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L.B. Light Rail : Council to Look Again at Route

October 19, 1986|RALPH CIPRIANO | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — More than a year after they had apparently settled the issue, City Council members have decided to take a second look at plans for a Los Angeles-to-Long Beach light rail line that is already under construction.

On Oct. 28, council members will meet to review plans for the $685-million project, amid warnings from a county official and some council members that any significant changes in the plans could jeopardize Long Beach's participation in the commuter rail line.

The decision to review plans for the light rail was made after council members clashed publicly over the project at a council meeting last week.

Congressman's Relative

At that meeting, council members Edd Tuttle and Warren Harwood accused council colleague Evan Anderson Braude of holding a private meeting on the light rail with Braude's stepfather, Rep. Glenn M. Anderson (D-Harbor City), and city and county officials. The purpose of that meeting, Harwood said in an interview last week, was an attempt by Braude to alter the rail line's proposed route along Long Beach Boulevard.

Tuttle said that if the light rail plans need to be changed, it should be discussed publicly. "I don't think we need to have these decisions made in the back room somewhere without the possibility of public input," said Tuttle, who is a member of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

Braude, however, denied holding the private meeting that Tuttle had referred to as "subterfuge." Braude told fellow council members that he had merely held an informational session with city and county officials after he received "an inquiry from a particular congressman that I'm familiar with," referring to Anderson.

Braude then apologized to Tuttle and said he had not meant to deliberately exclude other council members from attending the session. (Only one other council member, Ray Grabinski, attended the July meeting.)

While Braude said he supports the project, he told council members that he has some reservations about the rail line's proposed route, and that he favors "some minor modifications of the plan."

Anderson could not be reached for comment.

In March, 1985, after two years of debate, the council voted 6-3 to have the light rail line run to downtown along Long Beach Boulevard rather than an alternate route beside the Los Angeles River. Auto dealers and other business people along Long Beach Boulevard had complained unsuccessfully that a boulevard track would cause traffic jams detrimental to their businesses.

A county transportation official said last week that county officials would not welcome any changes in the rail route at a time when they are in the process of awarding construction contracts.

"If they (council members) are talking about changing the alignment of the light rail, the commission is not going to go ahead and say, 'Sure, let's change the alignment,' " said Jacki Bacharach, chairman of the commission's construction committee.

Chance to Ask Questions

Bacharach, however, said the Oct. 28 meeting could serve a positive function by giving the council's three new members--Braude, Grabinski and Clarence Smith--a chance to ask questions about the project.

"The new council members have districts along the right of way, and they need to ask these questions and they need to ask them now," Bacharach said.

Braude, however, appears to be the only new council member who has reservations about the light rail's planned route.

In interviews last week, Smith said he has "no problems" with the planned route along Long Beach Boulevard, and Grabinski said he also approves.

At last week's council meeting, several members expressed concern that any changes in the route would prompt county transportation officials to drop Long Beach from the project.

"We could lose the light rail if we monkey around with it," Harwood said.

Added Councilwoman Jan Hall: "We have a big stake in this rail line and I do not want to see it go down in flames."

Hall, however, clashed with Tuttle during Tuesday's meeting about whether the light rail should be built over downtown city streets to alleviate traffic problems. During the meeting, Hall said she believes an elevated light rail line could be built for the same price as the current surface rail plans.

Tuttle, however, said that an elevated system would be much more expensive. He told Hall she was "comparing apples to oranges" and challenged the council member to prove her contention at the Oct. 28 meeting. Hall, who serves as president of the Rapid Transit District Board of Directors, said she would.

In an interview, Bacharach sided with Tuttle. She said Hall's contention was "ludicrous" because an elevated system would cost twice as much as the present $685-million project.

Letter Threatens Suit

Tuttle also complained last week about poor communication between city and county officials concerning the light rail. Tuttle said he did not know that a member of City Manager John Dever's staff had written a letter to the county Transportation Commission threatening a lawsuit if the commission did not submit design plans to the council for approval, as required by contract. Tuttle said it was "a very awkward situation" for him when he learned about the letter from another member of the county Transportation Commission.

Dever said the staff's intent was merely to remind the commission of its contractual duties and to keep the City Council up to date on the projects.

The Oct. 28 meeting to discuss the light rail is scheduled for 4 p.m. at Hughes Junior High School. The meeting will be open to the public.

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