Crenshaw Update: Ridley-Thomas Pushes Community Benefits, Community Weighs Options for Subway/Leimert Station

If anyone things Mark Ridley-Thomas is done with Crenshaw, just visit his transportation page.

When Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motions to make the Crenshaw Light Rail project run entirely below-grade and to construct a station at Leimert Park both failed, the Board Member promised he would be back with a new motion to improve the project in a different way. At last week’s Metro Board Meeting, Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion calling for community benefits during construction of the Expo Line.

The motion’s asks can be split in to two parts, the fiscal parts and the transportation parts.  The fiscal parts are about protecting the businesses and local economy during construction.  The Supervisor notes in his press statement announcing the motion, “The Crenshaw/LAX line project is moving fast ahead. As it is being built we must also make sure the community doesn’t pay too high a price for its long-overdue rail service.”

Perhaps the boldest ask is that businesses along the above ground portion of the route, between 48th and 59th street,be partially compensated for lost business during construction.  To the best of my research, and that of Damien Goodmon, Metro has never taken this step before, but it is done in other parts of the country and could make fiscal sense for the agency in the long run.

“I’m guessing, it would take what $45 million?  $50 million? Of a 1.7 billion project?  Can you imagine how much smoother the sailing would be for Metro if the businesses felt taken care of?” Goodmon rhetorically asked.  ”In this economic climate, in this part of the city, it doesn’t make sense to ask a community to sacrifice now for economic development some point in the future.”

Support for this portion of the motion isn’t just popular with the community advocates, small business owner Cory Hartly tells the Wave, “I think compensation would be a good thing, but it’s sad because there are a lot of businesses on Crenshaw that are going to be affected by the line.  It’s going to be uncomfortable for people to park and customers will start to go elsewhere.”

The second plank is a request that a certain percentage of the workers be hired locally from the Crenshaw communities.  While Ridley-Thomas doesn’t select a number, such as 30% of workers should be hired from the Crenshaw communities, combined with the demand that businesses be compensated, is a key part of preserving the middle-class within the community during construction.

When it comes to transportation, there are two items of note: one has to do with foot traffic and one car traffic.

The first ask is for streetscape and sidewalk improvements through the area where the train will run at-grade.  Some people view the Crenshaw and South L.A. communities as “inner-ring suburbs,” but we’ve already seen that many elements of the community desire dense mixed-use development.  Ridley-Thomas’ motion calls for the kind of pedestrian amenities that were lacking for the Gold Line Eastside Extension to connect the community to the train and its stations.

That being said, despite support for this part of the motion, the community would much rather the Metro Board reverse course and back the Crenshaw Subway proposal that was defeated at the May Metro Board Meeting. “If its between wider sidewalks and planting trees or running the train underground, we’ll plant the trees ourselves,” Goodmon laughed over the phone,  “We’ll have a whole tree people week.”

Which is not to say that every part of the motion makes sense and has broad support.  While the Supervisor’s desire to have all intersections run at a “C” Level of Service or higher is understandable, understanding that the intersections in this area don’t run at that level now make such a proposal unlikely.

Consider the intersection at Slauson and Crenshaw.  The intersection now rates an “F” on Level of Service.  There’s two ways to improve it to C, one is to turn the area into a mini-highway, and the other is to play loose with the numbers.  Neither of those methods would be popular.

With this motion as backdrop, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition meets tonight to discuss their options moving forward.  Metro should note, that another lawsuit is just one of the options their considering, but it is an option.