Leo Baeck Temple fosters passionate support for transit improvements in Sepulveda Pass


In the midst of a hotly contested election season, dozens of community members representing churches and synagogues from across Los Angeles County met on April 10 at Leo Baeck Temple to discuss the very real possibility of getting another name on the November ballot: the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).

For Leo Baeck, a Reform congregation that resides in the shadow of the always-buzzing 405 Freeway, the center of conversation with MTA’s CEO Phil Washington was Measure R2, a $120 billion county bond proposal that could allocate funds over a 40-year period for a variety of transportation improvements — including rapid transit along the Sepulveda Pass. The chief source of funding would be an additional countywide half-cent sales tax.

A minimum two-thirds vote at an MTA board meeting on June 23 is needed to assure Measure R2’s place on the November ballot. Washington is seeking pubic input after the drafting of the measure last month, and Sunday’s meeting was an opportunity for residents to raise concerns as well as ensure that the MTA board is committed to getting R2 in front of voters this upcoming election season. 

“We welcome you here today to build on our relationship with you, Mr. Washington, and to make our goals a reality,” said Eric Stockell, co-chairman of Leo Baeck’s community organizing team. 

Measure R2 is essentially an add-on to 2008’s Measure R, which was passed to plug gaps in L.A.’s existing mass transit system. It would fund local pothole repair and street repaving, maintenance, security, and regional bike and pedestrian projects, but a lynchpin of the measure is the proposed Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor, the first phase being a 12-mile tunnel hosting a rail line connecting the Van Nuys Metrolink Station and the Wilshire/Westwood Purple Line extension. Its construction is contingent on R2 passing. 

Support for this was the afternoon’s main talking point at Leo Baeck, a member of the broad-based organizing network OneLA-IAF and a congregation that has pursued the issue of improving public transportation for years. In 2012, a Leo Baeck congregant recounted a story about missing an important job interview because of heavy traffic on the 405. After hearing many more personal narratives in this vein, Stockell and his cohorts pressed for change. 

What followed were years of regular meetings with members of Mayor Eric Garcetti’s staff, as well as transit aides for L.A. County Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas. It also won support from prominent county institutions such as UCLA, Los Angeles International Airport, the Skirball Cultural Center and many area churches. 

“The issue of transportation is so important to us,” Sue Meltzer, a Leo Baeck member, told the Journal. “Traffic is so bad that some members can’t even get here for services.”

Attendees shared stories about 405-related congestion and its hindrance to crosstown visits to friends, cultural landmarks and places of worship. 

“My friend couldn’t get to a funeral for someone he loved dearly because of traffic on the 405. He literally turned around and went home,” Jerry Goldstein, a Leo Baeck member, said. 

Other audience members included congregants from Temple Beth Am, Temple Isaiah and Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, who spoke of the same challenges. Susan Bartholomew, a Temple Isaiah member in attendance, told the Journal that the current state of affairs on the 405 and surrounding area leaves her feeling trapped and isolated on her side of town. 

“My husband teaches at UCLA, so we moved nearby. Our lives are completely prescribed by that. We don’t do anything or go anywhere, it seems. We really feel restricted,” Bartholomew said. “The L.A. Times Festival of Books was this weekend. We would’ve loved to have gone but it would be too stressful getting there.”

The ambitious Sepulveda Pass venture — dubbed by some, including Washington, as the “opportunity line” — would break ground in 2024 with an estimated completion date sometime in 2033. Stockell voiced his displeasure with MTA’s current timetable, but Washington tried to quell any fears.

“We are looking to accelerate the Sepulveda Pass,” Washington said, his words met with applause. “I believe we will. People who want to build this rail line are already discussing it. The big challenge is being successful in November.” 

Washington has been in his current post with MTA for just over a year after a unanimous vote by board members in March 2015. He previously headed Denver’s Regional Transportation District, a position he held for six years. 

On Sunday, Washington, a South Side Chicago native, referenced his emotional ties to public transportation and how that wills him to do his work. 

“I grew up in public housing. My mother took the bus to work. The bus frequency was about once every 30 minutes. She’d work a 14-hour day and if she missed the last bus, sometimes she couldn’t even make it home,” Washington said. “Transportation is a vital part of my makeup. It’s very important to me.”

