In a full-force counterattack, Montclair blasted San Bernardino County’s transit agency Monday night, Oct. 7, for pursing plans to abandon extension of the L.A. Metro Gold Line light-rail easterly into the county.
The City Council adopted a 22-page resolution in full support of the Gold Line project, saying the county transit agency would be violating state law and could face lawsuits if it scrapped the extension into Montclair for a proposed Metrolink commuter rail service between Rancho Cucamonga and Pomona.
Montclair City Manager Edward Starr read parts of the resolution Monday at the City Council meeting, calling it comprehensive and “the council’s statement to state Legislators and to our own county.”
While listing the obstacles overcome by L.A. Metro, the San Gabriel Valley cities and the Gold Line Construction Authority to build the line 29.3 miles from east Los Angeles to downtown L.A., Pasadena, the Azusa/Glendora border, and beyond, Starr noted that the Construction Authority signed a contract Friday, Oct. 4, to extend the line to Pomona, with an option to go to Claremont and Montclair.
“The final point I’d like to say is that the latest hurdle is the threat coming from our own county,” Starr concluded.
The other roadblock involves money. Since steel and labor prices have skyrocketed, the Construction Authority needs about $450 million to build the line to Claremont, and about $100 million or less to Montclair.
At the end of a meeting last month, Ray Wolfe, executive director of the San Bernardino County Transportation Authority, said the agency should “throw in the towel” and not support the Gold Line‘s 0.8-mile leg from Claremont to Montclair.
Tim Watkins, an SBCTA spokesperson, said Wednesday the agency declined to comment on Montclair’s resolution.
Last month, Wolfe told the SBCTA board he’d rather see new-technology Diesel Multiple Unit (DMU) hybrid trains with near-zero emissions be added to existing Metrolink tracks. Passengers could exit the Gold Line in Pomona and take the new Metrolink line to points east. “We can do it a different way,” he told the board.
He proposes using the DMUs — similar to those on the Arrow passenger rail project under construction between San Bernardino and Redlands — as a cheaper alternative. However, the DMU trains would come and go every 30 minutes, while Gold Line headways are six minutes for mornings and afternoons and 15-20 minutes for off-peak hours. Also, Gold Line trains are much cheaper to ride.
The SBCTA’s “Gold Link” proposal is outlined in a report that will come before the agency’s Transit Committee on Thursday, Oct. 10. It says monies set aside for the Gold Line could be diverted to the new project, and some could be diverted to partially fund a new parking garage at the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station.
Montclair objected to this, saying the Gold Line light-rail will carry passengers from higher income foothill cities into Montclair and serve different cities than Metrolink. This connection will benefit Montclair, according to the city, which has built 500 housing units and is planning on 500 more by 2021 near the Montclair Transcenter in anticipation of Gold Line riders.
By “throwing in the towel,” the SBCTA undermines “millions of dollars in investments” from developers who are planning housing for future residents who will ride the train to work into Los Angeles County and back, Montclair officials reported.
Also, dropping the light-rail extension to San Bernardino County could negatively affect investments from the CIM Group, owners of the Montclair Place shopping mall, which wants to capitalize on Gold Line riders by building new housing, entertainment, office space and restaurants. The staff report goes on to say plans call for 6,300 residential units representing a total financial impact of $3 billion.
“This city has dedicated 20 years to bringing the Gold Line to Montclair,” Mayor John Dutrey said. “We are developing solutions to the California housing crisis and California’s transportation problems.”
Montclair outlined specific legal issues in the resolution if the county were to abandon the Gold Line extension:
• An about-face on building the Gold Line to Montclair could trigger “costly legal challenges from public agencies and private developers who have operated and invested on the promise of light rail service to the west end of San Bernardino County,” according to the city staff report.
• San Bernardino County’s Measure I, a tax measure approved by voters in 2004, earmarks between $39 million and $45 million for the Gold Line extension. Starr said breaking that commitment would require new votes of the SBCTA board and the west end region cities.
• State law says the Gold Line’s eastern terminus must be at the Montclair Transcenter. This stemmed from successful legislation (AB 1600) by then-Assemblywoman Norma Torres of Pomona in 2012. Montclair will add a 400-space parking garage addition to the transit center in the near future, bringing the number of spaces to 2,000 in preparation for the Gold Line. Ending it in Pomona or Claremont “violates the intent of AB 1600,” the city’s resolution states.
“Montclair Transcenter will be the terminus of the Gold Line,” Starr said. The line will be built by 2024 and operating in Pomona by early 2025. Starr vowed to get it to Montclair by 2028.
Montclair recommends the SBCTA take no action. The city suggests the agency waits until the $450 million funding gap from Pomona to Claremont is secured by Los Angeles County, LA Metro or the Gold Line Construction Authority or the two-year window expires before any review. The design-build contract allows until October 2021 for these agencies to find the money to extend the line into Claremont.
The SBCTA has about $80 million of the needed $97.4 million to bring the Gold Line into San Bernardino County, meanwhile. If additional funds are not obtained in the next two years, Montclair suggests renegotiating the design-build contract and pursuing federal funds.
Montclair also noted in its resolution that eliminating a Montclair station would most likely prevent the line from reaching Ontario International Airport, a goal shared by Rep. Torres and other lawmakers, as well as the cities of Pomona, Claremont and Montclair and others in the San Gabriel Valley.
“We need this. LA County is not the enemy,” said Councilman Bill Ruh. “If it doesn’t get to Montclair, it doesn’t get to the Ontario airport.”
This week, the SBCTA is asking its Transit Committee to allow staff to begin the process of finding approvals for the Gold Link project. Wolfe will report findings back to the committee on Dec. 12, according to the SBCTA staff report.