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Group Files Suit to Halt Valley Busway Project

April 03, 2002|CAITLIN LIU | slot: new hed and nine-line trim for this version.// I will be out of the office at deadline time -- my pager is 213-325-4335.

A coalition of Los Angeles residents sued the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on Tuesday to block construction of an east-west busway in the San Fernando Valley.

The lawsuit filed by Citizens Organized for Smart Transit accuses the MTA of ignoring public concerns about safety and failing to consider alternatives to the $329.5-million bus corridor.

"The MTA's environmental review of the project was mere window dressing ... and it utterly deprived both the public and the MTA board of information essential to an informed decision," according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The lawsuit accuses the MTA of violating the California Environmental Quality Act, which requires public agencies to consider the likely effect of proposed projects.

"There are very high standards for what has to be in an environmental impact review," said John A. Henning Jr., the Los Angeles attorney who represents the plaintiffs. "This EIR fails to meet that standard."

Lawyers for the MTA had not seen the complaint by Tuesday afternoon. But agency spokesman Rick Jager said that MTA officials were confident the lawsuit would not be successful.

"We were very careful in following all the environmental processes set down by the state of California during our environmental review of the [project]," Jager said.

The agency has touted the busway, a 14-mile route from the North Hollywood Red Line subway station to Warner Center in Woodland Hills, as "an attractive transit alternative for thousands of commuters."

Two months ago, the MTA board approved a three-volume environmental impact report on the proposed bus corridor, which would run along a former Southern Pacific railroad path along Burbank and Chandler boulevards.

"We are proceeding until we're told not to," Jager said, adding that the MTA is preparing to ask for construction bids in June. The board is scheduled to award a contract in December, and the busway would open in 2005.

Residents fear a constant stream of buses would bring an onslaught of noise and create hazards for pedestrians and cars at the route's intersections with city streets.

"We think it's such a dangerous project," said Diana Lipari, the coalition's chairwoman. "You don't have to live next to the busway to have to go through the busway."

She also criticized the project for being too costly, saying the MTA failed to fully investigate the possibility of expanding the Metro Rapid program, which could provide rapid bus service on existing streets at a fraction of the cost of a dedicated busway.

Among those listed as plaintiffs are people who own property that the MTA may have to acquire to make way for the busway. Other opponents include members of the Orthodox Jewish community.

"We've been against the project from the start," said Dr. Irving Steinberg, president of the Shaarey Zedek Congregation, the largest of at least half a dozen synagogues in the Valley Village area.

Steinberg said the busway would endanger many members of the congregation who would have to walk across the busway to get to the synagogue.

Supporters of the busway denounced the lawsuit as the latest attempt to thwart the project--which began years ago as a subway plan, and then became a light-rail proposal. Funding shortages and community opposition derailed those ideas.

The Valley sorely needs the busway to help relieve its congested freeways, said Arthur Sweet, transportation chairman of the United Chambers of Commerce of San Fernando Valley.

"Have you driven the freeways lately?" Sweet said. "I don't know what [the opponents] are thinking."

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