LOS ANGELES DAILY NEWS: A Valley rail line, better transit for CSUN students, on wish list at transportation summit

March 7, 2016

By Dana Bartholomew, Los Angeles Daily News

POSTED: 03/04/16, 5:01 PM PST 

NORTHRIDGE -- As bus and rail ridership sags across the region, the drumbeat rose this week for a likely sales tax measure that could fund transit projects into the middle of the century — with a “fair share” finally devoted to the San Fernando Valley.

But at the 11th hour of planning for Valley rail upgrades from the Orange Line to Van Nuys Boulevard to the Sepulveda Pass, many requested Cal State Northridge be added to the tax measure mix. Project proposals for a November ballot are expected to be released this month.

“It’s hard. It’s difficult,” said state Sen. Robert M. Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, host of a second Valley Transportation Summit at CSUN on Thursday evening. “I have my own view of fair share.

“But a plan is not a plan until you include CSUN – (with) 50,000 individuals without good public transportation.”

The nearly three-hour summit, co-hosted by Hertzberg and CSUN, aimed to draw attention to the Valley’s pivotal role — and transit dividend — in passing a tandem 1-cent sales tax proposal now known as a Measure R extension and Measure R2.

Valley officials and business leaders have said the region suffered an unfair return from tax Measure R, passed in 2008. Of $52.4 billion in current Measure R budgeted projects, the Valley’s share was $2.5 billion, or 5 percent. Valley residents make up 15 percent of the county’s population and an estimated 23 percent of its tax base.

“No part of the county should not get its fair share – and today that means the Valley,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, a Valley boy who recalled a working bus system as a kid. “The time is now that no area of the San Fernando Valley be left behind.”

The push for more transit dollars comes as fewer Angelenos opt for Metro trains and buses. In January, weekday boardings averaged 1.27 million, according to the transit agency. A year earlier, it was 1.39 million. And in January 2014, 1.45 million passengers rode by bus or rail. Meanwhile, weekday boardings on the Orange Line fell from 29,000 in September to 23,000 in January — while L.A. gridlock lived up to global fame.

“Everybody who’s been on the Sepulveda Pass says, ‘This sucks. Let’s punch a hole through the mountain; put rail through it,’’ said Stuart Waldman, president of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association, in favor of a tax. “Let’s do it.”

Approval of the 1-cent tax would signal the fourth sales tax since 1980 meant to help ease gridlock on L.A. County’s logjammed streets and freeways. A similar Measure J half-cent sales tax to extend Measure R just failed to pass a two-thirds majority in 2012.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board is expected to approve a proposed list of projects this month, followed by a public hearing.

If both half-cent sales taxes measures make the November ballot, they could inject $121 billion for new, people-moving projects across Los Angeles County for 40 years.

Half the combined $121 billion would be distributed to the region’s 88 cities for local transportation needs, including bike lanes. The other half would be dealt out to nine subregions, including the Valley, for rail and other transit priorities.

The San Fernando Valley Council of Governments, in conjunction with a VICA Valley On Track committee, has already submitted three rail proposals.

A light rail system for the Orange Line busway could be upgraded in stages, from longer buses to steel wheels, in time for a 2024 Olympics.

A light rail system up Van Nuys Boulevard along an East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor could whisk passengers between Sylmar and Sherman Oaks.

A light rail tunnel — financed, in part, by private tolls — could help relieve the notorious congestion in the Sepulveda Pass.

Others say the Valley needs more than $3 billion now limited for such projects. They say it must address the public transit shortfall at CSUN, one of the largest campuses in the state.

It can take some students up to three buses to get to classes — which now let out at night after the last bus has gone. Thousands of CSUN motorists, meanwhile, clog parking lots and nearby neighborhoods.

Proposed fixes, some announced earlier this week, call for a rapid bus-line service near campus that could link communities in the east and west. Proposals also include bus rapid transit system like the Orange Line on Nordhoff Street or Reseda Boulevard, which could also serve as home to a relocated Northridge MetroLink station.

“It is critical for us that we have a public transportation infrastructure that served the campus, and the community, as a whole,” CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison said to more than 250 city officials, CSUN administrators, business leaders, residents and students.

Metro officials say have already begun tweaking bus schedules for students’ needs after complaints during a first Valley transit summit last fall.

“We are listening,” Stephanie Wiggins, deputy CEO of Metro, who spoke of a “bottoms up” community-based approach to transit funding. “The process is working.”

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