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Railyard Could Displace Irreplaceable Businesses

Now that Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority has picked the location for a maintenance railyard in Van Nuys, the wait begins for business owners who will be displaced. Among them is Jose Zavala, an owner and president of SCV Recycling, at 14654 Raymer St. Having been in the Valley since 2010, Zavala said the business invested a lot of money to be compliant with state regulations for handling metals and e-waste. But staying in Los Angeles doesn’t look to be in SCV’s future. The railyard puts the company in a tough position because it will likely lose customers who currently come from around the Valley and as far away as Palmdale, Lancaster and Bakersfield. “It is a good area between the Port of L.A. and my customers on this side of town,” Zavala said of the Van Nuys location. But the area has been identified by the transportation authority, or Metro, as the best location for a railyard connected to the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor project that will have a 9.2-mile light rail going up the center of Van Nuys Boulevard from the Orange Line station to the Sylmar Metrolink station. Construction on the $1.3 billion project would begin in 2021 or 2022 and be completed in time for the 2028 Summer Olympics. It would have 14 at-grade stations to serve three-car trains that can accommodate up to 400 passengers. Van Nuys Boulevard would be reduced to two lanes from three lanes in each direction with a 26-foot wide swath up the center for the rail line. That space would be wider at the stations. Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said the agency expects to receive environmental certification for the project from state and federal regulators early next year. Only after that would property owners be contacted to buy their land. “It’s basically reaching out to them to see what they want to do,” Sotero said. “There are various options involved. If they wanted to stay in the local area, we would try to find one that they can relocate to. Or if they did not want to be in the same area, that is something they could let us know.” Who’s displaced? Forty-one properties have been identified in the area bound by Van Nuys Boulevard on the east, Keswick Street to the south, Raymer Street to the north and not quite to the Pacoima Wash on the west. Businesses include auto body shops; small manufacturers; a caterer; distributors of heating, cooling and other industrial equipment; granite and marble wholesalers; and a topless sports bar. Kenn Phillips, chief executive of the Valley Economic Alliance, said his organization is working with business owners about just what is going on with the project. “If they have questions, we tell them to call Metro,” Phillips said. “That way they are hearing it directly from them.” One business that may have a hard time finding adequate space would be David Barnes Co., Phillips said, because it currently takes up two buildings and employs nearly 100 workers who produce precision metal-grinded parts for airplanes. “Anything that flies, they manufacture for. And they have some parts that they are the only manufacturer in the world that makes them,” Phillips said. “Can you imagine having to shut down the company like that?” According to Colliers International, the San Fernando Valley had a 0.8 percent vacancy rate in industrial property in the second quarter. The compares with a vacancy rate of 1 percent in the same period a year earlier. Peter Ruiz owns the building at 14737 Keswick St. that is home to Sunset Ranch Egg Co., an egg distributor on its fourth generation of family operation. Ruiz envisions having to move out of the Valley and go to Santa Clarita or Simi Valley because of the lack of M-2 zoned property. The move would put the business on the outer edge of its distribution area and would likely cost more money to run, he said. “We’re leaving at 5 in the morning just to get to Beverly Hills right now; we’ll have to leave at 4 in the morning,” Ruiz added. Zavala, of the recycling company, said that he has an option to purchase the land his business is on from his landlord. He plans on exercising that in the near future. “As a tenant, I do not have many options,” Zavala said. “Being the landlord, I get a stronger position to be able to negotiate (with Metro) to buy my business or get a realistic price and then moving on to the next target.” Still, there is a cost to having to move. Zavala estimated it would be between $400,000 to $500,000 to meet state compliance at a new location. Valley options Metro looked at several options for the Van Nuys corridor project before deciding last June on light rail. The other options included bus rapid transit, or bus-only lanes, on the curb and up the center of the roadway; or a tram similar to those operated in San Diego and Portland, Ore. The site for the maintenance yard is an alternative to a 58-parcel property near the Orange Line stop in Van Nuys that had previously been put forth by the agency as an option for the yard, the creation of which would have resulted in the displacement of as many as 186 businesses. Landlords and business owners there banded together to voice opposition to that proposal – ultimately leading to it being pulled from consideration. Funding for the light rail project comes from Measures R and M, approved by voters in 2008 and 2016, respectively; the state’s gas tax; and the state Transportation Improvement Program. Ruiz, the egg distributor, questioned whether light rail is even necessary. “When you look at the need of a train going down the middle of Van Nuys Boulevard, it is absolutely ridiculous,” he said. “Ridership is down on buses throughout the Valley, if not all of Los Angeles.” Metro said that the Van Nuys bus corridor is the second busiest in the Valley (after the Orange Line) and the seventh highest out of the entire county system. Sotero, the Metro spokesman, said that the Valley “overwhelmingly” supported Measure M three years ago. Part of that was projects such as the light rail on Van Nuys Boulevard, as well as converting the Orange Line to rail and the planned Sepulveda corridor rail project to connect the Valley with the Westside and potentially Los Angeles International Airport. “There are a lot of exciting rail plans for the future to better connect Valley residents with the rest of the county,” Sotero at Metro said. The Van Nuys project will connect not only with the Orange Line but also Metrolink along one of the busiest corridors in the Valley. “You put the transit where it is needed the most and can serve the most passengers,” Sotero added.

Mark Madler
Mark Madler
Mark R. Madler covers aviation & aerospace, manufacturing, technology, automotive & transportation, media & entertainment and the Antelope Valley. He joined the company in February 2006. Madler previously worked as a reporter for the Burbank Leader. Before that, he was a reporter for the City News Bureau of Chicago and several daily newspapers in the suburban Chicago area. He has a bachelor’s of science degree in journalism from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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