One challenge that Washington faces regarding R2 is criticism of the potential for disruption to communities along the proposed lines. With the advent of new rapid transit and increased connectivity, new development is sure to bring about higher rents and, ultimately, the displacing of lower-income families. Some in attendance testified that the expansion of the Expo Line to downtown Santa Monica, slated to open in May, is already tripling rents in some areas. 

“We need to ensure affordable housing and encourage local hiring. We need to make sure that people who live on the line can use the line,” Stockell said.

Washington responded by saying that he shares such concerns, and that the MTA board voted to make sure that 35 percent of housing in communities along proposed rail lines be affordable. Then he added, “In terms of gentrification and displacement, the farther people move away from the urban core, I have to build trains there. It affects my bottom line.”

He also said MTA is working with local community colleges to help train a workforce for new jobs that are created in this process. 

“We conducted studies to pin down the hardest-to-fill positions in the transportation industry. We’re partnering with community colleges to put together curriculums to train that workforce,” he said. “We don’t want workers from impoverished communities to just be flagmen and women on the line. We want them to have careers.”

Although mostly satisfied with what she heard, Debbie Stein, another Leo Baeck member, left the meeting feeling as though one important topic went unaddressed. 

“I would like to see more done toward helping people figure out how to use the new lines,” Stein told the Journal. “There should more education on where the lines are, how I can get from one place to another. I don’t even know where a lot of the lines are.”

Leo Baeck Senior Rabbi Ken Chasen, who led everyone in a blessing before addressing the crowd, made it clear that getting everyone together in a room is an accomplishment, but getting things done is the ultimate goal.

“This is a most proud day for our congregation but also a day of urgent accountability,” Chasen said.

On May 21, the Leo Baeck Temple community organizing team is hosting a Havdalah service at the Santa Monica beach. Everyone will meet at the Culver City Metro station and ride the new extended Expo Line to the beach to show support for continued expansion of the city’s public transportation.

NYC subway covered in Nazi insignia for Amazon ad promotion


A New York City subway has been covered with the Nazi insignia in an ad promotion for a new Amazon series.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s highly trafficked 42nd Street shuttle is covered in the Nazi and Imperial Japan insignias to promote “The Man in the High Castle,” a show that imagines an alternate history in which the Axis powers win World War II after exploding a nuclear device on Washington, D.C.

The 260 poster ads include the Nazi Reichsadler eagle but do not contain any swastikas.

The ad campaign will run until Dec. 14.

MTA instituted a policy in April that bans political ads from its subways and buses. Under the resolution, MTA permits only the display of commercial advertising, public service announcements and government messages on its buses and subways.

The Amazon ads do not violate this policy, an MTA spokesman told The Gothamist, which first reported the ad campaign.

“The updated standards prohibit political advertisements. Unless you’re saying that you believe Amazon is advocating for a Nazi takeover of the United States, then it meets the standards. They’re advertising a show,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg told The Gothamist.

Evan Bernstein, the Anti-Defamation League’s New York regional director, called the ads insensitive, according to The Gothamist.

“Half the seats in my car had Nazi insignias inside an American flag, while the other half had the Japanese flag in a style like the World War II design,” commuter Ann Toback, executive director of The Workman’s Circle, a Jewish organization, told The Gothamist. “So I had a choice, and I chose to sit on the Nazi insignia because I really didn’t want to stare at it.  I shouldn’t have to sit staring at a Nazi insignia on my way to work.”

 
 

Green transit, Hollywood Jew, New Yorker cover


Take Back L.A.

I’m pleased Rob Eshman plans to get involved in making local transportation better (“Take Back L.A.,” July 11).

This is prime time for action, with the push for a new half-cent sales tax that would fund a subway extension and many other transit and highway projects in the county.

The last time The Journal wrote about transportation was to fault the Metro Orange Line, now a huge success for the Valley and the region. Since then, thousands of Angelenos, fed up with traffic and high gas prices, have helped guide development of Metro’s new Long Range Transportation Plan that looks ahead to the year 2030 and recommends dozens of new transportation projects to keep pace with the county’s population and job growth.

Extending the subway is an important part of that plan. Last fall, Metro kicked off the Westside Extension Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis Study. More than 1,000 people have participated in 13 formal meetings so far. The Jewish Journal has received meeting notices but hasn’t responded.

It’s not too late. That study is nearing its conclusion, and there will be another round of community meetings before staff presents its recommendation to the Metro board this fall and requests authorization to enter into a full environmental study.

