A light rail line approved by the Metro Board last week promises to bring speed and ease to travelers heading from Van Nuys to Sylmar, while the decision brings a cloud of uncertainty on the future of several businesses that will be displaced by a rail yard built to store and maintain the trains.
Right now, going from the Orange Line’s Van Nuys station to the San Fernando/Sylmar Metrolink Station takes a good hour. And that’s on a Rapid Metro Bus on both Van Nuys Boulevard and San Fernando Road. But you still have to switch buses and wait.
However, in ten years, Metro officials promise that route will be much faster and simpler.
Riders will board a light rail train that will take them along that route, one of 28 transportation projects Metro is fast-tracking ahead of the 2028 Los Angeles Olympic Games.
Last week, the Metro Board approved the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor Project and on June 29, Mayor Eric Garcetti, LA Council members and state officials descended at the Orange Line’s Van Nuys station to celebrate the news.
“This is a historic day” for the San Fernando Valley,” noted Garcetti, as Orange Line buses passed in the background.
“Van Nuys will move faster and more efficiently,” the mayor said, adding it would provide more foot traffic and revitalize the area with new jobs and shoppers.
“We’re a city that’s on the move,” Garcetti said.
Back to the Future
The line (yet to be named) will include 14 stations along Panorama City, Arleta, Pacoima and San Fernando. The light rail trains will travel in the middle of the already busy Van Nuys Boulevard, connect with the existing Metrolink line at San Fernando Road, then head north to the San Fernando/Sylmar Metrolink Station.
That means drivers will have one less lane on either side of the congested Van Nuys Boulevard.
Officials say a one-way trip from end-to-end on the rail line will take approximately 31 minutes.
This is not the first time Van Nuys Boulevard has had a rail line.
The last time was in 1952 with the Red Car – a series of trolleys crisscrossing Los Angeles in the early part of last century. But there were a lot fewer cars on the Valley’s roads in those days. Traffic congestion has grown exponentially in the past 66 years.
The Van Nuys Boulevard corridor is the second most utilized transportation corridor in the San Fernando Valley. Daily ridership on buses along Van Nuys Boulevard, one of the main arteries in the San Fernando Valley, is around 20,000 today and expected to grow to 47,000 by 2040, Metro officials said.
But by 2028, it will be back to the future with the 9.2 mile East San Fernando Transit Corridor Project, the largest transportation infrastructure in the San Fernando Valley in the last 15 years.
Garcetti said the project would bring an estimated 13,000 direct and indirect jobs to the area, and give a boost to businesses along the way with more pedestrian traffic and shoppers.
“This is a big day,” said Councilmember Nury Martinez, whose District 6 covers much of the construction area.
She said she remembered how her father never had a car and took the bus from Sherman Oaks to her home in Pacoima. But, she said, that traveling time would be cut substantially now.
“Less time traveling means more time spent with your kids and families,” she said.
The project is expected to begin construction in 2021, with an opening date before the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 2028. Martinez said she expects the project will give a much-needed economic boost to the area. Indeed, several businesses and buildings along Van Nuys Boulevard sit empty, often for years. Officials say the new light rail line will bring housing and commercial developments.
“This area is starving for economic growth. This project is a lifeline for this community,” she added.
Councilmember Monica Rodriguez, whose District 7 covers Pacoima and parts of Arleta, said the project is a “transformative part of how we see our community move forward” and added that each of the 14 stations on the route would provide a “true benefit to each of our neighborhoods.”
While the rail line may bring more businesses along the route, others will inevitably be affected.
Since the line will be served by light rail, Metro will need to add a service station for trains that travel along the route. The agency had considered putting that facility on a parcel of land close to the Van Nuys station, but local property owners complained that the plan would displace hundreds of businesses.
Instead, Metro spokesman David Sotero said, the agency picked a location “that is right across the street from the Van Nuys Amtrak Station, and that has the least business impact of all of the options.”
Metro needed “appro-ximately 25-30 acres of property to build the rail yard. It has to be built very close to the rail line. You can’t operate a rail line without a rail yard,” Sotero said.
Building the rail yard means taking over 37 parcels of land along Raymer and Keswick Street, some of them with multiple businesses — including marble and auto stores, recycling businesses and other warehouses.
Among those is I&E Cabinets Inc. a manufacturer at 14660 Raymer Street, and their owners are crying foul.
The company makes custom-designed & handcrafted cabinets and has 40 employees. They’ve been in business for more than 30 years, and they’ve been at their current location for the past seven.
“We can’t just close and come back later, that’s a disaster,” said I&E Cabinets owner Izzie Chlomovitz sitting in his office.
His wife, Ettie, agrees.
“It’s devastating,” she said of Metro’s move. “Our business is 10,000 square feet. We have large machinery. To move a business like this is not easy. I’ve got contracts with state and federal with deadlines and if we don’t comply we get fined.”
A look into their shop gives a clear view of the difficulty of moving.
Enormous machines are positioned in different points of the shop, where employees cut and mold wood at different stages. The machines are bolted to the floor; to move them, they must be disassembled and assembled again. The last time they moved, Chlomovitz said it cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars and nearly two months to get back in full swing.
There are other difficulties, they note.
“Landlords don’t want to rent to a cabinet maker,” Chlomovitz said.
That’s partly due to the fire insurance they must carry because of all the flammable products. They also require a certain amount of space and height for their shop. And given actual real estate prices, that’s a pretty penny.
“To relocate to a similar location it’s going to be impossible,” he says.
And to one nearby the current shop will be harder.
All of their employees, and even the Chlomovitzs themselves, live nearby and find the location suitable, as they are near marble stores and businesses with whom they do business and trade clients.
Even worse, Ettie said, Metro officials never notified them about their plans. She said they only found out about two months ago when someone else told them.
Metro had three options for the rail yard, including one that would have meant the least impact to businesses, but they decided to go with the second choice, something the Chlomovitzs don’t understand.
They even went to the Metro Board meeting last week when the vote was taken on the project to try to voice their concern, but that meeting went so long they ended up leaving.
Sotero contends they did inform the businesses, held several meetings to let them know about the plans, and that this was the best solution for all involved.
He added that Metro will work with the businesses to help them relocate to other nearby areas, and those businesses would be eligible for relocation fees. Metro Boardmember Sheila Kuehl also asked staffers to look into creating a fund to compensate business owners for disruptions caused by construction of the line.
The Chlomovitz’s and other businesses would certainly need that help.