Ridley-Thomas, South L.A., Gearing Up for Fight Over…Light Rail Yards?

At first, it looked like a pretty innocuous motion on a Metro Board Planning and Programming Committee Agenda.  Item #19, passed quickly and unanimously by the committee, shuffles $170 million in funds dedicated towards Red Line expansion, partially from Measure R, to cover the “unmet costs” to complete the rail yards for Expo Phase II light rail cars.  (Note: As was pointed out in the comments section, the staff report says that the Southwest yard is for Green/Crenshaw Line cars, not Expo cars.)

Metro CEO Art Leahy, along with Mayor Villaraigosa and Supervisor Yaroslavsky, have been the target of South L.A. residents after they helped defeat a motion to fund a Leimert Park Station. Photo via Metro

At first glance, it’s a yawner of an agenda item.  Placed into a larger context, it’s a call to transit war.  And Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas and South L.A. community activists, activists who are apparently “lawyering-up,” are readying for battle.

Back at the May Metro Board Meeting, appointees of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa modified a resolution by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to move some funds that were dedicated towards other projects, including the Red Line expansion, to fund a station at Leimert Park and to complete the grade-separation of the Crenshaw Line.  The grade-separation was controversial, but the Leimert Park Station appeared headed towards passage until a replacement motion was put forward by former Assemblyman and Mayoral Appointee to the Metro Board Richard Katz.  The Katz motion called for the construction of the station, but only if it could be done within the confines of the existing $1.7 billion budget for the light rail line, a $1.7 billion that did not assume construction of the station.

The argument against the Ridley-Thomas motion was that it would create a bad precedence to move funds from one Measure R project to another.  South L.A. politicians and advocates were livid at what they felt was second-class treatment by the Board.   That resentment has simmered for almost two months, and this motion has only inflamed their ire.

Ridley-Thomas has written a strongly worded letter to Metro CEO Art Leahy (read it yourself, exclusively here at Streetsblog) asking this very question and Damien Goodmon, Chair of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and star of an article in today’s L.A. Times, is basically threatening the 30/10 aka America Fast Forward program if this proposal moves forward.

Ridley-Thomas writes:

In less than a three month period, you and your staff abandoned the principles you invoked to oppose my Crenshaw/LAX motion by proposing further delay of Red Line enhancements.  Now, by proposing further delay of Red Line enhancements, you contradict the arguments you, your staff, and those invited to the Board Meeting by your staff so forcefully advanced in May.

Buttons handed out att May Metro Bosrd Meeting. Photo: KPCC

Even before the May Board Meeting, Metro staff were throwing cold water on the Ridley-Thomas motion, arguing in the press that it was too expensive to move funds from one project to another.  In an article about the unity of South L.A. politicians in the Los Angeles Times, the same politicians that seem to be at each other’s throats everytime there’s an election, over the “Park Mesa Tunnel” and “Leimert Park Station” Metro senior staffer David Yale is quoted:

The “cost increases create friction because it could cut into what others have available for their projects around the county,” added David Yale, Metro’s deputy executive officer for countywide regional planning and development. “We’re stretched in two different directions, both on costs and on revenues…. This is a hard decision for the board to make.”

That David Yale is the same person who wrote the report recommending the loan from the Red Line for the Expo Phase II rail yards has not escaped Ridley-Thomas or Goodmon’s attention,  Nor has the fact that the estimated cost of building the Leimert Park Station is $146 million, much less than the $170 million needed for the two light rail yards.

Looking at the other side of the coin, the difference between the Ridley-Thomas proposal for Crenshaw and the loan for these two light rail yards is that it is possible to build a light rail line without all of the stations that would make sense to build but it is not possible to build one without rail yards making the Expo Phase II loan of greater importance.  However, back in May nobody was willing to tell Ridley-Thomas or the hundreds of supporters in the room that their dreams weren’t important so they went with a different argument…the argument that it was unfair to Red Line supporters and riders who voted for Measure R to increase capacity for their line to move those funds somewhere else.

That argument may now come back to haunt them.

20 thoughts on Ridley-Thomas, South L.A., Gearing Up for Fight Over…Light Rail Yards?

  1. I Think the difference here is that item 19 is borrowing from one program to be repaid to the other. Heavy rail will get they money back but they need to build light rail priorities now. In MRT proposal it was a transfer of funds with no repayment.

