Expo Board Approves FEIR for Phase II. Off to Construction or Off to Court?

2_5_10_expo.jpgThe Expo right of way just off of Exposition and Sepulveda. Photo: LA Streetsblog/Flickr

After years of debates, threats of lawsuits, contentious community meetings and even heated discussion on Streetsblog message boards; there was a feeling that yesterday’s meeting of the Expo Board to debate the certification of the environmental documents for Phase II would be a momentous meeting.  Predictions of a 4-3 vote either for or against certification seemed a safe bet; with the exception of the Transit Coalition’s Bart Reed who predicted a "blowout," everyone I talked to thought it would be close.

After nearly five hours of public comment and debate, the Board voted and the final tally was six in favor, zero against, and one abstention.  The abstention wasn’t even made by a fully-vested Board Member, but a staff member from the office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who was empowered to vote in place of the Supervisor.  There was a vote on a Ridley-Thomas motion to delay, not reject, certification for three months that failed by the somewhat closer vote of 2-5, with Rosendahl joining Ridley-Thomas in support.

Instead of a close vote, the most controversial thing that occurred was a procedural move by Los Angeles City Councilman Bernard Parks who blocked fellow Councilman Paul Koretz from voting on the measure.  Technically, until Phase I is completed, Parks and Council Woman Jan Perry sit on the Expo Board.  However it was widely believed that Parks and Perry would yield to their successors, Councilmen Koretz and Bill Rosendahl who’s districts would be most directly impacted by the construction and operation of Phase II. 

While Perry yielded to Rosendahl, Parks decided to hold on to his seat for the meeting to, in his words, defend the grade crossing policy at Metro that was under attack from opponents to Phase II and Ridley-Thomas.  Whether that was the real reason for Parks’ maneuver, or  a more political one such as wanting to prevent the expected "no" vote from Koretz or even to spite his formal rival Ridley-Thomas is unknown.  What is known is that Koretz was one unhappy Councilman.

After public comment closed, Los Angeles Councilman Herb Wesson, who chairs the Expo Board, allowed Koretz unlimited speaking time as though he were a seated board member.  Koretz took advantage with a strong attack on many of the parts of the environmental documents, especially the traffic study, that Cheviot Hills residents had spent hours attacking during public comment.  While he couldn’t vote, some of Koretz’s concerns were later addressed by County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Rosendahl.  Koretz railed against the quality of the traffic studies at intersections, especially the crossings at Sepulveda, Westwood, and Overland.

Supervisor Yaroslavsky made a pair of motions that somewhat addressed Koretz’s concerns.  The first requires further study of whether or not to elevate the crossing at Sepulveda Boulevard, which would cost an extra $17 million.  The second addresses the concerns of the group Expo Greenway and put off the decision on whether or not to have a parking lot or park space at Westwood Station.  Rosendahl seconded both motions, although he seemed ready to just support "park over parking" at Westwood Station.  Each motion passed unanimously.

Rosendahl’s support was somewhat of a surprise to people closely watching the Board.  The Councilman had been a very vocal supporter of grade-separated intersections, but ultimately supported certification of environmental documents without elevating rail at the intersections.  He did use his vote to get assurances from the Construction Authority staff that they would create a Bike Advisory Committee to help with issues such as crossings, access to the bike path, and parking and an Urban Design Committee to help with the station design.  Some opponents of certification of the environmental documents focused their comments at Rosendahl for not sticking to his guns, but with the vote going against grade-separation with or without his vote, his political pragmatism might pay dividends for cyclists and residents in the future.

The major question that remaining, is whether or not there will be a legal challenge to the Expo Board’s decision to move forward?  It’s long been assumed that with the amount of money being raised, and their forceful public statements, that Neighbors for Smart Rail will move quickly to challenge the Board’s decision in court.  The Times raised the issue in their coverage of the meeting, and while a final decision hasn’t been announced, it does seem all-but-certain:

Robert P. Silverstein, an attorney representing a coalition of Westside
homeowners’ associations called Neighbors for Smart Rail, said his
clients support extending the rail line but feel strongly it can be
made better.

"I want to be clear that my client is not opposed to the project, but
is opposed to it being built without below grade, grade separation
between Overland and Sepulveda," he said at Thursday’s public hearing
of the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority board. "Build it,
but build it right."

If an announcement on a lawsuit is coming, you’ll be able to read about it here at Streetsblog.  In the meantime, given all of the complaining I do about Board and Chair conduct at Metro Board meetings, I should note that not only did Councilman Herb Wesson do a superb job chairing the meeting and respecting everyone’s views, but the Board didn’t act like a group of school children who were eying the clock waiting for the recess bell.  Even with Mayor Villaraigosa announcing his layoffs, the City Councilmen didn’t threaten to bolt the meeting if the public would just shut up and let them do their job and waited nearly five hours to cast their votes.  It’s a positive sign that all seven Board seats cast votes, even if Ridley-Thomas needed a surrogate to do so.  The Metro Board would do well to follow their example.

