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Villaraigosa Double Talk on Crenshaw Line Could Derail LA’s 30/10 Funding

FIXING THE EXPO - With the steam of disgust from South LA still smoking, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and wanna-be Mayor Zev Yaroslavsky now appear ready to reveal the real reasons for their opposition to the Leimert Park Village subway station and Park Mesa Heights tunnel: they want to spend the money for their pet projects to connect Downtown to the Westside.

No one who attended the May 26th MTA Board meeting will ever forget how Villaraigosa spoke of supporting the Crenshaw community, but then refused to put another dime into the most meaningful transportation project proposed for South LA and Inglewood in decades.  

Members of the audience left perplexed – over $2 billion in possible MTA resources had been identified in the lead into the meeting, and even the high cost estimate for both the Leimert Park Village subway station and Park Mesa Heights tunnel was $500 million (actual costs are much lower.)

Well this month Villaraigosa and Metro staff have revealed their true intent for opposing the effort: a rail yard project in part for Yaroslavsky’s pet project, Expo Phase 2.

To recap the May Metro Board meeting, Villaraigosa, and his hand-picked appointees, LA Councilman Huizar, former Assemblymember Richard Katz, and Mel Wilson teamed up with LA County Supervisor Yaroslavsky to block inclusion of the Crenshaw community’s request.  With witnesses from several Congressional offices present and over 600 stakeholders, this decisive block of votes said that funds identified to pay for these crucial options for the Crenshaw community was off-limits.

The Mayor and his appointees choreographed Metro staff presentations and testimony in an effort to defend against what they called a “raid” on resources previously allocated for other initiatives.

In lock-step they argued that the enhancement of existing Red Line subway service in Zev Yaroslavsky’s district, which was already doomed by previous re-allocations for cost overruns related to Expo Phase 1 and the purchase of Union Station was vital to the MTA system’s growth and safety.  Those dollars could not be touched they said.

But now, Metro CEO Art Leahy and the same Metro staff that joined the Mayor’s chorus in May are singing a different tune.  Leahy proposes to pay the $170 million cost of constructing two light rail maintenance facilities to cover what appears to be a budget shortfall for the Westside Expo Phase 2 project from Culver City to Santa Monica, by “borrowing” the money from the very same pot of money that he had declared off-limits in May.

Two rail lines from Downtown LA to Santa Monica at a combined cost of $8.5 billion dollars and Yaroslavsky and Villaraigosa still want more and to spend less in South LA!

Advocates of the Leimert Park subway station and Park Mesa tunnel will be watching to see how the Mayor, his appointees and Supervisor Yaroslavsky double-talk this so-called “raid”… or is it a “borrow?”  After all, they expressed reservations about breaking the “consensus” on funding Measure R projects by supporting what they labeled “enhancements” like the Leimert Park Village station and Park Mesa Heights tunnel.

“Enhancements” is how they characterize grade separation at Slauson/Crenshaw, which handles more vehicles per day than Wilshire/Western, and grade separation at 57th/Crenshaw at the foot of View Park Prep School, where the CPUC requested it.  With such a mindset is there a wonder Metro operates the nation’s deadliest light rail line, the Blue Line, and traffic is still horrendous?

The motion Villaraigosa pushed through the May Metro board meeting underscored that point by dictating that a Leimert Park Village station could only be built if construction bids on the Crenshaw-LAX line were sufficiently low for the station to be included as part of the project.

Why the double-standard?

The Mayor should be concerned that this flip-flop could also put 30-10 on its deathbed.  “America Fast Forward,” as it is now marketed, is an initiative, which premise is that federal aid will enable Los Angeles to borrow the money needed to build the Measure R transit projects in 10 years, specifically the Wilshire Subway extension, paying the bill over the next 30 years through sales taxes collected via Measure R, the $40 billion transportation ballot measure passed by Los Angeles voters in 2008.

Measure R and 30-10, it was said repeatedly by the Mayor and his supporters in May, cannot succeed if some projects are “looted” to pay for others.

It’s “borrowing” for the Mayor and wannabe Mayor’s pet projects, but its “raiding” and “looting” when the attempt is to reverse decades of political decisions in which transportation projects have been built through our communities with limited benefit and at great consequence to our communities.

Duplicitous actions like this could turn fatal for America Fast Forward, because federal funding is the key to 30-10’s success.

Potential expensive roadblocks to 30-10 are emerging as fast as a 40 mph train crossing at street-level crossing at Slauson/Crenshaw.  In Beverly Hills, for instance, a bare knuckles fight is on over where to locate a subway stop.  Who knows how long that battle could delay the Westside subway?  

Furthermore, the amount of federal funding for the subway is uncertain, and the Federal Transit Administration has said the cost estimates are unrealistically low.

If the Mayor joins Art Leahy and Metro in declaring all projects are equal, but some are “more equal” than others, the reverberation will be felt in the halls of Congress where Maxine Waters, Karen Bass and Laura Richardson and their constituents are justifiably steaming from the Mayor’s opposition to the Crenshaw-LAX community.  How could they continue to support more of their constituent’s tax dollars going outside their district with inadequate return in their districts?

And the Congressional Black Caucus just might have problems with federal funds going to a region planning to eviscerate the last African-American business corridor in Southern California.

How could they or any other person for that matter take anything Villaraigosa says about 30-10 seriously?

The Mayor’s credibility hangs by a thread among the residents and business owners along the Crenshaw corridor.  If they decide he pulled a fast one on them by short-changing the Crenshaw-LAX line, their Congressional representatives may hit the pause button on America Fast Forward and the Wilshire Subway extension.  

The Mayor would be wise to reconsider his opposition to funding the Leimert Park Village subway station and Park Mesa Heights tunnel, by taking a hard look at Metro’s systemic short-changing of rail projects through South LA and reversing the trend on the Crenshaw-LAX Line.  The fate of the Wilshire Subway extension and 30-10 may depend on it.

(Damien Goodmon is the Chair of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, Coordinator of the Citizens Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line and occasional contributor to CityWatch. He can be reached at:   -cw

Tags: Mayor Villaraigosa, Supervisor Yaroslavsky, Leimert Park Village, Park Mesa Heights, MTA, Crenshaw, metro board meeting, Art Leahy, Westside Expo, light rail

Vol 9 Issue 57
Pub: July 19, 2011