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Light Rail Line Plan for Valley Hits a Dead End

November 20, 1987|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer

Most San Fernando Valley homeowners' group leaders and elected officials Thursday cheered a decision by Los Angeles county transit officials to halt all consideration of a light rail line in the Valley.

Business leaders, on the other hand, condemned it and vowed to seek a reversal.

In a surprise development Wednesday, Los Angeles County Transportation Commissioners voted 8 to 1 for a motion that abruptly ended more than a year of intense quarreling over which east-west route, if any, should be selected for a light rail line through the Valley.

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

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

Although they welcomed help from homeowners' leaders bent on slowing growth, residents along the proposed routes attacked the project chiefly on the ground that the trains would bring noise, congestion and visual blight.

Routes under study included the Ventura Freeway; along the Los Angeles River; a route that begins in North Hollywood, follows Chandler Boulevard and Oxnard Street east of the San Diego Freeway and then generally follows Victory Boulevard west to Warner Center; a route that generally follows Victory Boulevard the length of the Valley and the Southern Pacific railroad line, which runs diagonally across the Valley, connecting North Hollywood to Chatsworth.

While 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 would connect Warner Center, a burgeoning commercial area, with the northern terminus of the Metro Rail subway in North Hollywood.

Among area elected officials who praised Wednesday's decision were 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 who was at a council committee meeting Wednesday afternoon, said he "probably would have voted with the majority if I 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."

Picus, who represents the southwest part of the Valley, said she supports the commission decision because "it has become plain that people don't want light rail."

Bernson, who represents the northwest part of the Valley, said the commission vote presents an opportunity to promote a plan he favors for building an upper deck on the Ventura and Hollywood freeways and incorporating a light rail line in the design.

To Draft New Bill

The idea 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 commission's vote could ultimately be insignificant, Robbins said, if he is successful in efforts to merge the commission and the Southern California Rapid Transit District, which operates buses in the region and is building Metro Rail.

A bill replacing the two agencies with a Metropolitan Transit Authority was passed by the Legislature, but vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian. 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 a light rail line in the Valley.

On Thursday, Silver was not optimistic that a consensus could be formed on a route.

"Unless runaway growth is addressed, I think the process of trying to form a consensus may be doomed," he said. "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 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," he said, "but we'll send more until they acknowledge there is support out there."

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