Eshman should go to www.metro.net for details about this and other planning studies. Then maybe he can put his frustration to work and, in the future when tourists ask him how to get to the beach via Metro, he’ll be able to give them positive directions.

Jody Feerst Litvak
Metro Community Relations Manager

Rob Eshman responds:

I want to believe that the proposed half-cent sales tax will solve Los Angeles’ traffic problem.

But Ms. Litvak and the MTA will have to convince me that MTA will use the increased revenue in a wise and timely manner. A track record of cost overruns and poor management make me skeptical, but I invite her to make the case in these pages that the MTA will do its job well.

Meanwhile, Ms. Litvak criticizes The Jewish Journal for doing our job well. We didn’t fault the Orange Line system, we wrote a cover story that reported on the concerns of adjacent neighborhoods. Those concerns were addressed, and the line is a success — several of our employees take the Orange Line to the office.

Since then, we have run other stories and opinion pieces on L.A. traffic — an issue that deeply affects the ability of all communities, including the Jewish one, to prosper, connect and flourish.

As for attending meetings, guilty as charged. But as long as Ms. Litvak continues to read The Jewish Journal, she’ll have all the input from us she could ever want.

The American Jewish Committee (AJC) is proud of the leadership position we have taken on a range of civic issues, including transportation. AJC is actively working in Los Angeles, Sacramento and Washington, D.C., to advocate for a world-class transportation system in Los Angeles, with the goal of reducing our dependence on foreign oil that threatens our security, environment and economy.

For example, AJC worked with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors to implement a landmark “Green Car Incentive Program” that provides fleet car pricing for hybrid vehicles for the county’s over 100,000 employees. AJC is working with L.A. City Councilwoman Wendy Greuel to create a similar program for city employees. AJC is also participating in Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan and a range of mass transit improvements, including, but not limited too, the Gold Line and Expo Line light-rail extensions, as well as the “Subway to the Sea” Purple Line.

AJC’s award-winning Energy Security Program is advancing Los Angeles.

Allan Alexander and Nadine Gerson
Co-Chairs
AJC Los Angeles Energy Security Program

Hollywood Q&A

I read the “Q&A: Hollywood Insider” of July 18 about Irv Weintraub and came away with the impression that he lives in high style and can’t quite defend why wealthy Jewish entertainment executives and celebrities are not more active in acts of tzedakah (charitable giving). He seemed to be very defensive.

However, I know Irv and have been fortunate to work with him on the both the executive committee and the board of directors of Valley Beth Shalom (VBS) in Encino.

Irv is the ultimate mensch. He can daven up a storm and chant a mean haftarah, is more than generous with his checkbook and his time and was a fabulous vice president at VBS — showing great leadership, dedication, compassion and creativity. He is so well respected by VBS that we honored him a few years ago as our Man of the Year.

I am a better person for knowing Irv Weintraub; VBS and the Los Angeles Jewish community are enriched by having him as one of the menschen in our lives.

Michael A. Waterman
Pegasus Investments

New Yorker Cover

Congratulations for the brilliant article by Mona Eltahawy (“Fear of an Obama Planet Grips Some Americans,” July 18). It puts The Journal a cut above. However, The New Yorker magazine’s Barry Blitt had overestimated the intellectual insight of many of the readers.

I don’t believe that the satirical aspect of the cartoon reached everyone. Eltahawy’s article should go a long way toward clearing up the confusion.

Paulette Mansfield
Canoga Park

Beyond Sicko

I had trouble keeping my lunch down after reading Marty Kaplan’s “Beyond Sicko” (July 18). In the field of education, we already have a monstrous, corrupt, money-squandering, dysfunctional bureaucracy known as the public school system, which robs parents of control over their children’s education and leaves them powerless and defenseless against the colossus of the state. The last thing we need is to create a similar monstrous bureaucracy to deliver health care.

No sane person would deny that we have serious problems with our health care system and that it needs to be reformed. However, any reforms in health care must seek to: 1) empower the individual patient, 2) maximize choice, 3) encourage competition, 4) allow health care practioners to do their jobs without fear of devastating lawsuits.

Edward H. Crane, president of the Cato Institute, beautifully stated, “The essence of America is a respect for the dignity of the individual. It should be axiomatic that such dignity is enhanced to the extent one has control over one’s own life.”

