By: T. A. Hendrickson
With controversy still swirling around Metro’s proposed route for a bus rapid transit (BRT) line through Eagle Rock, top Los Angeles county officials for the first time dove into the fray during an August 7 community gathering—an indication of the issue’s rising political stakes.
County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Hilda Solis, who represents Eagle Rock, requested the transit agency’s “open house” at Occidental College and spoke one-on-one with attendees for nearly two hours. Also present were Metro Chief Executive Officer Phillip Washington, Glendale Mayor and Metro Board Member Ara Najarian and State Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo.
In recent months, the plan for a BRT route along Colorado Boulevard in Eagle Rock has escalated into one of the most contentious disputes in the community’s recent history. It has created divisions among neighbors and is being closely watched by transit advocates across the city.
At issue has been whether Metro locked in a preference for putting the BRT on Colorado Boulevard without due consideration of an alternative route to serve Eagle Rock on the 134 Freeway.
Supporters of the Colorado route, which is now undergoing a preliminary environmental review, argue it would be better for local businesses and the environment. They base their argument, in part, on Metro data which show that a boulevard route would attract more riders than a freeway option.
Critics of the Colorado route say it would, among other things, jeopardize Eagle Rock’s character and create hardships for businesses. They also argue that a route along the 134 Freeway with stops near the on- and off-ramps could both attract riders and preserve the boulevard.
An earlier Metro meeting on the BRT in Eagle Rock had quickly turned nasty—a situation that Solis addressed head-on at the beginning of the open house at Occidental.
“I heard the last meeting that was held [on July 13], there were many voices that were highly opinionated, and some people who wanted to speak up were intimidated and didn’t get a chance or opportunity and felt fearful for themselves,” she said. “I know that all of us can be respectful of one another…So that’s all I ask, that we respect one another.”
The mood this time around was, in fact, far more subdued as Metro staffers were positioned around the campus meeting room to answer questions about the $267 million BRT from North Hollywood to Pasadena (NoHo-Pas). Maps and other visual aids displayed throughout the room also helped to explain the project’s details.
Many questions focused on how a BRT on Colorado might affect traffic, parking and the medians. A recurring concern was that dedicated BRT lanes would eliminate lanes for cars. A possible solution, according to one Metro staffer, was to keep two lanes of traffic on each side of the boulevard, narrow the bike lanes and “mitigate” the resulting loss of parking.
There were also lots of questions—and pointed opinions—about why a 134 Freeway option with freeway-adjacent stops was not in Metro’s mix of alternatives for Eagle Rock.
When two longtime Eagle Rock residents expressed their dissatisfaction to Solis about a Colorado route, the supervisor acknowledged that Metro had made “premature decisions” when it eliminated a route on the 134 Freeway in favor of a boulevard route.
Later, in an interview with the Boulevard Sentinel, she emphasized that the Metro board can change course and require Metro to study a 134 Freeway option anew. “The board has an obligation to look at all this and to hear that people want that as an option, so that’s how this democracy works,” Solis said. “You’ve seen it happen where things change and all of a sudden you get new information or you get a sense of, ‘Wait a minute, something was missed here, Metro. Let’s rethink this.’ ”
“I just want to weigh everything like a good public servant and make sure all the voices are heard,” she said.
No matter what the final determination, Solis will be on the spot to explain and defend Metro’s decision to her Eagle Rock constituents—a politically tricky task given the strong feelings on both sides.
Surprisingly, despite the well-publicized controversy over the Eagle Rock route, Metro CEO Washington and board member Najarian, the Glendale mayor, seemed unaware that a 134 Freeway route had even been cut from consideration by the Metro board.
In his opening remarks, Najarian said: “Glendale has the same issues Eagle Rock faces. We have the option of putting it on Colorado Boulevard or on the freeway.”
The Boulevard Sentinel asked Washington if Najarian was correct in suggesting that a 134 Freeway option was alive for Eagle Rock.
“As far as I know,” he said, “all things are on the table.” But to make sure, he summoned the BRT project manager, Metro Senior Director Corey Zelmer, who shook his head “no” when Washington asked if the 134 was on the table for Eagle Rock. “It’s off the table,” Washington said, correcting his earlier statement. “It’s off the table.”
When and how the Colorado Boulevard route came to be Metro’s favored one has also become a matter of dispute.
In 2016, more than two years before Metro completed an analysis of BRT alternatives and before there was any broad public notice about the project, a move already was afoot to secure the Colorado Boulevard route, an effort purportedly orchestrated by the office of L.A. City Councilmember José Huizar.
The Eagle Rock Chamber of Commerce and the Eagle Rock Neighborhood Council submitted two identically worded letters to Metro in the fall of 2016 strongly supporting a Colorado Boulevard alignment. The chamber recently retracted its letter, saying it was coordinated and sent without permission by former Huizar staffers.
Sources at the Chamber and the ERNC said their organizations were led to believe that, unless the route ran along Colorado, the line would bypass Eagle Rock entirely on the 134 Freeway. There was no discussion of a possible route on the freeway with stops at both ends of town. The identical letters apparently convinced Metro that Eagle Rock supported the Colorado route, even before the agency officially reached out for broad community input.
Neither Huizar’s office nor the ERNC responded to questions from the Boulevard Sentinel asking who wrote the 2016 letters.
In August, with the controversy still flaring, the ERNC dove in again with two new letters. One, to Metro, summarizes the criteria for safety, parking and other features that stakeholders have said the agency should consider in its environmental review of the Colorado route.
The other letter asks Solis to call for Metro to expand its current environmental review of the Colorado route to include an analysis of a “previously eliminated freeway route” for Eagle Rock. That is a reference to a route once considered by Metro that bypassed Eagle Rock entirely. As such, the letter stops short of asking Metro to study what critics of the Colorado route have said want: A freeway route with freeway-adjacent stops.
In any event, the more important issue now is Solis’ take on the BRT, not the ERNC’s. At the open house at Occidental, the Boulevard Sentinel asked Solis what it would take for her to support a study by Metro of a 134 Freeway route in Eagle Rock with stops. “I’m open,” she said. “We’re listening. And you know, if I already made up my mind, you think I’d be here?”
K.D. Dunleavy, Matthew Reagan and Joel Sappell contributed reporting to this story.
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