WEST VALLEY TRANSIT HUB IN JEOPARDY STATE'S BUDGET WOES HAVE MTA SCALING BACK.
A visionary plan to build a ``Union Station'' at Warner Center to link rapid buses, busways and suburban transit services to suburbs west of the San Fernando Valley has hit a serious roadblock with the MTA facing funding cuts because of the state budget crisis.
The new leadership at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has turned the modest $4 million transit hub planned for Warner Center into an ambitious effort to attract motorists to ride buses to their jobs or lure mall shoppers onto the East-West Busway that will have its terminus in Warner Center.
The proposal already faced tough obstacles in trying to find prime Warner Center real estate and not adding more rush hour traffic to the business area, and now officials believe the state budget crunch will scuttle it indefinitely.
``I'd love to have a small Union Station in that part of the Valley,'' said David Armijo, the MTA's Valley general manager, who began shopping the idea around shortly after taking office this year. ``Right now we have a very basic plan that works. If we can take it to the next level, it's going to make it that much more attractive.''
But, he added, ``My concept of doing something more probably comes at a real bad time.''
Instead, the transit hub will proceed in phases as the MTA focuses on preserving the basics - namely, the Valley's East-West Busway, a $300 million line linking North Hollywood with Warner Center.
The city Department of Transportation plans to begin construction this summer on the hub on Owensmouth Avenue between Erwin and Oxnard streets.
For now, the MTA hopes to move forward on plans to build a 1,000-space parking structure nearby, possibly on nearby mall property.
An MTA spokesman said the agency board is slated in February to consider a $15 million proposal to build a parking structure, though funding has not been identified.
It's been a long-standing concern that there's no parking for the new busway, and Los Angeles City Councilman Dennis Zine recently hosted the various groups at a meeting where he pressed the MTA to create parking for the scheduled opening of the busway in 2005.
A spokeswoman for Westfield Shoppingtown Promenade said officials met with those involved, and promised to try to accommodate the community's needs if traffic congestion and other problems can be resolved.
Building a transit center has long been part of the development plans for Warner Center with expectations raised when former Councilwoman Laura Chick announced that a regional bus center would be built near Owensmouth and Oxnard.
``It will allow transit riders to take a shuttle from their door and transfer in Warner Center to convenient bus service that can take them throughout the region,'' she said at the time.
As the hub is now planned, buses will have dedicated curbside lanes along Owensmouth - between the Westfield Shoppingtown Promenade and the Blue Cross buildings - with regular stations for the commuter lines from Simi Valley, Thousand Oaks and Santa Clarita.
Arches would stretch over the north and south entrances to Owensmouth, and neon art would welcome riders.
But the MTA has been dreaming of further enhancements.
Armijo points to the cafe at the Metrolink station in Chatsworth, the child-care center at the Sylmar-San Fernando Metrolink station and the North Hollywood Metro Station's distinct sense of place as the kind of enhancements considered for the West Valley.
Plus, there would be standard travel amenities, such as ATMs and monitor screens with schedule information.
``You want to have it in the way that it's attractive, it's user friendly, that it has passenger amenities,'' Armijo said. ``It would be attractive enough and stand on its own. It would attract people to it, much like Union Station does.''
But the prospect of a spruced-up hub received mixed reviews among community leaders - who welcomed the idea of bringing better transportation amenities to the Valley but cautioned against overreaching.
``Let's see what happens with this (busway) line in the first place, see if it's used, rather than build a Taj Mahal,'' Valley civic leader David Fleming said.
``Though I like (MTA chief Roger Snoble's) thinking - which is put some money in the Valley - which is a new concept. I think you can plan for something bigger in the future.''
MTA chairman and Valley City Councilman Hal Bernson said, ``That may happen someday, but it's in the future - in the far future.''
Warner Center consultant Brad Rosenheim said an enhanced center would be possible, but has certain stumbling blocks - namely that it needs a plot of land and a pledge that it won't bring more rush-hour traffic.
Still, he said, if the MTA can come forward with a location and plan, it may be worth exploring.
``The primary concern that Warner Center would have is that it's an asset,'' he said.
As planned, the transit center is slated to start construction in the summer and be completed in late 2003 or early 2004, depending on whether work could finish before the holidays when it would have to be halted to accommodate mall shopping.
City transit officials said acquiring land is the biggest problem with an expanded hub.
``The land is so darn valuable there,'' said Department of Transportation Assistant General Manager James Okazaki, adding it took him years to acquire the land for the current site. ``I can't say they totally love the Transit Center.''
Armijo, who couldn't estimate the possible costs of the Valley's small Union Station, said he would continue pursuing the vision, hopeful there could be a way to make it happen.
``I'm trying to be pragmatic,'' Armijo said. ``My hope, if there's still a chance to do something, we can do something with it.''
Warner Center transit hub