Rabbi Louis J. Feldman
Van Nuys

Community Briefs


Israel Travel Penalty Ends

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has signed a bill that seeks to bar life insurance companies from penalizing travelers who visit Israel and other countries commonly perceived as dangerous.

The states of Washington, New York and Illinois have similar legislation on the books.

The change, signed into law Sept. 30, should help both Californians planning to travel to Israel as well as those who have previously visited Israel. Both groups have faced increased premiums or outright denials of coverage. Insurance companies based this practice on the presumption that traveling to Israel significantly increased the chances of a person’s death.

Many companies based the policy on State Department travel warnings, which to this day classify Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip as dangerous for Americans.

“That’s not provable [by] data,” said Nancy Appel, regional deputy director for the Anti-Defamation League, which lobbied in favor of the bill.

“The [dangerous] events could be highly localized, while other parts of the country are fine,” said Appel, who testified before legislative committees on behalf of Senate Bill 1105.

The bill enjoyed swift and broad support, but there was concern about opposition from the influential insurance industry.

Backers of the bill, including its sponsor, state Sen. Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco), made an important compromise in June to avoid opposition from the insurance industry. The industry agreed to stay neutral in exchange for a clause allowing insurers to continue former practices when there is documentation supporting a country’s dangerous reputation.

“They would have to come up with statistics that your risk of death has gone up and therefore [they are] denying you coverage or charging you a higher rate,” Appel said. — Idan Ivri, Contributing Writer

MTA Driver Wins Discrimination Suit

A Jewish bus driver has been awarded $20,000 from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), which had refused his request for time off on Shabbat and eight major Jewish holidays.

The award is the result of a religious discrimination suit brought by the U.S. Justice Department last year on behalf of Henry Asher, 56, of Tarzana against the MTA.

In a settlement announced this month by the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., the MTA agreed that drivers who are assigned shifts that conflict with their religious observances can take up to 30 days of unpaid leave while waiting for a more suitable shift to open up.

The case was initiated by the Justice Department’s civil rights division, after MTA refused to change its rule that all drivers must be available for work at all times.

Asher was hired by MTA as a driver trainee in June 2002 and fired a month later after he allegedly missed two work days.

“Public employees should not have to choose between their religious beliefs and their livelihood,” Bradley J. Schlozman, U.S. acting assistant attorney general for civil rights, told the L.A. Times.

“While public employers have the authority to set reasonable standards for work schedules, they cannot reflexively refuse to consider an accommodation at the cost of civil rights,” Schlozman added. — Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Jewish Mission Visits Chad

A delegation of Jewish leaders visited Chad to meet with Sudanese refugees. Last week’s mission, led by Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service (AJWS), also included John Fishel, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles; Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, and two other Reform rabbis. The AJWS has led Jewish activism in response to the massacres and displacement of millions in Darfur in neighboring Sudan. — Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Not Just for Republicans

A documentary on radical Islam was named best feature at the second annual Liberty Film Festival last weekend in West Hollywood. The event is known for its gathering of politically conservative filmmakers.

The 70-minute film, “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” took top honors at the Pacific Design Center gathering of several hundred film fans and creators. Jewish Director Wayne Kopping prompted laughter when he acknowledged the festival’s large number of Jewish attendees by picking up his Liberty statuette and, instead of thanking the awards “jury,” he said, “I’d like to thank the Jewry.”

The festival showcased about 25 short films, dramas and documentaries. A festival audience of about 350 cheered “Obsession” footage of Winston Churchill, after booing the film’s shots of filmmaker Michael Moore

A more sobering part of “Obsession” was its excerpts from a 2003 Arab miniseries, in which actors portrayed Jews killing a Christian child for his blood during Passover.

Harvard Law School professor Alan Dershowitz told the filmmakers that Hollywood’s studio brass might understand Islamic extremism better, “if terrorism had struck on the West Coast rather than on the East Coast.”

U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) made a cameo appearance at the festival, where he hobnobbed with Jewish Republicans, including Santa Monica dentist Joel Strom and Laura Willick, Jewish outreach committee chair of the Southern California Republican Club.

After watching “Obsession,” Willick said, “If students were to see this, it would open their minds to the actual threats we face. It’s just a matter of can we get this out to the liberals?”

Winning Liberty’s short film award was a 30-minute exploration of college political correctness called, “Brainwashing 201: The Second Semester,” with the short’s honorees including producer and Encino attorney Blaire Greenberg.

