A proposed light-rail line through Highland Park got a boost last week when 26 area representatives endorsed the route at a meeting of a regional association of elected officials.
The vote by a policy advisory committee of the Southern California Assn. of Governments united elected representatives of the areas along the proposed rail line from downtown Los Angeles to South Pasadena.
The vote represented an emerging consensus of Northeast Los Angeles politicians that commuter rail transit should be built in the area. The region northeast of downtown is one of three competing for the first light-rail line to be built with money collected by the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. Funds for the project--expected to total about $800 million by the year 2000--are limited, and at least one of the routes probably will be put off for about another decade.
The other proposed routes would run through the San Fernando Valley and along the coast near Los Angeles International Airport. The Transportation Commission is expected to decide by the end of the year which route will be the next in Los Angeles' rail transit system.
But the light-rail proposal in the Valley has been stymied by political squabbles, with residents of single-family neighborhoods along proposed trolley lines voicing opposition. Officials in Northeast Los Angeles hope that the SCAG vote will show that light rail faces no such opposition in their area.
The elected officials endorsed two separate resolutions in the vote. They voted to encourage the Transportation Commission to build a light-rail line through Northeast Los Angeles before building two other lines proposed for other areas of the county. They also endorsed selection of the Highland Park route as the best alternative among two proposed for commuter rail lines in Northeast Los Angeles.
"We're developing leadership, and we want to show that we want it, that we can in fact work together and come to a mutually feasible decision as to what happens to light rail in our area," said Los Angeles Councilman Richard Alatorre, who chairs the SCAG committee. "The San Fernando Valley keeps fighting. We don't want to fight. We're ready."
Alatorre is one of several local and state politicians representing Northeast Los Angeles communities who have been lobbying for light rail on their turf.
Assemblyman Richard Polanco (D-Los Angeles) drafted a letter to the Transportation Commission in January expressing support for a light-rail line from Los Angeles through Highland Park to Pasadena. His staff members have asked elected officials in the area to sign the letter.
The proposed light-rail line through Highland Park is one of two routes proposed for commuter rail between Chinatown and South Pasadena. It would follow the existing Santa Fe Railroad right of way through the area. The other would run east along Main Street on an elevated line through Lincoln Heights and then north along Huntington Drive in El Sereno. It would follow the corridor for the planned extension of Long Beach Freeway into South Pasadena.
But the proposed freeway extension in South Pasadena has met vehement opposition from community groups while the Santa Fe route is virtually unopposed. And while some residents of Lincoln Heights and El Sereno favor the idea of a light-rail line in their communities, they have not opposed the Santa Fe alignment.
"Sure, we would love to have light rail along Main Street and shooting right up into El Sereno, but at this particular time, the general consensus seems to be leaning toward Highland Park," said Armando Rendon, an El Sereno resident who sits on the SCAG committee. "I sure as hell would not oppose it."
A consensus has been developing in recent months that the proposed route through Highland Park is the better of the two alternatives, but Friday's meeting of the SCAG committee at the Highland Park Senior Center was the first time that elected officials voted on the idea. The government organization is advisory, but a vote by the group "sends a very strong message that in fact the community is united behind this particular project." said Oscar Abarca, a spokesman for the organization.
The committee was formed to oversee development of a transportation study for East Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley. Among its members are Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park), Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Whittier), Alhambra Mayor Mike Blanco, Monterey Park Mayor Pro Tem Patricia Reichenberger, South Pasadena City Councilwoman Evelyn Fiero, community representatives of several Northeast Los Angeles areas and Pasadena City Councilman John Crowley.
The Santa Fe light-rail line would serve the western edge of Lincoln Heights, then run along Marmion Way, with five stations serving the communities of Highland Park and Mount Washington. It would cross Arroyo Seco on the Santa Fe trestle and enter South Pasadena.
Mike Martin, spokesman for the railroad, said Santa Fe may be interested in selling the right of way. But he said the entire route--from downtown Los Angeles to San Bernardino--would have to be purchased.
6 to 7 Years Away
Even with the endorsement of area politicians, light rail in Northeast Los Angeles is still six to seven years away, officials said. The Transportation Commission will not decide which routes to build until environmental impact reports on the proposals, now being drawn up, are completed. The reports could be done by early next year.
The Highland Park route could cost from $675 million to $760 million if the entire Santa Fe right of way has to be purchased, said Susan Rosales, Transportation Commission senior rail development planner. THe light-rail line to Pasadena would be an extension of the Long Beach light-rail line, which is under construction.