Where should Gold Line run? Wash Blvd? 60 Fwy?

PICO RIVERA >> The battle over which communities will see light-rail through their cities as part of the Gold Line Eastside Extension officially began Saturday, with the first of four public hearings sanctioned by the Federal Trade Administration and the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

About 75 people listened to Laura Cornejo, project manager for MTA (Metro), explain the impacts of building the line along the south side of the 60  Freeway to Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, or running it south down Garfield Avenue in Montebello and east along Washington Boulevard through Pico Rivera and terminating west of Lambert Road in Whittier at Five Points.

About 15 people spoke about the eastward expansion from the Gold Line station on the edge of East Los Angeles at Atlantic and Pomona boulevards. Of those, six preferred the Washington Boulevard route, three preferred the 60 Freeway route and the rest did not specify a choice in their comments.

The presentation of the long-awaited, $15 million environmental impact statement/report to the public for the first time gave both sides an official chance to persuade Metro which route to pick. The public meeting, which lasted 90 minutes, marked the first public shots fired in a battle involving cities favoring the Washington Boulevard route or the 60  Freeway route.

The debate promises to intensify during the next six weeks, as the FAA and Metro hold three more public hearings starting Monday in Montebello. The official hearings will culminate in a staff position on where to put the train tracks and a vote by the Metro board on Nov. 13, Cornejo said.

An extension of the U-shaped Gold Line that runs from East L.A. to downtown L.A. to Pasadena and soon out to Azusa, will serve 720,580 residents or about 7  percent of the population of Los Angeles County, Metro said. The train extension would not be built until 2035, she said, unless speeded up by Metro.

While many residents would conceivably have access to downtown, South LA and the Westside without leaving their seat, Cornejo said, some who live along Washington Boulevard didn’t want the train because it would shrink the car corridor to make way for aerial tracks and/or at-grade tracks and overhead electrical wires.

“It will bring more people, more congestion and a potential for more crime to our area,” said Roberta Torres of Pico Rivera.

Pico Rivera resident Judy Rankin testified against the train entirely. “You want to put a train down Washington Boulevard? There is no room for it. Besides, this is a car state. People are not going to get out of their cars,” she said.

The EIR/EIS estimates the Washington Boulevard route would serve 19,900 daily boardings each weekday at cost of $1.4  billion to $1.7  billion to build, more riders and more money than the 60  Freeway at 16,700 daily weekday boardings for a cost of $1.3  billion. Either line would be used by people of lower socioeconomic levels who can’t afford a car, the report stated.

The Washington line would be 9.5  miles with six stations and the 60 Freeway route would go 6.9 miles with four stations.

“We have a lot of people who need to get to jobs or the VA or need access to other countywide facilities,” said Ted Knoll, executive director of First Day, a homeless outreach center in Whittier. “Please don’t disenfranchise these marginalized individuals.”

Joseph Gonzales, mayor pro-tem of South El Monte and chairman of the SR-60 Coalition, which includes six cities: Montebello, Monterey Park, El Monte, South El Monte, Rosemead and Industry, said the 60 route would not be just for commuters because the group has planned transit-oriented development around each of the four stations.

He also said the aerial tracks above Garfield Avenue planned for the Washington Boulevard line “would destroy Montebello.” The report says the Washington route would take out 58 businesses and nine homes, while the 60 Freeway route would not displace any residents and requires demolishing only eight businesses.

Henry Madrid, consultant for the SR-60 Coalition, warned Metro that if it chose the Washington route it would surely face lawsuits from the city of Montebello.

No city or elected officials from Whittier, Montebello or Pico Rivera spoke at Saturday’s public hearing. Pico Rivera Mayor Brent Tercero said his city is officially neutral on the debate over the train’s route.

“I came here mostly to listen,” he said during an interview after the meeting. “Personally, I think the Washington Boulevard alignment will connect communities, but there are a lot of impacts we will have to face.”