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Hahn Supports 101 Widening Project

Other civic leaders decry the freeway plan, citing cost and the loss of many structures.

May 08, 2003|Caitlin Liu and Greg Griggs | Times Staff Writers

Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn said Wednesday that he supports an ambitious $3.4-billion proposal to widen the Ventura Freeway because the growing region will need greater highway capacity to relieve congestion, even though the project could destroy more than 1,000 homes, businesses, churches and schools.

There is always "heartache when freeways are built," he said, adding that he hopes ways can be found to minimize the loss of homes. "What we need to do is to have the foresight to build for the next 30 years.... I think we need to think about the future." Although Hahn expressed support for freeway expansion, others were far less enthusiastic, raising concerns about cost and the potential devastation if the freeway is widened between Studio City and Thousand Oaks.

"It involves tearing down hundreds of homes," said U.S. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Sherman Oaks), who has championed other local freeway projects for federal dollars. "It's so expensive, I don't think it'll get funded for decades. Someone's going to have to show me that this is a good idea."

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, vice chairman of the MTA board, whose district includes the entire corridor from Studio City to the Ventura County line, said the proposal is "unrealistic, politically as well as financially ... if it's going to take nearly a thousand homes."

Last week, transportation planners recommended widening the freeway by two carpool lanes in each direction, plus an additional regular lane in portions that have only four lanes each way.

If implemented, the proposal would save future motorists in the corridor a cumulative 78,000 hours a day but could destroy about 780 residential structures, 250 commercial buildings and 27 schools and churches to make way for the additional pavement, according to the California Department of Transportation. The proposal's price tag includes the estimated cost of buying the private properties.

A steering committee, composed of representatives from local, state and federal transportation agencies and other officials, will meet May 23 to decide whether the freeway-widening proposal will be forwarded to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board for a vote. Caltrans is holding community meetings in Calabasas today and in Encino on Monday.

Even if the project is ultimately approved and funding is secured, transportation planners say they do not know how long it would take to complete construction.

The possibility of destroying so many homes has divided elected officials who represent the area.

Assemblyman Paul Koretz (D-West Hollywood) echoed the negative sentiments. "There has to be a better way to design this so that we don't have this many people losing their homes," said Koretz, whose district also includes Studio City and Sherman Oaks.

Some members of the Los Angeles City Council whose districts include areas that would be affected also found the proposal unpalatable.

"I've definitely heard from most of my constituents that they're opposed," said one, Wendy Greuel.

Councilman Dennis Zine said, "We're not going to find support for condemning all those homes. You're talking about very expensive property along the freeway."

Ventura County Supervisor Linda Parks and Thousand Oaks Councilman Dennis Gillette both called for consideration of other transportation methods, such as rail.

"We need to come up with a better paradigm and think of better ways to use the existing lanes," said Parks, who is also a member of the Ventura County Transportation Commission.

Gillette said that, by the time more lanes were finally completed, "it would be time to plan to add more lanes."

But others said expanding freeways is a way of life in car-dependent Southern California. About 328,000 vehicles travel through the San Fernando Valley every day on the Ventura, the second-busiest freeway in Los Angeles County, according to Caltrans.

The widening proposal is a good one because "it actually has a realistic chance to improve traffic," said state Sen. Sheila Kuehl (D-Santa Monica), who helped secure funding for a study seeking ways to relieve congestion in the corridor.

The study's participants, who included planners from Caltrans, the MTA, the Southern California Assn. of Governments, the city and county of Los Angeles and the Las Virgenes-Malibu Council of Governments, recommended the widening after they rejected constructing a double-deck freeway or doing nothing.

"We are not insensitive to what sacrifices need to be made along the way," said Jeff Reinhardt, mayor of Agoura Hills and a member of the Las Virgenes-Malibu group, which also represents the cities of Calabasas, Westlake Village and Hidden Hills. "Yes, it is sad that, in some cases, there may be some takings. But you know what? Change is inevitable."

"Sometimes the needs of the many outweigh the needs of a few," Reinhardt said.

Community meetings will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. today at the Agoura Hills/Calabasas Community Center, 27040 Malibu Hills Road, Calabasas, and Monday at Valley Beth Shalom Temple, 15739 Ventura Blvd., Encino.

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