    I’d say it is still a slippery slope to rob peter to pay Paul and give him an IOU, but I understand there are complexities to revenue and expenses in these huge projects that I am willing to see some measured and controlled movement if there is no net financial impact as the documents allude to.

  2. Never mind that the cost per mile of Crenshaw is already higher than Expo II.  Forgetting for the moment the astronomically higher per passenger-mile costs for Crenshaw.  Never mind that significant portions of the cost overruns on the Expo line are a direct result of Damien Goodmon’s advocacy, and his teaming up with the Cheviot Hills NIMBYs in their frivolous lawsuits.  He advocates taking more than twice the amount Expo II would borrow.
    It’s nice that you briefly mention that the rail yard is integral to the Expo project and always has been, but that’s essentially the whole story here.  They’re creating a false dichotomy between essential funding for one of the most critical transit projects in the county and funding for optional amenities on a line that’s already one of the least cost-effective in the nation.
    Because of that cost-ineffectiveness, Crenshaw is ineligible for federal funding, so the county may be footing a larger share of the bill than for projects like Expo and the Wilshire Subway, which, in the end, may not need all the local funding allocated to them.

  3. South LA politicians are making a big huff out of nothing. The 170 million is not being used to cover a shortfall of Expo Phase 2. It is the amount metro is short to build the necessary rail facilities to operate all the rail lines by the end of the decade. This 170 is being redirection from the heavy rail system to building the LRT maintenance facitilties (Expo II Santa Monica, Expo I Washington Storage, Crenshaw, Green Line, and Gold Line Monrovia Facility) whose needs will become crucial when the their respective lines and the regional connector all come on line by the end of the decade.

    This money is then supposed to be paid back to the Red/Purple lines by revenue generated from the second and third decades of Measure R. Its not really a reallocation of funds as these politicians are making it seem.

    They should also be careful not to confused people in to believing that Measure R is paying for two Expo Phase 2 facilities when clearly their is only one. The second facility they are refering to is actually the Phase 1 storage facility that has been delayed.

  4. The rail yard is needed for Expo, the Blue Line, and Crenshaw. You have to have a place to store trains at night and fix them when they need repairs, if the Crenshaw line is to be built at all. Unless Expo is canceled completely, the rail yard has to be built, no? $170 million sounds expensive, but considering the price of acerage in Los Angeles it’s not surprising..

  5. Exactly. The Expo line cannot operate without these rail yards. We’d have a wonderful multi-billion dollar rail line with no trains on it.

    We’re all unhappy about the Expo cost overruns. That doesn’t mean it’s okay to dramatically expand the scope and expense of other projects before they even come under construction.

  6. This so called robbing of funds to the Westside/Expo Line is an outright lie. Most of the shortfall is coming from the Crenshaw/LAX Corridor. If America Fast Forward is to happen in Los Angeles, we need the facilities in place to have the lines operating. Without that no light rail operating on Crenshaw, Expo, Foothill Gold Line. No amount of grandstanding will change that.

    However what’s most troubling is that amount of energy used to blatantly spin and manipulate facts and figures to an argument which still points out that Crenshaw/LAX corridor is still over budget.  

    If this amount of frenetic energy used by Director MRT in blustery and sactimonius preambles and puff pieces was put to good use in such ways such as taking a hard look at the LPA to fund the Leimert Park station such as removing the subway section north of 39th/Crenshaw and having an surface station at Expo/Crenshaw and thus having the needed funds for a Leimert Park station and with monies left over for project betterments such as a “down payment” for a northern extension of this corridor to reach Wilshire Blvd/Purple Line then maybe we as a county can have consensus on this but instead MRT and DG are building great separations with the rest of the county using this project.

  7. I’m with you with most of it, but wouldn’t making Expo/Crenshaw a surface station impede the ability to ever extend the line northwards to connect with the Wilshire subway?

    Metro has a bad habit of not planning for the future in order to save short term costs. The Park Mesa Heights subway is completely unnecessary, but the subway at the terminus of the line seems like a worthwhile investment for the future, even though it inflates the cost of the present line without much immediate benefit.

  8. http://la.streetsblog.org/2011/07/22/ridley-thomas-south-l-a-gearing-up-for-fight-over-light-rail-yards/#comment-261386892

    Having the surface station wouldn’t impede the ability to continue northward as the very location under Expo/Crenshaw will require this line to be dug up twice once to originally build the station and second to open up the street to drop the TBM’s to continue northward. Its better to do it all at once or have the tunnel continue about 1/4 mile further than Expo/Crenshaw as to not impact the West Angeles Cathedral which is a key anchor in the community. 