The festival also debuted a 72-minute travelogue on Israel called “Entering Zion.”

At a panel discussion, Seattle-based Jewish talk show host and festival board member Michael Medved praised the pro-Israel film and joked about conspiracy theories on Jewish control of the media.

“With all of this ‘Jewish control,'” Medved said, “a great film about Israel had a self-raised budget of about $7,000.” — David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Bus Girl


The fictional Carrie Bradshaw saw her image on a bus placard because she wrote a popular sex column.

But Carol Taubman sees her image go by each day on the side of MTA buses for a very different reason.

Three years ago, Taubman, an industrial real estate broker, participated in her first Avon 3-Day Breast Cancer Walk, a 60-mile event that begins in Santa Barbara and ends at Zuma Beach in Malibu. She signed up not only for the physical challenge, but also because her mother, Rebecca Bekhor, is a breast cancer survivor.

After three months of training and raising $7,000 in sponsorships, she walked the three days with a friend, and found the experience exhilarating and deeply moving.

The following year she assembled a team of 25 women — the “Bosom Buddies” — and raised in excess of $110,000.

“After the 2002 Walk I thought I had hung up my running shoes and then the bug hit me again,” she said.

Last year she opted for new scenery, and so, together with a friend, Taubman walked her 60 miles in San Francisco. This year Taubman was sure she’d had enough — until last week.

That’s when Taubman’s daughters, Laura and Dani, spotted their mom on the side of a bus advertising the 2004 Walk. Organizers had serendipitously selected a candid photo taken at last year’s walk that showed the fit, enthusiastic Taubman in joyous midstride, making her the walk’s unofficial poster girl-around-town.

“Laura told me that I need to walk again since I’m on all the buses,” Taubman said. “Oy! I think she’s right.”

To join thousands — and probably Taubman — at the Oct.
8-10 walk, go to www.the3day.org .

Suit Filed to Stop MTA Busway


The busway is back.

Opponents of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) East-West Transit Corridor, which was approved by the MTA in February, filed a lawsuit April 2 challenging the MTA’s Environmental Impact Report (EIR), alleging that the report "understated the serious effects of the busway on Valley residents and ignored alternative transit projects that could have avoided these effects."

The controversial busway is slated to run along a 14-mile route through neighborhoods from Warner Center in Woodland Hills to the Metro Red Line subway station in North Hollywood. Supporters say it is a necessary and welcome means of improving mass transit. Opponents contend that the estimated $330 million project is too dangerous and expensive and that expanding the MTA’s popular Metro Rapid Bus service would provide almost as many buses at 10 percent of the cost and with far fewer safety concerns.

"What we are basically contending is that the alternative we proposed, the expansion of the rapid bus system, was not given proper consideration," said Diana Lipari, a local real estate agent and head of Citizens Organized for Smart Transit (COST), the group that brought the suit. "This busway is a very bad use of tax dollars, a very bad use for people along the busway and creates problems for people who have to drive through the busway."

In its legal challenge, COST also declares that "the EIR failed to fully analyze the potential of the busway’s physical impacts to severely disrupt an established Orthodox Jewish community along Chandler Boulevard." Members of the North Hollywood Jewish community, the second largest Orthodox Jewish neighborhood in Los Angeles, have long voiced their concerns about the effect of the busway, which they say would divide the community almost down the middle and make walking to and from the various synagogues and religious schools along Chandler difficult, and even dangerous.

However, according to sources, members of the Jewish community elected not to enter into the litigation as an organized entity in order to prevent any distractions from the main focus of the lawsuit. A community leader, who asked to remain anonymous, told The Journal there were concerns about anti-Semitic attitudes that arose at public hearings held last year prior to the MTA vote on the busway and that the community felt the mainstream media focused too much attention on the Orthodox community’s concerns, instead of general opposition to the project.

MTA spokesman Ed Scannell said the agency is reviewing the lawsuit and in the interim, has issued the following statement: "We were very careful in following all the environmental processes set down by the state of California during our environmental review of the San Fernando Valley East-West Busway Project and are confident that the lawsuit recently filed will not be successful."

A date for a hearing has not yet been set.

Taking on the MTA


Imagine a sunny Saturday afternoon. Families walking home from shul along quiet streets cross a well-worn thoroughfare, once the site of a rail system running through the neighborhood like a gentle stream, now transformed into a freeway for high-speed buses. The light changes and the families begin their journey across the street — but not fast enough.

