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Many Praise Switch in Light-Rail Plan : Business Leaders, However, Strive to Reverse Transit Officials' Halt on Routes Study

November 20, 1987|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer

Despite predictions of worsening traffic in the 1990s, most homeowner leaders and elected officials contacted Thursday cheered a surprise move by transit officials to halt consideration of light rail in the San Fernando Valley.

Business leaders, on the other hand, condemned the decision and vowed to seek a reversal. One said the day it was handed down would be remembered as "Black Wednesday."

And several elected officials said the commission's vote was an inevitable result of the public's limited support of light rail.

The 8-1 vote by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission on Wednesday abruptly ended more than a year of intense quarreling over which east-west route, if any, should be selected for a Valley light-rail line.

Exasperated commissioners, who are building a countywide network of light-rail lines, said they would instead spend trolley funds in areas that want light rail. However, they left open the possibility of reconsideration in the next year or two if Valley elected officials propose a route that has widespread support.

Among Valley elected officials who praised Wednesday's decision were Los Angeles City Council members Zev Yaroslavsky, Joy Picus and Hal Bernson and state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Van Nuys).

And Councilman Michael Woo, who is a voting member of the commission but was attending a council committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, said he "probably would have voted with the majority" if he had been there.

"The problem is, there is strong opposition to every route and very weak support for any of the routes or even for light rail," Woo said.

The Valley trolley line was defeated, at least for now, by an uneasy coalition of residents living along the five proposed routes and by established homeowner organizations, which rallied against a light rail with the argument that a rail line would permit more intensive development.

Blight Feared

Although they welcomed help from homeowner leaders bent on slowing growth, the residents along the proposed routes attacked light rail chiefly on the ground that it would bring noise, congestion and visual blight to their neighborhoods.

To those who contend that the homeowner opponents do not represent the growing number of apartment dwellers in the Valley, Picus said, "In my mail, and even at community meetings, I could detect little or no support for light rail, although there certainly was opposition."

Routes under study were: along the Ventura Freeway; along the Los Angeles River; beginning in North Hollywood, following Chandler Boulevard and Oxnard Street east of the San Diego Freeway and then largely following Victory Boulevard west to Warner Center; largely following Victory Boulevard the length of the Valley; along the Southern Pacific railroad main line, which runs diagonally across the Valley connecting North Hollywood to Chatsworth.

Although each route drew some vocal opposition, the Chandler-Victory and Victory routes, both of which traverse long-established single-family neighborhoods, drew the most wrath.

However, they also were the two most popular routes with business leaders because they were to connect Warner Center, a booming commercial area, with the northern terminus of the Metro Rail subway in North Hollywood.

Bernson, who represents the northwest Valley, said he viewed the commission vote as an opportunity to promote construction of an upper deck on the Ventura and Hollywood freeways that would incorporate a light-rail line in the design.

The upper-deck plan was endorsed in September by the San Fernando Valley Area Transportation Study Committee, an advisory group of 50 officials created by the Legislature to propose solutions to the Valley's traffic problems.

The committee was created in response to a 1983 study by the Southern California Assn. of Governments, which concluded that the Valley faces worse congestion by the turn of the century than any other area in the region.

Robbins, though he praised the vote on light rail, downplayed its significance. The vote could turn out to be insignificant, he said, if he succeeds in merging the commission and the Southern California Rapid Transit District, which is building Metro Rail besides operating buses.

A bill replacing the two agencies with a Metropolitan Transit Authority was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian in October.

A meeting of state legislators and county and city officials is scheduled for Monday to draft a new bill, Robbins said.

Encino homeowner leader Gerald A. Silver, long a controversial figure in the fight against commercial and residential growth and airport expansion, emerged in recent weeks as a key leader of light-rail opponents.

He organized 12 groups, including six established homeowner organizations, into the All Valley Transportation Coalition to demand a halt to further study of light rail in the Valley.

On Thursday, Silver said, "Unless runaway growth is addressed, I think the process of trying to form a consensus may be doomed. Developers have ruined this Valley, and we are not going to stand for it any longer."

David R. Miller, president of the United Chambers of Commerce of the San Fernando Valley, was among the business leaders who vowed Thursday to begin a letter-writing campaign to reverse what he called "Black Wednesday."

The chambers "already have sent several thousand letters in support of light rail in recent months," he said, "but we'll send more until they acknowledge there is support out there."

"It was an irresponsible vote for gridlock," said Guy McCreary, a transportation spokesman for the Valley Industry and Commerce Assn. "But we are going to flood them with letters so they can overcome their fear of these neighborhood blocs."

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