L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti supports Gold Line Whittier route, Azusa-to-Claremont extension – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

The following article appeared in the San Gabriel Valley Tribune on July 10, 2014.

L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti supports Gold Line Whittier route, Azusa-to-Claremont extension – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti speaks during a transportation forum along with Assemblyman Chris Holden, D-Pasadena, at the Hughes Community Center in Claremont, Calif. July 9, 2014. (Staff photo by Leo Jarzomb/San Gabriel Valley Tribune)

By Steve Scauzillo

July 10, 2014

CLAREMONT >> Wearing his new hat as chairman of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti jumped into the Gold Line Eastside extension controversy Thursday saying he favored the Washington Boulevard route because it would serve transit-dependent residents cut off from rail service.

Garcetti, who met with southeast county and San Gabriel Valley mayors a few months ago, quickly added that he would love to see the light-rail line extended on both Washington Boulevard and the north side of the 60 Freeway.

“If we can figure out a way to fund them both, why not build both?” Garcetti said. But later, he made remarks that seemed to favor the 9.5-mile Washington Boulevard route through Montebello and Pico Rivera and ending in Whittier, as opposed to the more southerly, 6.9-mile route through Montebello, Rosemead and South El Monte that parallels the freeway and would terminate near the Whittier Narrows Recreation Area.

“The ridership is stronger on the Whittier side,” he said during a transportation forum with about 20 San Bernardino County and San Gabriel Valley mayors and leaders arranged by Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden.

The MTA, known as Metro, is scheduled to release an environmental impact report on the $1.3-billion to $1.7-billion project on July 25, said Whittier City Councilman Fernando Dutra.

Though the EIR would present both routes as two separate options, the final decision on which route to build would be made by the Metro board in the coming months.

“We appreciate someone in his position sees this and appreciates the need that is out there,” said Jeff Collier, Whittier city manager, during an interview Thursday afternoon. “But I’m guarded until we see a decision has been made for this alignment.”

Dutra, a member of the Washington Boulevard Light Rail Transit Coalition for more than six years, said he wouldn’t mind if both routes were built — as long as the route entering Whittier was built first.

The Washington Boulevard route, which would carry 19,900 passengers, would be built from the terminus of the line at Atlantic Station east to Garfield, south through the city of Commerce, then east along Washington Boulevard through Montebello, Pico Rivera, Santa Fe Springs and ending in Whittier at the PIH Health Hospital-Whittier Campus.

The 60 Freeway route would carry an average of 16,700 passengers, according to Metro, but would cost less.

Garcetti commented that the Washington Boulevard route would carry more passengers, about 3,200 more daily riders, according to Metro.

The project was originally scheduled for completion — whichever route is chosen — in 2035 but the project is listed to be accelerated in Metro’s Short Range Transportation Plan with a completion date of 2025.

“The SR-60 alignment would function more as a “park and ride” for commuters on the freeway. The Washington Boulevard Coalition feel the TOD (transit-oriented development) opportunities on the Washington Boulevard alignment “are more consistent with light rail service,” wrote Collier in an emailed response.

“I’m highly surprised at the mayor’s position,” said Joseph Gonzales, South El Monte City Councilman and chairman of the SR-60 Coalition. “He needs to do a little bit more research. Studies show the south San Gabriel Valley has transit dependent populations.”

The 60 Freeway route cities have sketched out opportunities for 1.5 million square feet of industrial development along their preferred route, he said. The Shops at Montebello is planning more retail development if the train line were to stop at the mall, Gonzales said.

Garcetti also said he would favor adding the Gold Line Foothill Extension from Azusa to Montclair to the Short Range Transportation Plan, something Gold Line proponents and foothill cities have been demanding. But even if it wasn’t added by the Metro Planning and Programming Committee on Wednesday, he said he would work to find funding for the project.

“A board report is less important than the commitment of the leaders of this board, including me as chair,” Garcetti said after the meeting. “I can’t do well for my city if I don’t have support all the way to the eastern border (of the county) and vice versa.”

Habib Balian, CEO of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, was buoyed by the mayor’s support of both Gold Line projects.

“I have never heard a mayor of Los Angeles say those things. I think he surely understands it,” Balian said.

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