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Grove developer wants to extend trolley beyond shopping center

Rick Caruso envisions expanding the mall's track in a loop to the Beverly Center, LACMA and Park La Brea. Councilman Tom LaBonge is already on board.

June 05, 2013|By Matt Stevens, Los Angeles Times
  • And old-fashioned trolley ferries visitors through the Grove shopping center. Rick Caruso envisions expanding it to other sites in the neighborhood.
And old-fashioned trolley ferries visitors through the Grove shopping… (Michael Robinson Chavez…)

Billionaire developer Rick Caruso has an idea on how to better move Los Angeles — and it's a blast from the past.

Caruso this week is talking up the idea of extending the old-fashioned trolley that now runs through his popular Grove shopping center to other locations in the trendy neighborhood, including the Beverly Center and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

The plan is still in its infancy, but Caruso vows to throw his weight and "a significant amount" of his money toward the idea.

In an interview this week, Caruso challenged the city to "get some vision" and "build something that's compelling."

"We're prepared to spend $1 billion to have a subway from downtown to the sea. We're going to put people in a hole in the ground," he said. "Let's spend whatever it is … and move people around the city, above ground, because we have the best climate in the world."

Under Caruso's concept, the trolley would make a loop around the numerous attractions in the area, including the planned Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on Wilshire Boulevard, the Park La Brea apartment complex and the hip West 3rd Street shopping district.

But for all of Caruso's enthusiasm, there are many obstacles.

It's unclear how a trolley could run down the district's already clogged streets. Some residents staunchly oppose laying new track, saying the trolley would jam traffic even more and present many safety issues.

Diana Plotkin, president of Beverly Wilshire Homes Assn., said residents support a bus system, but "a fixed-rail line … is absolutely unacceptable."

"To me, it's absurd to even consider something like that," she said.

Transportation experts also questioned exactly what kind of public-private partnership Caruso is envisioning to pay for the system.

Jim Moore, a vice dean at USC's Viterbi School of Engineering, said a trolley on wheels rather than on rail would be far less expensive and more feasible. But he acknowledged buses would "be less sexy."

"If what we're really trying to do is support commerce and tourism, well, then … this high-cost alternative really has to pay for itself," Moore said. "If it doesn't, what we're doing is using some public resources that could be used to move more people. It's OK to build something fun, it's just not wise to tax people to do it."

The Los Angeles Department of Transportation said any fixed-rail project would require traffic studies, environmental reviews and other steps prior to construction.

Nonetheless, some key officials are backing Caruso. Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose district includes the Miracle Mile area, said he would "do all I can to help" the project move forward.

"I'd like to get it done right now," he said. "If Rick is hot on it, I'm going to go."

News of Caruso's plan was first reported by the Los Angeles Business Journal.

Tony Borio, 67, of West Los Angeles said he remembers riding a Los Angeles street car from West Hollywood to downtown with his parents and grandparents. He likes where Caruso is going.

"It's going to be hard for him to do this because they're going to fight him like hell over 3rd Street," Borio said as he stirred sugar into a cup of coffee. "The idea's great, but I don't know how they're going to get it passed."

That job largely falls to LaBonge, but having Caruso in his corner won't hurt.

"This is one of those things where you need all the stars in a row," LaBonge said. "Catch the trolley now, or miss it. If you miss it, it ain't coming back."

matt.stevens@latimes.com

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