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Residents Renew Bid to Halt Valley Busway, Calling Crossings Hazardous

MTA says project is safe and construction will begin in the spring. Group considers suit and awaits ruling on environmental report.

November 14, 2002|Caitlin Liu | Times Staff Writer

As the Metropolitan Transportation Authority forges ahead with plans to build an east-west busway across the San Fernando Valley, opponents are renewing their push to stop the $330-million project because of fears that it would disrupt community life and threaten the safety of pedestrians and motorists.

"We're not against transportation," said Diana Lipari, chairwoman of Citizens Organized for Smart Transit. "We just think it's a waste of money and that it's unsafe."

At a neighborhood forum Tuesday night in Van Nuys, Lipari joined about 30 other area residents in discussing what they see as a flawed plan to construct the 14-mile bus corridor between the North Hollywood Red Line subway station and Warner Center in Woodland Hills.

Lipari said her group is contemplating filing a taxpayers lawsuit against the MTA to halt the busway. The group earlier went to court to challenge the adequacy of the project's environmental report. A judge is expected to make a ruling next month.

Frustrated MTA officials said this is a last-ditch attempt to scuttle a project that is funded and ready to begin construction in the spring, with completion set for 2005.

They said the agency would not support a project that is unsafe, and accused busway opponents of engaging in "scare tactics."

"We have debated ad nauseam over how to serve that corridor," said Marc Littman, an MTA spokesman. "You reach a point when you've got to move forward."

To clear the way for construction, the MTA is negotiating to buy seven parcels of property along the proposed route on Victory Boulevard, Oxnard Street and Chandler Boulevard.

In recent months, the agency has sent out 101 lease-termination notices to businesses along the designated corridor, said Velma Marshall, real estate director for the MTA.

Most of the leases are on MTA-owned land that is being used for parking or storage, Marshall said. The MTA is providing relocation assistance to tenants who were there before the agency bought the land, a defunct rail corridor, from Union Pacific in 1990.

But the agency's helping hand hasn't stemmed the anger and frustration among businesses that are being forced to relocate.

"We've been in operation for 50 years on the same corner, and all of a sudden they shut you down," said Mark Ernsberger, general manager of Terry Lumber in Tarzana.

Losing their parking spaces are a sewing factory and a Jewish community center that provides day care for children.

At Tuesday's meeting, busway opponents argued that the transit corridor and its numerous street-level crossings, some of which would traverse neighborhoods and intersections at odd angles, will create traffic hazards.

They also contend that the busway would not save riders much time, compared to a similar ride in a less-expensive Metro Rapid bus on a regular city street. The busway's sound walls would become tableaux for graffiti vandals, and late at night the empty corridor could draw drag racers, Lipari said.

Kymberleigh Richards, a spokeswoman for Southern California Transit Advocates, said the MTA should reconsider putting a light-rail line in the corridor.

Years ago, the agency abandoned plans for building a subway because of community opposition and a lack of funding. A plan for light rail also broke down.

"It is never too late for an agency to backtrack," Richards said.

But Nate Zablen, a Sherman Oaks resident, said he's tired of the years of inaction. "Every area in L.A. is getting something. Pasadena is getting a [light-rail] line. The Eastside is getting a line," Zablen said. "The Valley needs transit, and a transit way is the best way to go."

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