Jewish Journal

An Air of Resignation

Protesters say they'll fight, but so far busway gets the green light.

by Wendy J. Madnick

Posted on Aug. 16, 2001 at 8:00 pm

It's the end of the line, or rather, the beginning. Last month, the board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) voted 8-3 to implement the San Fernando Valley East-West Transit Corridor.

Despite an attempt by Mayor James Hahn to propose an alternative route, the MTA Board's decision means the buses will follow the original plans, including a run down the middle of Chandler Boulevard in North Hollywood.

Opponents are threatening to sue, but so far no concrete actions have been confirmed.

For those most closely involved with fighting the proposed busway, the vote came as no real surprise. What disappointed many were the actions of Hahn, who during his campaign said he would strongly oppose the busway. Although he did eventually vote against the overall project, the mayor's proposal to run the busway down Oxnard instead of Chandler was perceived by some as a cop-out.

"Given what the mayor said the day before in a radio interview, we thought he would forcefully oppose the entire motion of putting a bus down Chandler or Oxnard," said Rabbi Aron Tendler of Shaarey Zedek. "So when he instead pushed for the Oxnard route and didn't support the enhanced TSM [an alternative which would improve bus travel throughout the Valley], we were surprised and yes, disappointed."

Tendler said he was not as surprised that Councilman Hal Bernson, a Hahn appointee, voted in favor of the busway; Bernson was a member of the previous board. But the rabbi said an appearance on the day of the vote by Robert Hertzberg, speaker of the California Assembly, undoubtedly had an impact.

"The speaker talked about how funding would not be available in a year's time, which definitely influenced the vote," Tendler said. "However, we had a feeling the vote was a done deal even before [then]."

Indeed, a spokesperson for the mayor's office said that Hahn based his decision to push for Oxnard on a conversation he had with Hertzberg where the speaker told him the funding was a "use it or lose it" situation.

"The mayor was told the money was there for only one of the two options: Oxnard or Chandler," director of communications Julie Wong said. "It seems that Chandler would interrupt a lot more people's lives, including the Orthodox community, so he opted to support [the busway on] Oxnard"

Hertzberg could not be reached for comment.

In a letter to MTA Chair John Fasana sent prior to the vote, the speaker stated "I strongly urge [the MTA] to support your staff recommendation endorsing the Chandler Boulevard option as the locally preferred alternative, along with the option of potential weekend service on Oxnard Street. Our offices have spent extensive time with opponents and believe that mitigations, including the weekend Oxnard option, pedestrian overpasses and other proposals, respond to their concerns while meeting our transit goals."

Hertzberg also noted that the MTA Board could not afford, literally, to miss this opportunity: Assembly Bill 2928 specifies that funds for state transit projects, including the $245 million designated for the San Fernando Valley, be used within two years or revert to the state.

One of the Jewish landmarks most affected by the proposed busway is Chabad of North Hollywood. The synagogue sits in what will end up being a triangle of busway routes and reconstructed streets and faces possible demolition if a compromise cannot be worked out with the MTA.

Rabbi Aaron Abend said he remains optimistic an agreement can be reached. He said that MTA project manager Kevin Michel "called the night before the vote to reassure me that if it should pass, the MTA would work with us to resolve the problem in the most amiable way," Abend said, adding that, although there are no offers from the MTA currently on the table, he doesn't see anything "back-handed."

"Whatever they've told me from day one has been what it is going to be. I believe in God, I believe in justice, so we shall see."

Rather than worry about the impending busway, Abend said he is directing all of his efforts toward the opening of the rebuilt Chabad of Encino on Sept. 9 and a Torah dedication at the North Hollywood site, which he hopes will happen Sept. 2.

"Life goes on and we don't know what will be, but a new Torah couldn't hurt," Abend said.

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