January 30, 1993 - From the January, 1993 issue

Councilwoman Picus Fights Aerial Transit for Valley

According to Councilwoman Joy Picus, the proposed rail transit to the San Fernando Valley has the following issues: LACTC voting on an elevated line of undetermined technology and cost, a mismatched rail system, environmental concerns, and opposition from Valley officials. 


Joy Picus: How can there be a credible estimate of the price tag to build an undefined technology, perhaps one which has never been constructed in California or anywhere in the United States…?

After years of study, heated debate and controversy over where and how to provide rail transit to the San Fernando Valley, a coalition of elected officials, homeowner groups and business organizations have joined in rare consensus to support extending the Metro Rail line along the Burbank-Chandler route to provide east-west rail service from North Hollywood to the West Valley. 

Their efforts are currently focused on convincing the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC) to reconsider its December 1992 decision favoring a competing proposal to construct an elevated rail line above the Ventura Freeway. 

A Broad Coalition 

The Valley coalition includes five City Council members (Marvin Braude, Joel Wachs, Michael Woo and Zev Yaroslavsky and me), County Supervisor Edelman who represents the Valley, Assemblymembers Terry Friedman, Richard Katz and Burt Margolin, State Senators Tom Hayden, David Roberti and Hershel Rosenthal, and Congressman Anthony Beilenson, in addition to seven homeowner groups, several Chambers of Commerce, the Los Angeles City Council, the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, the SFV Board of Realtors, the Los Angeles Community Redevelopment Agency and the City Planning Department 

On the other side, advocating the Ventura Freeway route, are Supervisor Mike Antonovich, who formerly represented the Valley, and groups of residents adjacent to the Burbank-Chandler Route. Although an effort was made to respond to homeowners’ concerns regarding the noise and visual impacts from a surface rail line by agreeing to place the Valley Metro Rail extension underground through residential areas, some residents object to having subway stations and parking facilities in their neighborhoods.

Advocates of the Ventura Freeway elevated line, whether motivated by reasoned conclusions or by NIMBYism, have captured the public imagination by referring to it as a “monorail,” thus evoking the image of joyous family excursions to Disneyland. 

However, the truth is that there has been no decision on what technology would be used. The LACTC’s environmental study evaluated an undefined “Advanced Aerial Technology” which might include monorail, magnetic-levitation, automated light rail or other alternatives. 

Cost Issue Not Credible 

Since the LACTC has reached no conclusion, nor even held a serious discussion on what kind of technology might be used on the Ventura Freeway, many of us were astonished that some commissioners said they voted for the freeway route because of its lower cost! 

The cost of constructing Metro Rail is well established from experience in building the Red Line. But how can there be a credible estimate or the price tag to build an undefined technology, perhaps one which has never been constructed in California or anywhere in the United States — a technology which has never been subjected to local, State and Federal scrutiny as to safety standards (including earthquake), disabled access, and other costly features? 

Other unknown factors on the Ventura Freeway elevated line include the width of the supports required for whichever technology is selected. How much room will they take away from freeway lanes? Will it be necessary to widen the Ventura Freeway and, if so, what will that cost in right-of-way and in construction? 

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Too Many Technologies 

Even if the answers to the above questions were available and acceptable, there is still a serious problem in adding a new and different technology to the rail system currently being constructed to serve Los Angeles County. We already have the Metro Rail Red Line, the light rail Blue line from Long Beach to L.A., and the automated Green Line on the Century Freeway. To add a fourth technology would not only make the Los Angeles system a laughingstock (we’ll take one of each, thank you, whatever is trendy this year!) but would require separate maintenance facilities, a distinct parts supply, and different mechanics. All economies of scale in purchasing and maintenance would be lost. 

Subway and Land Use 

From a land-use perspective, the Burbank-Chandler route serves major activity centers in the Valley, including the North Hollywood Redevelopment area, Valley College, the Van Nuys business and civic center area, Pierce College and Warner Center. In the area near Van Nuys Boulevard, particularly, there is potential for the rail line to stimulate commercial and mixed-use development which would help to revitalize Van Nuys. 

In March 1990, after years of study and reports, the LACTC followed the recommendation of its staff and approved the Metro Rail extension on the Burbank-Chandler route. They spent $150 million in public funds to purchase this right-of-way from Southern Pacific. That was the right decision, based on potential ridership, on minimizing impacts in residential neighborhoods, on convenience and service to the public, and on providing the tax payers of the Valley with the rail transit they need.

What’s Behind the Vote? 

One can’t help wonder why the Commission voted as it did on December 16 — why they favored an elevated line of undetermined technology and cost, mismatched with the rest of the rail system, more damaging environmentally to adjacent land uses, and strongly opposed by virtually all of the elected officials who represent the Valley as well as by local homeowner and business organizations. 

Some Valley rail proponents have murmured suspicions that certain commissioners would prefer that the Valley get no rail system at all and that the funds be spent elsewhere in the County. It would be tragic indeed if such parochial interest were to prevail against rational decisions which would serve the planning and transportation needs of the entire region. 

The LACTC will consider this matter again in late January. I’m pleased to participate with so many of my fellow elected officials, Valley residents and business people in our efforts to convince the commissioners to reaffirm their March 1990 decision to extend Metro Rail along the Burbank-Chandler route through the Valley.

Joy Picus is Councilwoman for Los Angeles’ Third District, representing the West San Fernando Valley.

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