Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky has won an early round in a behind-the-scenes struggle with Santa Monica officials over a future light rail line along Exposition Boulevard.
After hearing objections from a Yaroslavsky deputy, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission decided Wednesday in executive session not to open negotiations with Southern Pacific Transportation Co. over purchase of an 8.7-acre site next to the proposed rail route in Santa Monica.
Southern Pacific in May offered to sell 76.5 miles of railroad right of way in the Los Angeles area to public agencies for transportation purposes.
The offer includes the 14-mile Exposition Boulevard rail line, which runs from Santa Monica to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and USC areas. The route would connect there with the Los Angeles-Long Beach light rail line already under construction.
The Transportation Commission last month authorized its staff to begin an appraisal of the value of the Southern Pacific property.
Santa Monica officials have taken the lead in promoting the concept of running electric streetcars along the route. Because the right of way exists and Southern Pacific wants to sell it, city officials say, the route would be a quick way to provide rail service to the Westside, and for far less money than a westward extension of the Metro Rail system that Yaroslavsky favors.
The Santa Monica officials were interested in preserving the rectangular-shaped industrial property next to the Southern Pacific tracks at Olympic Boulevard and 26th Street for use as a transportation facility. They envisioned a park-and-ride lot or rail yard on the site if the commuter rail line is ever built.
But Yaroslavsky, responding in part to homeowner concerns in parts of his West Los Angeles council district, has objected strongly to both the route and the aggressive manner in which Santa Monica has pursued the Exposition rail line.
In an interview Thursday, Yaroslavsky said the effort to promote light rail along Exposition Boulevard was "a bald-faced attempt by the city of Santa Monica to ram something down the throats of the city of Los Angeles."
He protested that putting light rail in the Exposition right of way is "a foolish idea" that will jeopardize future efforts to extend the Metro Rail subway to the densely populated Wilshire Boulevard corridor of West Los Angeles.
The Exposition route is "no place to build a line," Yaroslavsky said.
Marlene Bronson, the councilman's chief field deputy, told the Transportation Commission that spending $17 million to acquire the Santa Monica property does not make sense.
In an interview, Bronson said the Santa Monica property should not be bought simply "because somebody is putting something up for sale."
"It is a significant factor that the county Transportation Commission is not going to participate in the purchase of this parcel," she said.
But Santa Monica Mayor Dennis Zane said he was not concerned about the commission's action. "We don't regard this as a setback," he said.
Zane said the land in question is "not essential to the development of light rail."
The mayor said there is a need to find alternatives to the automobile throughout the Los Angeles region. He said the Exposition right of way should be acquired as "the best opportunity for reasonably priced alternative transportation in anybody's lifetime. We think it's an option that the region ought to look at very closely."
Zane said Santa Monica also supports efforts to extend Metro Rail into the Westside, although he does not expect that to happen soon. "Very few people I have spoken with believe it is a real option," he said. "It's not likely to occur in the lifetime of any of us."
Yaroslavsky, who wrote a strongly worded letter to Zane in March complaining about Santa Monica's pursuit of light rail, said he does not want to do anything that would compete for transit dollars with Metro Rail.
With other parts of Los Angeles County competing for rail transit dollars, there is "no political prospect whatsoever that there would ever be two (rail) lines in West L.A," he said.
"If we are interested in serving the transit needs of West Los Angeles, the way to do that is for the county Transportation Commission to invest in the Wilshire corridor," Yaroslavsky said. "We should not do anything to jeopardize the mass transit system that would serve the high-density corridor" of Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood. . . . Exposition is a non-starter from a transit point of view."
Santa Monica officials disagree strongly and point to a feasibility study that shows the entire Exposition line could be built for $300 million and could carry 62,000 riders a day by the turn of the century.
Zane said the entire Exposition line could be constructed for the same amount as 1.5 to 2 miles of Metro Rail.
He said Santa Monica officials have a high regard for Yaroslavsky. But with a healthy dose of understatement, Zane added: "We have some differences, I suppose, about the advisability of light rail in the Exposition line."