Gov. Pete Wilson signed a law Monday requiring that any mass-transit rail line through residential neighborhoods of North Hollywood and Van Nuys be built underground, a measure that residents of the communities had requested.
The bill, identical to one vetoed last year by then-Gov. George Deukmejian, is aimed at easing homeowners' fear of noise from ground-level trains running along a proposed rail route that parallels Chandler and Victory boulevards.
"I think people who live along that route will sleep a little better tonight," said state Sen. Alan Robbins (D-Tarzana), who sponsored the legislation both years.
In an effort to reassure residents, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission 15 months ago voted to designate the Chandler-Victory route solely for subway use, even though tunneling is far more expensive than building a rail line at ground level.
But many residents fear that the commission's subway-only pledge would vanish by the start of construction in 1996 if there are cost overruns on other rail projects.
"The hard reality of economics has a way of changing good intentions," said Rabbi Marvin J. Sugarman, a leader of the North Hollywood Orthodox Jewish community that joined with homeowners groups to support Robbins' bill.
"I don't say that we're 100% happy with the prospect of a subway coming through here," he said Monday. "But at least we now have minimal protection for our neighborhoods."
In 1989, Robbins promised to introduce the neighborhood protection bill as part of a pact involving the homeowners and Orthodox Jewish groups and the San Fernando Valley business community, which had pushed for years for a ground-level rail line along the Chandler-Victory route.
At the time, the fierce struggle between the two sides appeared to threaten chances for an east-west Valley rail line.
In return for agreement by homeowner and religious leaders to drop their opposition to a cross-Valley line if it was built underground, business leaders agreed to support a subway, even though that means the line will probably be built only as far west as the San Diego Freeway at first, not to Warner Center as they had hoped.
The subway-only zone in the bill signed Monday does not include the Ventura Freeway corridor, and thus will not affect prospects for construction of an elevated monorail or magnetic-levitation line in the freeway median from Universal City to Warner Center.
The proposed freeway line, which has been gaining supporters over the past year, is a rival to the plan to extend the downtown-to-North Hollywood Metro Rail subway westward from North Hollywood along the Chandler-Victory route, which utilizes a Southern Pacific railroad right of way recently bought by the transportation commission.
The bill signed Monday also relaxes one provision of a 1984 state law that fixes the site of Metro Rail's northern terminus at Chandler and Lankershim boulevards in North Hollywood.
That law, also sponsored by Robbins, was aimed at ensuring that Metro Rail was built all the way to the Valley.
In fixing the station at the intersection, Valley leaders assumed that the east-west Valley line would be ground-level light rail and that passengers would change trains in North Hollywood.
The bill signed Monday allows the commission to shift the station a few blocks west and south so that Metro Rail trains, which would continue across the Valley, can turn the corner more smoothly.
The commission has estimated that shifting the station could save up to $40 million in extra tunneling costs.