Thu, Aug

A Race to Erase Race from the Expo Line

ALPERN AT LARGE - Inasmuch as we like to think that we’re superior, open-minded, modern men and women here in the City and County of the Angels, and that we’re entirely beyond the race thing unlike those other, more primitive areas of the United States, our local obsession with race is both laughable and contemptible.  

Whole political districts and political movements are often predicated on race in these “civilized” parts, and this regrettable “race-obsession”, arguably a New Racism, has for too long reared its ugly head in a topic that should be race-neutral:  transportation.

Cases in point:  both the Wilshire Subway and the Expo Line were prevented from funding and construction in the early 1990’s because of two color-based issues.  

Firstly, there was the color of money (i.e., green), which made some sense after Metro ran out of money just creating the Red Line to North Hollywood.  

Secondly, and most unfortunately, there were those LA riots that made much (most?) of the predominantly white Westside reject access to/from the nonwhite portions of the City.

That meant shutting down the efforts to get the Westside Subway and Expo Line down, because (after all), who was going to ride these lines?  Gangbangers?  Illegal aliens?  “Those” people?

Fast forward another 20 years, and Westside traffic and overdevelopment have become so bad that now these previously-walled off neighborhoods are trapped within their own self-made walls, and a lack of Mid-City development (with a concurrent rebirth of Downtown development) has made the overall inequity of planning both financially and morally painful to the City and County of Los Angeles.

Enter Friends4Expo Transit and The Transit Coalition and a host of new political officials who work together to buck the establishment and pull the white Westside and non-white Mid-City and Downtown areas together via a light rail line parallel to—and potentially a perfect alternative for—the ridiculously gridlocked I-10 freeway.

The movement snowballs to help get Antonio Villaraigosa elected as Mayor of LA and a historic Measure R passed to finally get (among other big projects throughout the County) the Wilshire Subway built after 50-100 years of failed attempts.  The LA riots fade into memory and communities start focusing on making money, not making war, with their neighbors.

Of course, the verbal race-baiting snippets still fly, and although I suppose their bearers deserve credit for candor (and a lot of similar sentiment from their neighbors who say the same thing behind tightly closed doors), the race-obsessed messages (arguably also referred to as “racist” messages) still provoke and enrage our higher callings.

For example, former Cheviot Hills Homeowner Association President Benjamin Cate probably didn’t mean to besmirch his community when he was quoted by the Times that only those “from the Hispanic areas nearer downtown” and who now take the bus were going to use the Expo Line.  

That was over three years ago, but that quip probably actually HELPED the Expo Line be created by making its proponents discount any legitimate local concerns that Cheviot Hills and its neighbors had about the Expo Line’s impacts on the region.  And that quip still is quite entrenched in the memories of all grassroots and political leaders who are either pushing for or against the Expo Line.

Similarly, this week Mid-City personality-extraordinaire Clint Simmons has also landed himself in the Quotes For The Ages column (perhaps right next to Helen Thomas) when he testified at an Expo Line hearing related to Dorsey High School that he “noticed lots of whites coming into the community to tell us how to live.”  As with Mr. Cate, the Times printed it and I imagine that quote won’t (and shouldn’t) be forgotten any time soon.

Before I write anything more, I should again emphasize that Mr. Cate and Mr. Simmons (and what the heck, Helen Thomas, too!) deserve credit for candor.  I mean, are these folks REALLY that different in their sentiments from their neighbors?

But the blowback will likely ram the Expo Line through sooner, and not later, because despite our City and County race-obsession (again, arguably a form of New Racism), ordinary citizens and political leaders just don’t have time or patience for another drawn-out discussion on race when our lives are destroyed by traffic and we need economic and City/County renewal.

I still believe that cut-through residential traffic, safety and other issues must be raised whenever an at-grade (ground level) rail crossing occurs.

I also believe that those insisting on “a tunnel or nothing” or “build it right or don’t build it at all” might as well be screaming for an at-grade crossing at the top of their lungs.

All neighborhoods adjacent to publicly-owned rail rights of way must confront the possibility of a visually-impacting elevated rail bridge alternative, because the hundreds of millions of dollars and the years of delay in building mega-expensive and difficult-to-engineer tunnels won’t (unless there’s no alternative, as with the Expo Line trench near USC and Jefferson) be tolerated anymore.

The year is 2010, not 1990, and the city is Los Angeles, not South Pasadena, so screaming for perfection when the voters want these projects done will enjoy little to no tolerance by Downtown, Sacramento or Washington.  

A quick nod of the head and a broadening of the shoulders, as was done when Westchester insisted on a Crenshaw Line elevation over Manchester Blvd. is a more likely way to quickly fix that problem at a cost of $30 million, not $1-200 million.

So it’s best that black and brown teenagers (or teenagers of any other pigment type, speaking as a physician and especially as a dermatologist) all have the ability to accommodate trains that slow down and stop at Dorsey High School, just as much as they can deal with cars, buses, bicycles and anything else that passes by.  

The students are sharp enough to find ways to capitalize on having a light rail stop at their school…and future students might wonder what the big deal was, after all.

It’s also best that Councilmember Parks’ own race-baiting, anti-Westside efforts should be put aside, and that the official color assigned to the Expo Line should be what we’re already seeing on Metro maps, which is AQUA (as in the rail line to the beach), and that both Mid-City and Westside and Downtown residents alike will appreciate a new alternative to get from Point A to Point B.

It’s also best that there already ARE more nonwhites living and working on the Westside, and there already ARE more nonblacks (white, Asian, Latino, whatever) living and working in the Mid-City and Downtown regions, and that the City and County of LA would do well to relegate skin color to that of eye color or hair color (in other words, WHO CARES?).

On a final note, if the second phase of the Expo Line is ready to break ground by late 2010 or early 2011, the portion between Culver City and Palms should be prioritized first—there are no big issues there that I’m aware of, and I’d really like to get the Expo Line open as far to the beach as possible (i.e., to Palms) when the first phase opens in 2012.

And the only “race” any of us should be concerned about here is the race to avoid gridlock on the 10 freeway when this overdue Aqua Line finally is done!

(Ken Alpern is a former Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently cochairs its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at [email protected]    The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)   -cw

Vol 8 Issue 46
Pub: June 11, 2010