Suddenly, the peace of the day is shattered by an oncoming bus. A mother pushing a heavy stroller struggles to get out of the way, but there is barely time to scramble back onto the curb to avoid the oncoming vehicle.

This is the scenario at the heart of the controversy over Chandler Boulevard. For more than a decade, a battle has been building in the East San Fernando Valley that threatens to make the story of David and Goliath look like a ping-pong match. On the one side stand the neighborhoods of Valley Village and North Hollywood, on the other the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. At stake are both the future of mass transit in the San Fernando Valley and the fate of the second largest Orthodox Jewish community in Los Angeles. The two sides are at war over the possible conversion of Chandler Boulevard to a segment of the proposed East-West Transit Corridor busway.

The debate at the MTA is whether to use the median on Chandler — once a part of the old Southern Pacific rail line, now a mess of abandoned track and weeds — as part of the dedicated route for the high-speed busway or to continue the busway on nearby Oxnard Street mixed with traffic from other commuter vehicles. To put the busway on Oxnard would be less expensive, but it would slow down buses and increase congestion on a busy street; to put it on Chandler would mean establishing a nightmarish labyrinth of pedestrian walkways and sound walls that would physically, if not psychologically, divide a close-knit residential community.

The Transit Authority’s intentions, of course, have been to solve a problem, not create one. The East-West Transit Corridor is meant to provide a badly needed alternative route for commuters between the MTA’s Red Line subway station in North Hollywood and Warner Center in Woodland Hills. But the MTA might as well be building the reincarnation of the Berlin Wall as far as East Valley residents like Howard Feigenbaum are concerned.

“I’m very worried about the effects on our community,” Feigenbaum said. “How are elderly people going to be able to cross the street within certain time limits? How will the kids be able to go to programs after shul? How will this busway help our community grow rather than stagnate? If this project goes through, we will not be able to enjoy the same growth of the past 30 years.”

Feigenbaum’s remarks echo those of many residents in the neighborhood surrounding Chandler Boulevard. The area contains a high number of pedestrians, primarily Orthodox Jews who walk to the many synagogues and religious schools lining the wide, divided road. On Saturdays, hundreds of people, many of them parents pushing strollers or holding toddlers’ hands, walk to services at shuls such as Shaarey Zedek and Toras Hashem. Services are often followed in the afternoon by youth group meetings, after which children walk home in large groups sans adults.

The possibility of buses driving through here at speeds as high as 55 miles per hour and hitting one of these groups of children terrifies local parents and is at the heart of their resistance to the busway.

“I cross Chandler every day about four times, walking my child and another child to and from school,” said Anne Greenfield, a local realtor and mother of five children ranging in age from four to 19. “[The MTA] has talked about putting in a pedestrian walkway, but what if you can’t make it across in time? What happens when your toddler decides they want to take their shoe off in the middle [of crossing] and you’re stuck?”

In addition to the Orthodox presence, the area has attracted students attending nearby Valley College as well as retirees who enjoy riding their bikes, walking or jogging to the nearby health club. These folks, too, would be adversely affected by the stream of buses coming through every few minutes, Greenfield said.

“It’s not just a Jewish issue,” she said. “Because of the nature of the community and the layout, we all know our neighbors. Jews and non-Jews alike, everybody is concerned about this issue.”

In order to air their concerns formally, Greenfield and other residents created the Concerned Citizens Transit Coalition (CCTC), which aims to persuade lawmakers and the MTA Board of Directors to abandon Chandler Boulevard as part of the busway and seek other alternatives. Toward that end, the coalition will hold a rally on Sunday, June 17 at 10 a.m. at Shaarey Zedek, 12800 Chandler Boulevard.

The coalition has been able to draw some support from local politicians, most notably Rep. Howard Berman, who in a letter to a CCTC member noted that he knew from personal experience the unique characteristics of the neighborhood. “As one who fought hard to support and maintain a vibrant Orthodox Jewish community in North Hollywood, I am keenly aware of the disruptions that could be caused by the proposed busway,” he wrote.

Shaarey Zedek’s Rabbi Aron Tendler has also been a strong supporter of the Coalition. As a community leader and as a parent himself, he worries both about the dangers the busway presents and also its effect on the growth of the Jewish community. In the six years since he became leader of the congregation, the number of member families increased from 280 to 360 “with no end in sight,” he said. But talk of the busway has had a chilling effect on this growth.

