Metro staff have proposed a route for the bus rapid transit line that would run along Nordhoff Street, passing the southern edge of California State University, Northridge. | Shutterstock
“My hope as a councilmember is to have a say regarding the process”
The project—particularly a segment that would run through low-slung residential areas along Nordhoff Street—became a surprisingly central issue in a hard-fought race that saw former council aide John Lee narrowly defeat opponent Loraine Lundquist in a bid to represent the communities of Northridge, Chatsworth, Porter Ranch, and Granada Hills.
The two candidates sparred over the project during debates and town halls leading up to the election, and in material on his campaign website, Lee accused Lundquist of not taking a firm stance on the proposal.
“I am 100 percent against this project,” said Lee during a candidate forum in July. “I want that clear.”
What’s less clear is what Lee’s opposition means for the project’s future.
Though members of the City Council have enormous influence over what happens in their districts, the North Valley BRT line is not a city project, and Lee does not sit on Metro’s Board of Directors.
Agency spokesperson Brian Haas says that Metro is working to develop a project that “makes the most sense for the communities surrounding it,” but that “final decisions on potential routes and how the project will look and operate” will be made by the board.
For his part, Lee says that he hasn’t yet contacted Metro about the project.
“I do plan to speak with them once I am in office,” he writes in an email. “My hope as a councilmember is to have a say regarding the process.”
One of 45 projects funded through Metro’s Measure M sales tax initiative, the planned BRT line would travel in dedicated bus-only lanes between North Hollywood and Chatsworth, connecting with California State University, Northridge and a future light rail line on Van Nuys Boulevard. It would parallel the Orange Line, which opened in 2005 and has become one of the nation’s most successful BRT projects.
Metro aims to have the new bus line up and running by 2025, but the agency’s plans to run a large segment of the line on Nordhoff Street have been met with resistance from many local residents, who argue that removing lanes for cars along the thoroughfare would snarl traffic and encourage drivers to detour onto smaller residential streets.
Lee echoed these complaints during his campaign, writing on his website that a Nordhoff alignment would cause “massive spillover of traffic into our neighborhoods.”
He also warned that the project “would almost certainly trigger automatic up-zoning” along the bus route, allowing apartment buildings and denser residential developments to be constructed by-right in areas now dedicated exclusively to single-family housing.
Los Angeles’s Transit Oriented Communities policy does offer developers incentives for building affordable housing near intersections served by multiple high-frequency bus lines. A proposal under consideration in the state legislature would further reduce limits on density in areas within a quarter-mile of bus stops on lines with peak headways under 10 minutes. That bill, called SB 50, won’t come up for a vote until 2020.
The Los Angeles City Council voted unanimously to oppose the bill earlier this year, but this appears to be the first time that a member of the council has explicitly spoken out against a transit project based on the basis that some form of the measure could eventually pass.
“This [BRT project] definitely qualifies for all the different things that Sacramento is trying to push on us,” Lee said at a candidate’s forum.
Jay Beeber, who launched a campaign called Save the San Fernando Valley in opposition to the project, tells Curbed he’s “optimistic” that resistance to the BRT proposal will mount with Lee in office.
“My desired outcome would be that [Metro] takes a step back… and really engage with the community this time, and engage with the council office,” he says. “We should all come to the table and we should discuss this in a reasonable manner so we don’t have to be protesting and doing all that stuff.”
CSUN student Kenny Uong, who relies on the bus to get to the Northridge campus from his home in Glendale, says residents opposed to the project were particularly vocal at a recent community meeting held at the college.
“I felt really nervous and pressured,” says Uong, who went to the meeting to support the project.
Though the project would not open until after he graduates, Uong says the bus line would provide a more reliable transit option for students traveling to and from CSUN—one that wouldn’t slow to a crawl during rush hour.
“The Valley has been neglected for high-quality transportation options,” says Uong. The BRT project, he argues, is a key part of making “a more interconnected” transit system for the region.
This isn’t the only proposed BRT project that’s drawn fire from those who live along the route—particularly those who drive. One attendee of a July meeting on a North Hollywood-to-Pasadena line that would pass through Eagle Rock likened the event to “an episode of the Jerry Springer Show.”
Those opposed to the North Valley project were vocal enough at a Metro committee meeting in June that the agency’s Board of Directors postponed a vote on the project for an additional three months.
Beeber, who spoke at that meeting, says his main goal is to convince Metro to study multiple versions of the bus line during the project’s environmental review process—including an alignment that would travel mainly along Roscoe Boulevard, before hooking north toward CSUN.
He also says the agency should reconsider whether the project should include bus-only lanes—an essential part of bus rapid transit systems, which are designed to offer speedier, more efficient service than a standard bus line.
“In the current configuration of the roadways, we don’t believe the bus would be delayed significantly,” he says. “We do believe that traffic would be delayed significantly if you take away car lanes.”
Haas says the BRT project is “still in the early stages of planning,” and that “there will be additional opportunities for the community to learn more and weigh in on how they think this project will best serve them as we progress through the planning process.”