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City Agency Rejects Subway Digging Offer


NORTH HOLLYWOOD — In an unusual dispute between two public agencies, the Los Angeles city parks department has rejected the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's offer of $500 for the right to dig subway tunnels under Weddington Park in Studio City.

The Department of Recreation and Parks instead wants $75,000 to $250,000--or better yet, a chunk of MTA land to enlarge the 10.5-acre park across the street from Universal Studios.

The MTA board will meet in a special session this morning to decide whether to grant the parks department's request, make a counter-proposal or use its power of eminent domain to condemn an underground pathway for the North Hollywood extension of its Metro Rail subway.

According to a memo prepared for the meeting by MTA staff members and released late Wednesday, the transit agency will face tunneling delay costs of up to $75,000 a day if it does not obtain the digging rights, called an easement, by June 21.

That leaves little time because the next meeting of the city Board of Recreation and Parks Commissioners--the panel that will decide whether to accept the MTA offer--will be June 12.

The last-minute obstacle to the construction of the two North Hollywood tunnels follows a similar incident in which the MTA neglected to obtain a county permit to tunnel under the Los Angeles River until two weeks before it was needed.

Park department planning officer Al Carmichael said Wednesday that he quickly rejected the MTA's initial offer 18 months ago of $500 for the easement 35 feet below the surface of the park.

"I said, 'You can keep it, that's not enough,' " Carmichael said.

Instead, Carmichael proposed that the MTA give the city any land that it owns adjacent to Weddington Park but does not need.

The MTA owns several acres in the vicinity because it intends to build parking lots for its Universal City subway station there, as well as a new onramp to connect Lankershim Boulevard with the Hollywood Freeway.

Velma C. Marshall, director of real estate at the MTA, said she does not yet know what land will be considered surplus because the MTA has not finished designing the parking lots and onramp.

"If there is excess land, then we believe it would be a good move on the part of the MTA board to dedicate it to the public for parkland," she said.

Steven Soboroff, president of the city board of park commissioners, said his agency voted May 22 to demand from the MTA a parcel adjacent to the park or a payment that approximated the fair-market value of a parcel that size. He said an MTA official at the commission meeting suggested the parcel could range in size from 30,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet, but could end up being as small as 5,000 square feet.

Soboroff said the MTA official pegged the value of a 10,000-square-foot parcel at about $25 to $30 per square foot, or $250,000. He said MTA executives have since pooh-poohed that appraisal, suggesting the real cost of a tract that size would be closer to $75,000.

"We are researching the true value, but we don't want the money, we want land, land, land," Soboroff said. "This city needs more parkland of any size."

Late last year, the MTA ended a year of tense negotiation with the parks department over an easement 800 feet beneath Runyon Canyon Park in the Hollywood Hills with an agreement to pay $150,000 and put aside $4 million in an escrow account to pay for potential damage.

The tunnels below Weddington Park would connect a future Red Line subway station in North Hollywood with the one to be built in Universal City. The Red Line would then burrow south through the Santa Monica Mountains to Hollywood Boulevard, where commuters in the next decade are expected to be able to travel below ground to the Wilshire District, the Eastside and downtown.

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