The Glendale City Council allocated more than $3.5 million Tuesday to buy the historic Southern Pacific Railroad depot and develop plans for turning it into a regional transit center.
The action was the first step toward building a $7-million hub for a variety of transportation--the Amtrak train and commuter rail with a planned light-rail system, shuttle buses and van pools--to relieve downtown traffic congestion, said Steve Adams, project director and assistant to the city manager.
He said the city plans to hire an expert in historical preservation to help plan for the 66-year-old depot, which is distinguished by its Spanish-Colonial Revival architecture.
The station at 400 W. Cerritos Ave in south Glendale near the Golden State Freeway is on the site of the first Glendale train depot, built in 1883.
"It is equally important to preserve that building as a historical site as it is to develop some kind of transportation center," Adams said.
City officials called a special meeting with traffic-management consultants Monday to urge rapid development of a computer program to project the traffic impact of new development.
"The information is vital, and we can't afford to make a mistake," Councilman Larry Zarian, chairman of the Glendale Redevelopment Agency, said at the study session Monday.
Consultants have assured Glendale that it is a long way from gridlock. But city officials, who are spending millions to widen streets and modernize traffic signals, say such improvements have limited potential. Also, Glendale and all other cities in California are mandated by state law to curtail the number of automobiles on the road to reduce air pollution.
"Every city is going to have to consider alternative transportation systems," Councilman Carl Raggio said at the session Monday.
Redevelopment officials six years ago talked about building a transportation center inside the redevelopment zone, possibly at Harvard Street and Brand Boulevard. Those plans faded as officials realized they need to steer traffic away from downtown.
They hit upon the idea of converting the depot into a transportation center less than three months ago when the city learned that Southern Pacific is ready to dispose of the property, Adams said.
The station, which is leased by Amtrak, "is an excess to our operating needs," said Rick Gooch, assistant regional director of real estate for Southern Pacific, which recently was acquired by the Rio Grande Industries and limited to freight. He said the depot "is more in line with passenger service, which the city has in mind for the future."
Glendale officials fear that if they do not buy the station, it will be sold for industrial use. "We have had numerous inquiries on that station area," Gooch said. "I don't foresee any problems selling it should the city decide it doesn't want it."
The purchase price is under negotiation. Council members met in closed session last week to discuss the city's offer, which is expected to be made next week, Adams said. Southern Pacific wants to complete the sale before the end of the year, according to Gooch.
Glendale would follow Santa Monica, Burbank and Pasadena in acquiring a railroad station for a transportation center, according to Roberta Tinajero, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.
The money allocated by the council Tuesday will come from the city's $7.5 million reserve of revenues from the half-cent Proposition A sales tax hike authorized by voters in 1980, said Brian Butler, city finance director.
The expenditure still requires the approval of the Transportation Commission, but the commission's Transit Committee on Monday recommended approval of the project, which is expected to be routinely endorsed by the full commission Wednesday.
Part of the city's funds will be used for a feasibility study and development of a master plan.
Preliminary plans call for construction of a multilevel garage surrounding the station on the 2.4-acre site. The $4-million garage would be designed so additional levels could be added, according to a city report.
Employees of downtown businesses in Glendale would be encouraged to park at the station and ride shuttles to work. The council report called the train station "strategically significant" because it is located outside downtown, near a freeway and is serviced by wide streets in a largely industrial area.
The center could also serve commuters going to downtown Los Angeles or other cities served by Amtrak, such as San Diego, Ventura and Santa Barbara, according to the report. It called the station "an important stopping point on the way to Hollywood, Burbank and the San Fernando Valley."
Glendale had fallen behind other cities in developing a regional transportation plan until last year. Pasadena, for example, has been given priority for a light-rail transit system by the Transportation Commission, which next year is expected to divvy up about $800 million in Proposition A funds for transit systems.