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LA Light Rail: Leimert Park and Hindry Discussion Suffers from Double Talk

TRANSPORTATION POLITICS - Maybe it's because I recently saw the wonderful movie "42", and maybe it's because I'm a transportation advocate, and maybe it's because I despise racism of any sort, but I tire of the double-standard being applied to the oft-discussed Leimert Park Station in Park Mesa Heights and the oft-ignored Hindry Ave. Station in Westchester. 

You remember Westchester, right?  That community that just got kicked in the teeth by a City Council that prides itself on being environmentalist while ignoring the Environmentally Favored LAX Modernization Alternative #2, which would benefit not only those "Westchester NIMBY's" but the whole Westside (both sides of the freeway, Councilmember Koretz!), the Valley and the South Bay (you understand, Councilmembers Englander and Buscaino?). 

 

Well, that same Westchester--Republicans and Democrats alike--pretty much said nothing when the contentious issue of a rail maintenance yard came up that pitted the South Bay against Metro, and was happy to let that rail yard be built within Westchester.  Clearly, any knuckle-dragging troglodytes adhering to the misguided stereotype that Westchester residents are all NIMBY's might want to focus on that paradigm called "fact". 

And that same Westchester got kicked in the teeth again when it was informed by Metro that--at the eleventh hour--it would be denied a guaranteed Westchester station at either Manchester/Aviation or Hindry Ave. because Metro had the understanding that Westchester didn't want a station other than that already proposed at Century/Aviation. 

I very much remember how the Metro Crenshaw/Green/LAX Light Rail Line Team leader Roderick Diaz was as sincere as he was annoyed that Westchester residents had given him the impression that he was persona non grata at  the original outreach efforts of bringing a light rail station for the southeast corner of Westchester.  I also remember his eyes rolling upward when I'd testify about the need to consider a Lincoln Blvd. or other Westside Green Line extension. 

But Diaz, his Metro team, Westchester, The Transit Coalition and the rest of Metro all rolled with the punches and kept meeting.  Clearly, there was a learning curve that was too little and too late on both sides of the issue when it came to a Westchester station for the Metro Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Project EIR, and Metro probably realized it made a BIG boo-boo when it didn't properly present its argument for a Hindry Ave. station during its outreach. 

The Manchester/Aviation station is what the Westchester community preferred--and it really does deserve something for ending the rail maintenance yard controversy that was so BIG (but now probably forgotten) a few years ago.  The line was already elevated over Manchester, so an elevated Manchester/Aviation station near so many businesses was a far more attractive option than a relatively-isolated Hindry Ave. location. 

Yet when Westchester residents and other Westside transit/transportation advocates learned about how the Manchester/Aviation station would have to be placed on a curve of the line, creating the need to either build an expensive and troublesome engineering marvel and/or purchase a lot of adjacent land for a straightened/expanded right of way, the $15-20 million Hindry station made more sense than the $100 million-plus Manchester/Aviation station. 

Believe it or not, Westchester-haters, Westchester residents are very reasonable and very giving.  

But the question should be asked as to why DO people like to hate on Westchester?  Is it the perception that they're all rich?  Is it the color of their skin?  What gives here? 

So a tragic misunderstanding between Metro and Westchester, with discussions too late in the process, have Westchester residents and the CD11 office solidly behind the Hindry station--after all, we can't have it all, and we've got to all grow up and be realistic about what we want versus what we can ask the County to pay for. 

And when the issue of adding a Hindry station as an optional betterment to the bidding process came to the county representative, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, to championing this station?  When the numerous requests were brought up to Supervisor Ridley-Thomas' office to raise this station as much as he has the Leimert Park station? 

Deafening silence. 

To his credit, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has repeatedly and loudly championed the Leimert Park station.  Yet the few times the Hindry station came up at Metro meetings, Ridley-Thomas would claim he didn't want to set one neighborhood against another...and then did just that by saying Leimert Park comes first before any Hindry station can be built. 

To this date, radio silence comes from Ridley-Thomas' office about Hindry...and the need of  Westchester residents to run to Supervisor Don Knabe (whose district is where the next piece of the LAX/MetroRail connection exists, which is the direct connection to LAX) for support of a Hindry station sends chilling messages about who Ridley-Thomas represents...and who he doesn't. 

Ridley-Thomas has had no problem injecting race again, and again, and again, into the Leimert Park issue but what he glosses over is the $200-400 million price tag for an underground rail tunnel through Park Mesa Heights.  That's a lot of money for a project already costing $1.7 billion, and money that a lot of other regions want for their own projects. 

Ridley-Thomas has asked for, and lost, an undergrounding of the Expo Line at USC and by Cheviot Hills, and lawsuits will undoubtedly abound if a special exception is made for Park Mesa Heights.  I honestly DO favor a station at Leimert Park, but honestly DON'T know if a Hindry-style at-grade, or elevated, station is a viable alternative. 

The Westside will have to have a lot fewer grade separations than it wanted for the Expo Line, and will have to doggedly fight for an at-grade Hindry Ave. station to serve Westchester, so the need to save a few hundred million at Park Mesa Heights, and come up with an innovative and cheaper alternative for Leimert Park without screaming "racism!" must be found. 

And the innovative offer by LA City Councilmembers Bernard Parks and Bill Rosendahl to use L.A. City Measure R money for both the Leimert Park and Hindry station is one that must be seriously entertained by all parties involved...even if it will only fund an non-subway station at Leimert Park because that station is too doggone expensive. 

But let's step back a bit and look at the bigger picture: 

1) We have no idea of where MetroRail and LAX will connect.  Coming up with a supplemental EIR to have a smaller Crenshaw Line "Phase 1" spur extend from Expo/Crenshaw to Hindry and the rail maintenance yard in Westchester might just redirect more money for the Park Mesa Heights tunnel.  

 

After all, we don't even know if a direct underground route below LAX (probably the Locally Preferred Project if most commuters were asked) will even allow for a Century/Aviation station.

 

2) An enormous amount of development must occur at/near Leimert Park to justify the enormously-expensive Park Mesa Heights tunnel...and is that such a bad thing?  Isn't urban infill and redevelopment of the Crenshaw Corridor consistent with this light rail line?

 

With so many unanswered questions, and with so many golden opportunities, before us with respect to the Crenshaw Line, LAX and the Green Line, there need not be screams of racism but rather calls for good planning to abound from this project.

 

The Crenshaw/LAX/Green Line endeavor is one that is difficult to resolve because of the maps, the location of the rail right of way, and the many jurisdictions and political forces involved.

 

Yet let's make it clear--this Crenshaw/LAX line is not a black person's line, not a white person's line, and not a line for any one given race of people.  It's just a way to get from point A to point B in a way that makes good sense with respect to transportation and planning and economic development.

 

The only color that should be raised is green--that of money and of the environment--and it would do well for the future of this line to focus on solutions, and not racial divisions or subjugation, to make this the best light rail line possible for all parties, and all communities, involved for generations to come.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of 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 Alpern@MarVista.org  He also co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

-cw

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 11 Issue 37

Pub: May 7, 2013