the route March 27, after public hearings March 25 and 27.
"It's not a legal requirement" for the Transportation Commission to conform to the City Council's selection, "but as a practical matter, you can't build one of these things in a city unless the city wants you to build it where you plan to build it," said Dan Caufield, the commission's project manager for the trolley, officially called "light rail."
The Los Angeles City Council approved the route recommended by the commission staff. In Compton, council members have indicated they will go along with the commission staff's choice if nearby freight trains can be rerouted, Caufield said.
If the commission decides to build the trolley line, it will be financed by Proposition A, the half-cent sales tax increase approved by county voters in 1980. Construction would start in the fall, and the system is expected to be operating by 1989.
The city staff's first choice is the river route, City Manager John Dever said Thursday. The staff of the county Transportation Commission, which would build and operate the trolley, has recommended the boulevard route.
"There's no easy decision to make when it has so much impact on the future of the city," said Councilman Marc Wilder, who represents the downtown 1st District and is "leaning toward" the boulevard route. "There's so much information being laid out in front of us, and there is no perfect solution," he said.
Where to place the tracks has been a controversial matter in Long Beach for two years. Several proposals for routes along Atlantic Avenue were scuttled after objections from angry residents. Both the Long Beach Boulevard route and the river route were dismissed and then resurrected.
Auto dealers and other merchants along the boulevard favor the river route, saying the trolley on their street would disrupt business and choke traffic. Residents of the Wrigley District near the river favor the boulevard, because they are upset over potential destruction of homes, noise and dust and decreasing property values.
On Wednesday, the county staff recommended the boulevard route because it would cost less to build and operate than a route along the Los Angeles River, while serving about the same number of riders.
Land acquisition and construction along the boulevard would cost $47.5 million, while the river route would cost $57.1 million, said Robin McCarthy, a commission spokeswoman. Yearly operating costs would be $8.4 million for the boulevard and $8.5 million for the river route.
Caufield added that the boulevard route's central location would allow more people to reach trolley stops by walking or taking a short bus ride. Though the trolley time from Long Beach to Los Angeles would be about six minutes longer than on the river route, "commute time relates to the time you have to leave your house to get to work," Caufield said. "This is actually superior."
The city staff's preference for the river route is based on "a difference in philosophy," Dever said Thursday.
"What the county staff is doing is trying to minimize their expenditures," he said. "But the amount of money saved isn't really that much when you look at the total cost." Estimates range from $400 million to $500 million for the whole system.
If the trolley system is converted in the future to a faster type of train service, Dever said, "along the river route, you won't have to disrupt the whole city."
'A Policy Question'
"It depends whether you're talking about a local route" with service within Long Beach as well as to Los Angeles "or a commuter route that ties together the work centers" in both downtowns, Dever said. "It's strictly a policy question that the council will have to decide."