Ridley-Thomas, South L.A. Residents Want Leimert Park Station, But at What Cost?

Image: Fix Expo

A motion by County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas would grade-separate the planned Crenshaw Light Rail Line for twelve blocks from 48th Street to 59th Street along the Crenshaw Corridor and would require the construction of a station at Leimert Park.  Both grade-separating the Crenshaw Line and the Leimert Park Station are listed as “optional” in Metro’s most recent corridor studies.  To pay for the grade-separation and new station, Ridley-Thomas asks Metro to identify funding sources “including but not limited to” Measure R funds for the Expo Line and for the Green Line to LAX, the Arbor-Vitae interchange project and sales of “surplus property” along the right-of-way that won’t be used.  The Crenshaw Line will run below-grade for the rest of the route along Crenshaw Boulevard.

Ridley-Thomas’ motion has strong support within the Crenshaw and South L.A. communities, even if his motion placing Measure R projects against one another and possibly shuffling funds approved by voters has raised the ire of transit advocates and is probably politically impossible.  The Fix Expo/Crenshaw Subway Campaign published comments from “Save Leimert Park” urging Metro to move forward with not just a station plan, but a mixed-use development and parking plan for the Leimert Park area..  It would seem that someone in Metro must agree with them.  How else could one explain locating the  press conference announcing a $543 million federal loan for the Crenshaw Line at Leimert Park back in October of last year, well after the Leimert Park Station was deemed optional.

Meanwhile, the community group Hyde Park Organizational Partnership for Empowerment (HOPE) is advocating for increased grade separation for the rail project.  Noting some of the safety issues that exist with the Blue Line, which also runs through a predominantly minority community, Winnifred Jackson slams the at-grade proposal for the 12 blocks between 48th Street and 59th Street.

HOPE believes the rail line should be underground in our community for many reasons. The thought of 225-ton trains running 40 mph at street-level down the middle of Crenshaw Blvd is daunting.  Even if the (mostly black-owned) small businesses survive the four long years of disruptive street construction, after the line is built Crenshaw Blvd will lose half its parking.  With trains crossing every 2½ minutes during rush hour, traffic congestion will worsen. The safety risk to motorists and pedestrians, particular our children, is concerning.  A similar rail line, MTA’s Blue Line, which runs through black/brown communities of Compton, Willowbrook, Watts and South L.A. has killed over 100 people, including many children, in over 875 accidents.  Thousands more have been injured.
While nobody has gone on record saying that either grade-separation nor the Leimert Park Station are a bad idea, there hasn’t been much support from transit advocates for Ridley-Thomas’ proposal.   The Ridley-Thomas motion asks for Metro staff to study how to fund the increased grade separation route and new station, not to dedicate the funds by themselves.  To move Measure R funds, it would take a 9-4 vote of the Metro Board of Directors.  It’s hard to imagine getting that vote without the support of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who controls four votes on the Metro Board.  The Mayor’s office declined to comment on the Ridley-Thomas motion.
Transit advocates Dana Gabbard and Ken Alpern, each speaking for themself, took issue with the Ridley-Thomas motion.  Commenting for this article Gabbard, slammed Ridley-Thomas’ claim that there would be significant time savings for passengers using the Crenshaw Line to connect to the Green Line and a future stop at LAX, slams the idea of repurposing Measure R funds, and suggests a local funding alternative for the proposal.

He overstates time savings to LAX, which the Hatch Mott McDonald analysis (p.43) shows as being 1-2 minutes with the Crenshaw underground section included–for the vast funds Ridley-Thomas is trying to capture that is a result which isn’t by any stretch of the imagination worth pursuing.

Caterwauling is no justification for prioritizing transportation spending or overturning the results of a county wide vote. We must resist weighing down Measure R with un-needed gold plating.

If the residents want it, they can form a special district and tax themselves to pay for it (much like Berkeley paid for the tunnels they asked BART be placed in).

Alpern is a lot more understated in an article in last Friday’s City Watch where he praises the Supervisor’s vision for the Corridor but opposes any transfer of Measure R funds.

So while it might be a very, very good idea to find extra funding to make this huge, long north-south passenger rail line as rapid, safe, useful and high-capacity as possible, it’s a very, very bad idea to set one region of the county (the Mid-City/Crenshaw region) against other regions (the Westside and South Bay).  No one wins that battle.

So let’s hope that Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has a few creative ideas  that remain unclarified in his efforts to make the Crenshaw/LAX Line the best it can be.  A “Mark-Up” is a good idea, but an wanted inter-regional dust-up is “off the Mark”.

We won’t have to wait too long to see how the Metro Board is going to view the Ridley-Thomas motion.  The Measure R Project Delivery Committee will hold a hearing on the motion this Wednesday (full agenda:here) and the Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to hear the motion during next Thursday’s meeting.