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Subway Plan for Valley Wins Backing of Council : Transportation: Members vote to support a subterranean route instead of an elevated line down the Ventura Freeway.


Bolstering the case for underground transit across the San Fernando Valley, the Los Angeles City Council voted Tuesday to support a subway system rather than an elevated line down the Ventura Freeway for a new rail project to be built in the coming century.

Following the lead of several Valley council members, the council reaffirmed the position it adopted five years ago in favor of a mostly subterranean line paralleling Burbank and Chandler boulevards. The decision, on an 11-1 vote, deals a blow to those hoping the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will select an aboveground route when the MTA board meets next week.

Attention in the fractious debate now focuses squarely on Mayor Richard Riordan, an MTA director who also appoints three others to the agency's 13-member board. As mayor, Riordan has not committed himself to either option, although he backed a monorail system over the Ventura Freeway during his election campaign last year.

Proponents of an elevated system called on Riordan to stand by his previous endorsement, despite increasing pressure on the mayor from Valley homeowner and civic organizations to join them in supporting the subway proposal. An aide to county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, the Ventura Freeway alignment's most vocal advocate, dismissed Tuesday's City Council vote as a kowtow to powerful subway construction interests.

"It's just a reaffirmation of an earlier position they had taken to maintain the transit industry complex's preference for a subway system," said Habib Balian, Antonovich's transportation deputy.

In recent weeks, Antonovich has pressed the case before Riordan for a monorail system, the choice of Valley voters in a 1990 advisory ballot measure. On the other side, Supervisor Ed Edelman is scheduled to meet with the mayor today to lobby for a Valley extension of the Metro Red Line subway from Downtown.

"Hopefully he'll be receptive to my arguments," Edelman said Tuesday. "I'm going to be armed with an 11-1 vote of the council. And I'm going to be armed with the report of the transportation department of the city," which recommended the Burbank-Chandler alternative Monday.

The study concluded that the route would offer the best opportunity to connect passengers with bus lines, serve heavily frequented areas and provide a backup transportation corridor if the Ventura Freeway were damaged in an earthquake or other natural disaster.

Antonovich criticized the report Tuesday, calling it "a document written by the subway proponents and not engineers."

Nonetheless, Valley council members cited the report in persuading their colleagues to vote for the subway option Tuesday. But with greater urgency they appealed to the council to end debate and make a decision, warning that the east-west rail line could lose its claim on public transportation dollars if even the appearance of official disunity continued.

"This is a critical vote. If this alignment is not chosen (now), the San Fernando Valley will lose all funding" for a rail line, Councilman Marvin Braude warned.

The lone dissenting vote was cast by council President John Ferraro, who said the costs of the two routes had not been studied thoroughly enough.

Conspicuously absent when Ferraro called for the vote was Councilman Richard Alatorre, one of Riordan's appointees on the MTA board. Observers in the Valley rail debate are watching for a signal from Alatorre, who in the past voted for the Ventura Freeway alignment but who said he is now neutral on the issue.

On Tuesday, after he and his aides conferred briefly with Antonovich's deputy, Alatorre disappeared from the council chamber as discussion began on the rail issue.

He could not be reached for comment afterward. A spokeswoman said he remains undecided.

Councilman Hal Bernson abstained from voting, saying he has not determined which route or technology is better. Serious questions about the safety and feasibility of a subway remain, he said, especially after the recent spate of tunneling problems beneath Hollywood Boulevard.

"I don't want a repeat of the Hollywood problems," he said. "I'm keeping my options open."

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