Did The Jewish Community Kill The Valley Subway?


The 101 is getting worse every day. Traffic was backed up in both directions around 9am this morning. Not only was I going slow enough to count drivers on cell phones heading North, I could describe what people were wearing that were heading South. I chugged along at 15mph, and I thought to myself, how did they let this happen?

Then I stumbled upon a 1988 article in the New York Times about a proposed East-West rail line that would have connected Warner Center with the Red Line at North Hollywood Station, and who may have prevented it from ever being built.

The article has an amusing view of the Valley as “Little League games, Boy Scouts and cruising into Bob’s Big Boy on Van Nuys Boulevard.” It also refers to the 818 as “mostly middle class white.”

No doubt, many things have changed in 20 years. Some, have not.

Whatever the definition of this home for half the population of Los Angeles, everybody agrees on one thing: traffic is terrible.

A plan to reduce congestion and put a commuter rail line across the Valley has stirred a rancorous debate that goes to the very definition of what the Valley is. Mass transit is hailed by many as the answer to jammed freeways and smog, but opponents say it will destroy the free, suburban way of life that attracted them.

As envisioned, the electrified rail line would carry 46,000 thousand people a day by the year 2010 between the Valley’s eastern end, just northwest of downtown Los Angeles, and the western end, about 15 miles away. The estimated prices range from $700 million for a trolley-like surface line to $2.3 billion for a subway that would connect with the one being built in central Los Angeles.

Probably the most bitter opposition comes from the Orthodox Jewish communities near the Chandler-Victory route, particularly the Shaarey Zedek congregation of Rabbi Sugarman. In one proposal the train would run right in front of the temple, dividing the neighborhood of about 5,000 Jews, a community whose members must walk to temple on the Sabbath. The rabbi said the train’s ”blight and noise” would destroy the community. ”We recognize the need for transportation, but there are other options,” he said.

Singling out one group for the short-sidedness that led to our current traffic disaster is careless. Surely, many neighborhood groups and city officials who were resistant to change also contributed to the demise of what could have been the Orange Line. Some groups oppose fixed transit systems dividing their neighborhoods because of their religious beliefs. Others, simply don’t want “those people” traveling down their street. Then there’s the MTA, whose lack of vision has failed to create a truly regional master rail plan that would benefit all of L.A. County.

I wonder how religious groups, business leaders, and homeowners in the Valley feel about their 20-year-old decision now?

Something for them to think about, as they fight traffic to get to the polls today.

Photo of a bus that thinks it’s a train from Wikipedia

14 thoughts on “Did The Jewish Community Kill The Valley Subway?”

  1. Does the name Henry Waxman ring a bell. He had it included in a Federal transportation bill a rider that made it illegal to build a subway past where the purple line ends today.

    Then there is Zev, who championed an initiative to stop all train building by the MTA. This is whythe gold line transportation authority was formed to build the gold line, than sell it back to the MTA.

    Now it would be unfair to say that Jews killed the train movement in LA, but these 2 certainly had a lot to do with it.

    Of course, to be fair, the traffic on the 101 sucked 20 years ago.

  2. That rail sat there unused for the majority of my life. It would have been perfect for a light rail system.

  3. What does being Jewish have to do with anything? Cause they are the only ones with enough balls to complain? or cause they are an easy target? If it was Pastor Sugarman would that have made it ok for them to complain? Besides that, did anyone take into account that it not only makes a lot of racket, but its a liability for those who have to cross those tracks? And what about the whole “freedom of religion” concept- this transit system will cut the community in half not just literally but metaphorically as well. In the Hebrew religion, you are not allowed to carry anything on Shabbat except a small child unless you are within the community of the temple called an Eruv. This allows members to carry their belongings to and from synagogue on the Sabbath. the transit system would cut this in half infringing on their constitutional right to religious freedom and practice. Did anyone writing this article stop to think about THAT? NO! I say go take your article and shove it NY Times- go report on something you know about- like the Mafia.

  4. How is this “The Jewish Community” when it looks like “A Jewish Group” … you make it sound like all Jews are so unified and of one mind that this single rabbi spoke for all Jews to stop the progress of public transportation in the Valley.

    (How about following up with any other articles of the period about considerations for other routes? It only lists that congregation as being the most bitter opponent, there must have been others. Come on, if you’re going to post this, give it some real perspective that time can give, not just dredging up an isolated moment.)

  5. Actually, Cybele, the post was about my discovery of a NY Times article that laid blame to one group. I apologize for using the word “community” instead of “group.” It wasn’t my intention to lump anyone together.

    As I stated in the post, I don’t believe one group is to blame here. Several groups such as local HOAs, city council members, and the MTA itself helped “derail” the project.

    As for people who make the argument against public transit because it disrupts religious practice, I think it is important to respect all faiths. But, to assume the neighborhood in question is all Jewish is careless. Anyone that lives in the Valley knows that couldn’t be further from the truth. This is very diverse region of different nationalities and religious beliefs. To assume any street anywhere in the SFV is all one thing is absurd.

    The greater problem is how conflicts like this will affect transportation in L.A. in the long run. Take the Expo Line for example. A group of homeowners is fighting that line’s route because it cuts directly through their neighborhood. They see that as a threat to their property value. Fights like that are the reason it takes Metro 10 years to build one line at a time.

    At some point, we will all need to ask ourselves to make some sacrifices for the greater good of our city.

    Or, we can leave things the way they are.

  6. @TL

    The temples along Chandler Blvd are on both the north and south of the rail line. I recall objections about the Orange Line due to safety concerns.

  7. Jason, I lived in the area off of Chandler back when all of that was going on. There was a lot of nimby activity, but it came down to a few well organized groups who made issue that it would ruin neighborhoods and homeowners believed it and jumped on the no rail bandwagon. I thought at the time it was wrong to blame it on a particular faith just because one church or temple was better able to organize the community. I still think it is wrong to blame them.

    I don’t disagree with the statement “…ask ourselves to make some sacrifices …” but that will always be a tough sell. Unless there is benefit they can believe in it won’t happen, even if for the greater good.

  8. Please, in the future, do not lump all Jews in with the Orthodox. They by no means represent the opinions or lifestyles of the vast majority of American Jews.

  9. This type of idiocy is not exclusive to Orthodox Jews, or Jews as a whole, or any religious or cultural group.

    The group I blame is: homeowners. And of course, there were and are many of them in that part of the Valley, in 1988 (when I first moved to LA) and today. They are shortsighted, and really have NO CLUE what will be a boon to their property values and what will be a disaster. Renters, less so.

    Now that Metrorail has been established and running for some time, there is objective proof: houses and properties within walking distance of the Gold Line have not gone down in value, but rather, UP in value. The argument for building any more rail lines can use this FACT as a weapon in getting these NIMBY jerks who are destroying my city to calm down and take a pill…especially in places like Cheviot Hills. The Expo Line will raise your property values, not lower them.

    People are just silly and they fear change. No vision. This type of mindset is especially prevalent in suburban, or homeowning areas. I speak from experience on this.

  10. Oy vey!

    The same people were griping in the mid 90s when the red line was being built. That train would have passed in front of my apartment, and it would have been awesome.

    They were just short-sighted. When they thought “train”, they thought of Chicago or NYC, and all the mess involved with them. They didn’t think of the BART.

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