“People who were considering moving into the community have reconsidered,” Tendler said. “We had one couple, former students of mine who live closer to Woodman Avenue, who wanted to move closer to the synagogue. They turned down what would have been their dream house and are now reconsidering where they should live. We get a lot of people visiting, [but] I’ve been reluctant to speak out forcefully against the busway because people who are thinking about moving to the community may not do so.”

The suspense will be over soon. The MTA is slated to hold several public hearings this month and take a final vote by the end of July. During a recent interview, MTA board member and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky declined to say in which direction he or the board is leaning — to use Chandler or to move to an alternate route on Oxnard (which nearby residents are also organizing to protest), but said he anticipated no further delays to their decision.

“All I will say is I am determined and committed to approving a route,” the supervisor said. “We’re evaluating the pros and cons of both of them, serious and substantive pros and cons, but this very short segment will not and should not nullify the larger objective, which is to have a cross-Valley busway.”

Yaroslavsky acknowledged that using Oxnard would actually cost taxpayers less. According to a June 2 Daily News report, what the MTA calls the Lankershim-Oxnard alternative would cost $245 million versus $285 million for the Chandler-Burbank route.

“On the other hand, Chandler is the more direct route and has a right-of-way the public has paid thousands of dollars for,” Yaroslavsky said. “Even if we go down Oxnard now, that doesn’t mean the MTA couldn’t revisit the Chandler corridor later.”

That’s exactly what local residents fear most. “We suspect that eventually the MTA would like to convert the Burbank-Chandler route into a light rail system, because the original bond that the public voted on a number of years ago [Proposition A] was for a light rail system, not buses,” said Tom Herman, former president of the Valley Cities Jewish Community Center who fought putting in such a rail system back in the early 1990s. “There is a real suspicion here that this is the camel’s nose in the tent.”

Herman said the community understands the need for mass transit and would not have the same objections to a subway system.

“The concern is that anything put in at grade-level would impact the community significantly. We would support a deep-bore subway,” Herman said. “The Valley deserves the same kind of services the city gets, and it is odd to many of us that the city deserves a first-class subway system but the Valley is only considered for a light rail or bus system. There’s a very basic issue of justice here, that the Valley continues to be treated like a distant cousin.”

Ironically, it was Yaroslavsky who killed any possibility of a Valley subway by authoring Proposition A. The measure, which passed overwhelmingly in 1998, prevented the use of sales tax dollars to plan, design, build or operate any new subway lines once Metro Rail reached the San Fernando Valley. Valley voters approved the measure by over 65 percent.

As for the safety concerns of residents, Yaroslavsky’s response was blunt. “There are things we can and will do to make things safer. This is not going to exacerbate safety problems,” he said. “What’s the alternative — to have safety through gridlock? If people don’t want to take a chance on getting run over, the logical extension is don’t ever come out of your house. One of the best things about the busway is it’s on a fixed guideway separated from traffic. That is why it is safer to put it on Chandler.”

Still, the opposition maintains there must be better choices than the current ones being offered by the MTA.

“The community is very much in support of an east-west corridor,” Tendler said. “The only reason the MTA is considering this is because they bought the right-of-way, not because it is the best place to put it. There are alternatives that make more sense.”

The MTA will hold two public hearings to discuss the East-West Busway routes: Thurs., June 21, 5-8 p.m. at the Pierce College Campus Center, 6201 Winnetka Ave., Woodland Hills. Tues., June 26, 5-8 p.m. at Valley College’s Monarch Hall, 5800 Fulton Ave., Valley Glen. For information, contact the MTA at (213) 620-RAIL or visit its Web site at
http://www.mta.net.

Transit Torment


It all began a minute past midnight on Sat., Sept. 16, with a negotiations breakdown between the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and bus and rail operator unions. Hundreds of thousands of L.A. commuters, many of whom depend on city buses for their livelihood, were forced to find alternative methods of transportation. Among the nearly 450,000 bus passengers affected by the strike are members of the Jewish community, particularly some senior citizens for whom everyday life has been disrupted.

On Fairfax Avenue, a cursory poll of how seniors were coping with this strike revealed many who were either directly or indirectly inconvenienced.