  • Typo: Ridley-Thomas needed a surrogate to do son
    Should read: Ridley-Thomas needed a surrogate to do so

  • As I posted on Wednesday, I do expect a lawsuit to be filed and that it eventually achieve little of what the opponents want. A similar type suit against the Orange Line delayed the project as some environmental documents were redrafted but the NIMBYs finally accepted a settlement basically for their legal costs being covered by Metro. We’ll see if a suit even progresses beyond the initial first hearing…

    http://la.streetsblog.org/2010/02/03/expect-plenty-of-debate-before-tomorrows-vote-on-the-expo-line-feir/#comment-141221

  • I was struck by the many Cheviot speakers who said they supported light rail but wanted it below ground. That is an oxymoron: light rail is inherently largely at-grade.

    The remedy sought, a long, deep tunnel below the existing railroad right-of-way, would be unprecedented special treatment for one neighborhood that has never been built on any modern U.S. light rail line.

    Good luck convincing a court that they were treated unfairly because they were not granted something that does not exist.

  • Am I hallucinating, or is there no mention of this project on metro.net ? Streetsblog’s usually good about linking to these things …

  • Sorry Jarrett, here you go.

    http://www.buildexpo.org/

  • Joseph E

    NFSR’s potential lawsuit is the best justification for the new station planned at Farmdale. I think a pedestrian bridge for the Farmdale High School students would have been best for the majority of people (the riders who are going to lose 40 seconds of time each way because of that extra station), but the precedent would have helped NFSR to push for grade-separations. Now Metro has a precedent for at-grade rail in a poor, black neighborhood, so it is only fair that the rich, white neighborhood get at-grade light rail as well.

    Once this thing gets built, I think many of the opponents will realize the benefits. It will not be loud or visually obtrusive at ground level, and the extra traffic delays will blend in to the background of lousy traffic on Sepulveda, Overland and Westwood. As long as the trains get signal preemption or quad gates, the grade crossings won’t necessarily slow down the trains at all in normal operation.

  • poncho

    smells like Palo Alto HSR corridor NIMBYs… we’re against it unless you give us an expensive tunnel

  • Alan K. Weeks

    The Expo Board Meeting was a major victory for this Light Rail Project. There will be smaller battles to come but this was truly a turning point.
    I was surprised by how orderly the Meeting was. Everyone got to speak their
    1 minute. I was sorry to see that the two leading opponents of the line had to resort to verbal abuse of City Councilman Parks. This was the second time I have seen this tactic used on officials. Perhaps when your arguments are weak, abuse is the last chance. As for a law suit. They most likely will try to get an injuction to stop the line. Maybe they will waste thousands on a loosing battle. The Gold Line opponents spent 100’s of thousands trying to stop that line but ended up loosing it all. Truly this was a victory for common sense and rationality.

  • Gokhan

    The meeting went so orderly and well-conducted because it was the most important transit meeting in LA, whether Metro, Expo, or anything else, of all time.

    I don’t think NFSR will necessarily file a lawsuit. Because:

    (a) There is a 98% chance that it will fail anyway.

    (b) It will make them look very bad in the public eye for trying to derail a very strongly supported project.

    (c) A $224-million subway station at Westwood would lead to rezoning of Rancho Park as multiresidential and heavy commercial, what NFSR dreads most.

  • Gokhan

    Shot with my iPhone, these four clips of ten minutes each are the last 40 minutes of the board meeting that approved Expo Phase 2, which have the comments of the seven board members.

    The last 40 minutes were a drama, during which Expo Phase 2 was being threatened by Ridley-Thomas’s motion not to approve it. His motion had asked for an initial three-month-long Metro grade-crossing study, which would then require redoing the EIR, which would take at least an additional year, and who knows what would happen afterwards. Phase 2 would likely be killed or long-delayed.

    But Zev made his impressive speech and we also heard good speeches from other board members. At the end the project got approved 6 – 0.

    Comments are most welcome.

    Individual links to the four clips:

    (Click on the expanding arrows to watch in full screen and choose 480p for better video and sound quality)

    Part 1:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbGLfKsrXMM

    Part 2:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jH0UAPB9khM

    Part 3:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4V8BrG5aW7Y

    Part 4:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6l-3YxnRNs

    Or click on this link to play the entire playlist:

  • A

    Thank you for reporting on this matter! Its a great synopsis!

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