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Candidates for L.A.'s 5th District council seat discuss Expo Line

The six contenders share their view on whether the light rail's second phase -- from Culver City to Santa Monica -- should run along an old right-of-way or along Venice and Sepulveda boulevards.

February 20, 2009|Steve Hymon

Of the many issues facing the six candidates in the 5th District City Council race in Los Angeles, none is potentially thornier than the routing of the proposed Expo Line light rail.

Should the train run along the old rail right-of-way that cuts through several residential neighborhoods between the 10 Freeway and Pico Boulevard? And, if so, should the train cross busy north-south streets or go under or over them?

Or would it be better for the rail line to run along Venice and Sepulveda boulevards?

The first leg of the Expo Line is now being built from Los Angeles to Culver City. The second phase, from Culver City to Santa Monica, is still being studied, but transit officials say construction of the $1.3-billion-plus project could begin within two years -- and that using the right-of-way would be less expensive and attract more riders.

The candidate who wins the Westside seat could have a big effect, possibly serving on the board of the Expo Line Construction Authority. The new council member could also push the city to block key approvals for the project needed from the state.

None of the candidates has taken a hard-line stance on the route, although each has their preference. The main difference is how strongly they view the need for the train to avoid street crossings along the right-of-way. Each said they believe money can be found to build underpasses, but none could identify a particular funding source.

Here is a summary of their views:

Adeena Bleich: The fiscal conservative in her believes that the existing right-of-way should be used, but she would want to look at the costs closely to see if Venice-Sepulveda might make more sense.

Bleich said that if the train uses the right-of-way, she could support street-level crossings only if "they can show the traffic impacts were low enough but, more importantly, if they can ensure that there's absolutely no way someone would be injured."

Ron Galperin: His preference would be to use the existing right-of-way because the route appears to be the most cost-effective alternative that he believes would get the most people out of their cars.

Galperin said he believes the train may have to go under or over some streets. "What I plan to do is walk each and every one of these intersections with neighbors," he said. "I think when you're on the ground . . . you get a better sense of how to do it and how to do it right."

Paul Koretz: He prefers the Venice-Sepulveda route and could support the use of the right-of-way only if the train goes under key north-south arteries such as Overland Avenue and Sepulveda.

"I would fight the line itself if all the crossings are at-grade -- I think that would be too dangerous and disruptive to traffic," Koretz said. "I would be happy to see it below grade all the way through, but the key is the crossings."

Robert Schwartz: Unless other numbers surface, he agrees with a recent environmental impact report that says building the train on the right-of-way would cost less, require less construction and have a lesser effect on traffic.

Schwartz said he would want to review safety issues before deciding whether street-level crossings could be built along the right-of-way. "I would certainly voice my opinion if I thought it was a mistake," he said. "We don't want to tragically lose people."

Robyn Ritter Simon: She supports the use of the existing right-of-way, most notably because it would cost less and result in fewer parcels having to be purchased than building along Venice and Sepulveda.

"Just because I want it to go down the right-of-way, there are conditions that I have," Ritter Simon said. In her view, the street crossings at Sepulveda and Overland absolutely must be separated because of traffic and safety concerns.

David Vahedi: He believes that the Venice-Sepulveda route would put the train closer to more residents and potential passengers. If the right-of-way is used, Vahedi said, the train must go under Overland and Sepulveda and probably Westwood Boulevard.

Vahedi said he would also push for more parking at the Santa Monica station to attract more riders. "I think the first time someone drives there and can't find a spot, the result will be someone who doesn't take the train," he said.

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steve.hymon@latimes.com

For more of these candidates' stances, visit Election Central: The race for L.A. City Hall at latimes.com/election-central.

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