Bel Air homeowners vow to kill Westside commuter subway


The 405 Sepulveda Pass corridor is one of the busiest stretches of freeway in the nation. Metro is planning a public transit rail option to connect the San Fernando Valley and LA’s west side. Photo credit: Saul Gonzalez.

The stretch of LA’s 405 Freeway that cuts through the Sepulveda Pass and connects West Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley can look kind of beautiful if you stand on a hilltop above it, with about 10 miles of the freeway cradled and gently curving between the rugged slopes of the Santa Monica Mountains.

But this part of the 405 can also be the stuff of traffic nightmares, with some of the worst freeway congestion in the country. The gridlock can fry the nerves of even the most traffic-hardened LA motorist, and it contributes to traffic backups across the wider regional freeway system. 

Ten years ago, transportation planners finished a more than $1 billion  project to widen the 405 with hopes that it would cut traffic. That didn’t work, and congestion remains nearly as bad as it was before the project started.

Now LA County's transportation agency, Metro, has another solution: Get people out of their cars, off the freeway, and onto a rail line connecting West LA and the Valley. 

An artist’s rendering shows a proposed San Fernando Valley to West Los Angeles rail station. Photo courtesy of LA Metro.

The cost? Somewhere between $9 and $14 billion, according to early estimates. 

There are currently six rail proposals in play. Three are subway alternatives and three involve above-ground monorail, which would be the first such project in LA’s mass transit system. 

Metro has proposed six possible rail options between the Valley and the west side, including this subway option with a stop near UCLA. Photo courtesy of LA Metro.

Each rail alternative has its advantages. A subway, or “heavy-rail” line, would carry more passengers than a monorail and travel at faster speeds. Trips between a Van Nuys terminus and stops at the UCLA campus would take about 20 minutes. 

“So, quite frankly, I don’t even know why we’re even looking at anything other than heavy rail,” says Steve Sann of the Westwood Community Council, which represents residents and business interests in the greater West LA area. 

But monorail supporters say an above-ground system could be built much faster and at a far lower cost than a subway. It would also, they argue, bring some mass transit eye candy to Los Angeles, as sleek, elevated monorail cars run alongside the 405 Freeway. 

An artist’s rendering depicts a monorail line paralleling the 405 Freeway through the Sepulveda Pass. Photo courtesy of LA Metro.

But Valley to West Los Angeles rail proposals, especially a subway line, have their opponents. The fiercest critics are residents of the community immediately to the east of the 405’s Sepulveda Pass Corridor: Bel Air. It’s home to some of the wealthiest zip codes in the country, with its eight- and even nine-figure hillside estates behind high walls and hedges.

If Metro moves forward with a subway option one day, a lot of the digging would happen squarely below Bel Air and its estates. 

Fearing noise, vibrations, and a possible decline in property values, many Bel Air residents, like Fred Rosen, the former CEO of Ticketmaster, say they’re ready to use their wealth and lawyers to fight subway construction. 

“There will be litigation,” says Rosen. “Those of us who live here have the resources to prevent it.”

Bel Air resident and former Ticketmaster CEO Fred Rosen has emerged as one of the biggest opponents of a Valley to West Los Angeles subway line. Photo credit: Saul Gonzalez.

Metro critics like Rosen also blast the transportation agency for building mass transit projects that come in colossally late and over budget. One example? Current construction of a four-mile subway extension beneath Wilshire Boulevard that’s more than a half-billion dollars over initial cost projections and two years behind schedule.

Rosen argues that’s nothing compared with what he predicts would be budget-busting cost overruns and delays in building a West LA to Valley subway, with its engineering challenges beneath the Santa Monica Mountains.

“We’ll be on Mars, we’ll have someone landing on Mars, before this thing is ever finished,” says Rosen.

Steve Sann of the Westwood Community Council acknowledges Metro’s problems, but says subway tunneling around the world is common and can be done with minimum disruption to people who live around it. 

“I think what’s super-important is that we need to make these decisions based on fact,” says Sann. “So far, what I have heard is a lot of fear, fiction, fantasy and fallacy, but not facts.”

In the meantime, Metro is hosting public forums on the different rail proposals. It’s also in the midst of a critical environmental impact review on the different alternatives that should be done early next year. 

The transportation agency says if all goes well — a big if — a Valley to West LA rail line could be completed by the year 2035.

*This story has been corrected to more fully quote Steve Sann of the Westwood Community Council.



Saul Gonzalez