“Absolutely,” says an older gentleman coming out of Fairfax Stationery, walking with the aid of a cane. “I have to walk around everywhere. I can’t get any place.”

Trembling with emotion, the man, who preferred not to be identified, says that he is dependent on the MTA system, particularly the Fairfax 217 and Melrose 10 lines, to do his weekly errands. While the limited DASH system has come in handy for many seeking transportation, in his case it is not as convenient as the city bus, since the DASH bus turns off at Third Street.

At agencies assisting lower-income Jews, viewpoints vary on the strike’s impact. Some organizations report a decline in activity.

“We have a meal site where they can come in for lunch five days a week,” reports Sandra Solomon, director of the Freda Mohr Multipurpose Center in the Fairfax district. “We’re getting less people than usual. The attendance there is down.”

Rosalie Fromberg, director of the Israel Levin Senior Adult Center on Venice’s Ocean Front Walk, confirms a similar situation.

“We have people who come on a regular basis for lunch and can’t get here,” says Fromberg. “They come down for lunch and activities as well.”

Solomon has been offering taxi vouchers for some seniors, but this is a temporary and finite solution for the center and its limited resources. “We’re helping with transportation as best we can,” she says.

At Israel Levin, many coming from the L.A. area depend on buses. Some are carpooling, but Fromberg says that “it’s hard when people don’t live in the same area. This center does not provide transportation, so it’s really difficult. People at the center are concerned that it’s really affecting the community. Our seniors don’t have to worry about going to work, but their contact with our center is very important to them.”

Margaret Dacey, director of the Valley Storefront Adult Day Health Care Center, says, “We’ve had a lot of people not being able to get where they’re going. A woman called a taxi that takes coupons, and when the driver came, he wouldn’t take the coupon and would only take her a quarter of the way home, as long as her cash would take her. She got a ride the rest of the way home from a good Samaritan.”

Dacey adds that long waits for cabs have complicated matters.

“With our staff it’s affected us in that quite a few people have been car pooling or getting rides from family,” said Shelly Ryan, chief of human resources for Jewish Home for the Aging. Out of the 650 people employed by the Home’s two sites, only one employee, who lives in the outskirts of Glendale, has been forced to stay home.

“Out of 650 people, to only have one employee be affected is a very good thing,” said Ryan, who also adds that the staff has been very diligent about finding transit solutions to the strike.

“It shows their dedication to coming in and being here,” she said.

Staff at other institutions say that the MTA strike has had little effect on their daily operations. According to Pamela Boro, director of the Silverlake Los Feliz JCC, the strike has not been an issue, nor has it caused stress for those utilizing Jewish Family Service of Santa Monica.

“I know that a lot of our clients do rely on buses to get to their appointments,” said Paul Castro, director of Jewish Family Service of Greater Los Angeles, a beneficiary agency of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “I haven’t specifically heard any feedback from our facilities. I know that it’s got to be an issue, particularly for our senior clients.”

Si Frumkin, chairman of Southern California Council for Soviet Jews, says that he is not aware of people within L.A.’s Russian community whose lives have been disrupted by the strike. He speculates that most Russian seniors reside in close-knit circles where everything is in walking distance.

“Those who live in West Hollywood, their cultural life is Plummer Park and stores on Santa Monica Boulevard,” says Frumkin.

However, Alla Feldman, project coordinator of the Immigrant Department at The Jewish Federation, found that some Russian immigrants have experienced difficulty this holiday season.

“I had people who would come to pick up High Holiday tickets,” said Feldman. “I had to drop them back.”Feldman said that recent immigrants and senior citizens are the two groups within her Russian constituents that have been most directly sidelined by the strike. She even knows of one family that “refused to go to High Holiday services because bus line No. 4 doesn’t go there.”

Elliott Cavalier, the recently appointed director of Sephardic Educational Center, said that elderly members of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel’s sisterhood have often been grounded by the strike.

Meanwhile, back on Fairfax Ave., in the hours leading up to erev Rosh Hashanah, Diamond Bakery was packed with a kind of ebullient chaos. Yet amid the high spirits and high-strung kvetching for apple turnovers and raisin challah, there were those who looked especially weary of preholiday shopping.A 69-year-old lady – no. 44 in line to be served – said the strike since the strike began, she has had no choice but to drive across town to pick up her housekeeper herself.

“I really think it’s criminal,” the woman said as she exited the bakery.

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