COMPTON — In a move that could block construction of the $675-million Los Angeles-to-Long Beach trolley, a divided City Council on Tuesday endorsed a plan that would allow the light-rail line to run through downtown Compton only if it is placed in a costly trench below street level.
The proposal approved by the council, 3 to 2, has been rejected by the staff of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, the agency directing the 22-mile trolley project, as unfeasible because it would add at least $130 million to construction costs.
Transportation Commission chairwoman Jacki Bacharach, attending the council meeting to plead her agency's case, said the vote could kill the project, which has been approved by Los Angeles and Long Beach, the other two cities through which it would run. The commission could turn to alternate routes to the southern end of the county.
However, officials for both the Transportation Commission and the city said they would continue to try to reach a compromise that would save the trolley line.
'Continue to Negotiate'
"We'll continue to negotiate," said Councilman Robert Adams Sr., who joined Floyd James in voting against the council majority. "They (the majority) seem to think they can use this vote for more leverage."
The council majority--Mayor Walter Tucker and council members Maxcy Filer and Jane Robbins--said it also favored the trolley system but could wait for it until there is enough money to lower the tracks through Compton.
Filer said he wanted the rail line lowered because six-foot chain-link fences required on both sides of the commuter train if it is built at street level--as proposed by county planners--would divide the city into east and west, much as it was split two decades ago along racial lines.
"I am in favor of the light rail," said Filer, "but I think we are destroying not only downtown Compton but the entire city of Compton."
Robbins, who insisted that the Transportation Commission guarantee that an existing private freight-train line be moved from the proposed light-rail route, predicted that "we may have to wait for some years, but we'll get the light rail."
Rick Richmond, executive director of the Transportation Commission, said, however, that it could be decades before the county, which has plans for six other alternate "high priority" rail projects, again considers a rapid transit route through Compton.
"If they're saying this is the only way this project can be done in Compton, I doubt if the commission will approve the project," he said.
One of the alternate routes would bring the trolley south from Los Angeles as planned then, rather than going through Compton, run west along the Century Freeway route to the Harbor Freeway and then south to San Pedro. Richmond said that a Los Angeles-to-Long Beach trolley could be built without going through Compton, but such a route has not been identified or studied.
City Manager Laverta Montgomery, a backer of the trolley system as a way to "showcase" a rebuilding Compton, said she will keep trying to arrange a compromise that will bring the line through this city.
Three Hours of Debate
The split vote ended three hours of council debate in closed session and in public about the best way to build the rail system but also make sure Compton's interests are protected. All council members said they favored the trolley line in concept.
In the end, the council opted for lowering the rail line, a position it has repeatedly returned to in more than two years of negotiation with light-rail planners.
"We just lost our light rail . . . (and) we need it more than anything," said Councilman Floyd James after the vote.
Immediately after the council vote, Montgomery's representative, Planning Director Robert Gavin, asked Bacharach and Richmond if they would meet again with the city manager.
"Maybe we can get them (the council) to recognize what they've done," Gavin told the county officials, who said they would continue to meet with Compton officials to see if an accord could be reached.
The Transportation Commission was scheduled to select a final light-rail route at a meeting Wednesday afternoon, but Bacharach said the Compton decision could delay that vote. Plans were to start construction in October.
The commission staff recommended in November that the commuter line be laid at street level along Willowbrook Avenue through the heart of the city's business district.
The two-car electric trains would run every 10 minutes and, like automobiles, stop at traffic signals.
The commission staff also recommended that freight trains continue to run at street level along Willowbrook just east of the Civic Center, at least for now.
The continued presence of the noisy and traffic-blocking freight trains on Willowbrook was the provision that most upset the City Council.
"We do want the trolley," said Tucker. "The trolley is a necessity. Our quarrel is with the freights."