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Hernandez Drops Opposition to Commuter Rail Facility


NORTHEAST LOS ANGELES — Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Hernandez and county transportation officials have reached a tentative agreement on more than $5 million in public improvements and community programs to be included in the development of a commuter rail maintenance facility in Southern Pacific's former train yard.

Hernandez said Friday that he had extracted "concessions" from the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission to end his opposition to the $35-million facility under construction on the northeast corner of Taylor Yard, a 235-acre strip along the Los Angeles River in Glassell Park.

The agreement, if approved, would require the transportation commission to provide new landscaping and other improvements to its portion of Taylor Yard. The transportation commission also would construct a $2-million pedestrian bridge across the river between Cypress Park and Elysian Valley, giving residents of that isolated community walking access to a proposed light rail station in the Taylor Yard area.

In addition, the agreement would commit the LACTC to prepare environmental studies of alternate sites for a second Taylor Yard rail facility that Hernandez and other community leaders oppose.

The agreement also calls for a joint study by the LACTC and the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency that would look for ways to stimulate business and residential development in the area.

"Let's understand LACTC's concessions came at the threat of legal action, not their good will," Hernandez said in a written statement. "This agreement represents months of negotiations between my office and LACTC."

Transportation officials characterized the proposed improvements as "mitigating measures" to ease local concerns about the placement of the rail facility.

"Some of these things were sort of already being done," said Richard Stanger, executive director of Metrolink, a five-county community rail agency that will use the maintenance facility. For example, Stanger said, the LACTC already had been working with some groups to increase access to the river and to improve the site's landscaping.

But the agreement means the LACTC and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, which oversees Metrolink, would be responsible for at least $5 million in new costs to the site, according to LACTC lead negotiator Rebecca Barrontes.

The agreement must still be approved by the LACTC, the regional rail authority and the Los Angeles City Council.

Among other terms of the agreement:

* Transit officials would attempt to award more contracts to local minority firms and employ more workers from the area.

* Local high schools would be included in an LACTC program to hire students for transportation-related jobs.

* A $350,000 community art fund would be financed by the transportation commission and the rail authority.

* A $350,000 landscaping fund would be created by the regional rail authority.

* A five-foot buffer zone would be provided along San Fernando Road, including fencing and added landscaping.

* The commission would set aside 1.5 acres for a parkway and bike path.

Stanger said the new agreement with Hernandez was reasonable and should meet little resistance from county transportation commissioners. "I think it will get approved," he said.

More significantly, however, the agreement may signal an end to the conflict between Hernandez and the transportation commission, which the councilman has criticized since he assumed office last August.

Hernandez had asked the city attorney's office to investigate whether the transportation commission violated state environmental law when it purchased land for the facility from Southern Pacific Transportation Co. without an environmental impact report.

The councilman also threatened the commission with a lawsuit and a court order blocking construction of the new rail facility.

Eduardo P. Reyes, chief legislative deputy to Hernandez, said the threatened lawsuits will not be filed, and a city attorney's investigation has been dropped.

Discontent over the commission's purchase of the 67-acre parcel in 1990 stems from community leaders' interest in the former Taylor Yard as a home for new business and housing. Several groups complained bitterly that they were not informed of the LACTC purchase until well after the deal. The new Hernandez agreement would require regular contact between the LACTC and community groups.

John Hisserich, chairman of the Northeast Los Angeles Community Plan Advisory Committee, said he liked the agreement in general, but he wanted to see a more definite commitment to creating jobs.

"I don't hear very many specifics about actual jobs," Hisserich said. "I'd like to be very certain there are job opportunities for local residents."

Christine Perala, a technical adviser for the Friends of the Los Angeles River, a group that has been actively involved in discussions regarding Taylor Yard, said the allotment of less than two acres for the parkway and bike path was too small, but she praised the agreement overall.

"I think that Mike Hernandez has done a yeoman's job of making the LACTC slow down and look at what they're doing," Perala said.

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