    In addition, having an initial surface station will make it an easier to share more of the rail storage facilities between more lines saving further short and long term dollars.

  9. “That David Yale is the same person who wrote the report recommending the
    loan from the Red Line for the Expo Phase II rail yards has not escaped
    Ridley-Thomas or Goodmon’s attention,  Nor has the fact that the
    estimated cost of building the Leimert Park Station is $146 million,
    much less than the $170 million needed for the two light rail yards.”

    What’s important to note is that even if this funding were to go for the Leimert Park station Metro would still need to find $146M to fund the two LRT yards needed to have trains serve the Leimert Park station and other LA County LRT stations in which we’re building Measure R.

  10. Once the “Regional Connector ” is built, all the light rail lines will be connected to each other.  Green and Blue lines are connected at Rosa Parks station.

  11. Once the “Regional Connector ” is built, all the light rail lines will be connected to each other.  Green and Blue lines are connected at Rosa Parks station.

  12. Please, everyone, read the staff report before commenting.

    It focuses on the need for two new light rail yards – Southwestern and Eastern – instead of the one central yard envisioned in the 2009 LRTP. This is NOT for the Expo Line, which footnote 1 notes is already covered. The Southwestern yard will support, guess what, the Crenshaw Line!

  13. Please, everyone, read the staff report before commenting.

    It focuses on the need for two new light rail yards – Southwestern and Eastern – instead of the one central yard envisioned in the 2009 LRTP. This is NOT for the Expo Line, which footnote 1 notes is already covered. The Southwestern yard will support, guess what, the Crenshaw Line!

  14. Darrell is absolutely right.  Upon further review, page 7 of the staff report:
    ———–
    Since May 19, 2011, we have updated our vehicle allocation assumptions for the Southwestern Yard with respect to ridership demand for the portion of the CrenshawILAX project that is contiguous with the Green Line to LAX extension project. We  now assume that this contiguous ridership demand, and the vehicles necessary to  support it, is more appropriately allocable to the Green Line to LAX project budget.  This change means that $16 million in vehicle costs once assumed to be allocable to  the CrenshawILAX project are now attributed to the Green Line to LAX project instead.
    ===============
    That would be, the rail yard is for Crenshaw/Green lines, not Expo lines as was implied in some of the things I read, leading to some confusing text in the article…I’ll make a change or two above in a second.

    That being said, the central premise of the piece stands.  If two months ago it was sacrosant not to move Measure R dollars around, then South L.A. activists and their pols have a right to get an answer as to why its ok now.

  15. Hey Damien

    I believe you are mistaken. The money being shuffled around is Prop A funds dedicated to Red/Purple Line upgrades. The reason South LA politician’s and activist are upset over this is that there was a Metro Stuff study which identified these funds, which were outside of Measure R, that could be used to make the changes being asked for yet some board members felt that those funds were off limit and should not be use fund these particular betterments. Now Metro staff is recommending to use those Red/Purple Line upgrade funds to acquire the land for these light rail maintenance facilities now since those upgrades are still not to pressing and have the Measure R funds that were allocated for this expenditure at later date pay back the Prop A funds. In other words its complicated shuffling of funds from one source to another.

  16. Ron, there’s definately some Measure R funds involved, I thought that’s what they were upset about.  From the top of the staff report, linked to in the story, this is the third part of the proposal:
    C. Program $170 million from Proposition A 35% and Measure R 2% sources to complete the current $71 8 million funding plan for countywide light rail yard need

    I’m willing to admit that I’m not 100% in tune with the finnancial maneuverings to get things done/piss off South L.A. (pick one) but I remember the original debate over MRT’s original proposal was about picking favorites amongst Measure R projects, and after reading his angry letter and to a lesser extent my evil twin’s letter in City Watch, I felt like it was the Measure R funds that really got under their skin.  

    I am willing to submit that they’re angry over either/both though.

  17. Part C is not the contentious part I believe. The 2% from Measure R is funds that were programed for “Metro Rail Capital – System Improvements, Rail Yards, and Rail Cars” as noted on Metro’s Measure R expenditure plan
    http://www.metro.net/measurer/images/expenditure_plan.pdf

    Part B is where the drama is stemming from

    “Borrow up to $170 million of funds planned for specified heavy rail capital improvements…”

  18. Damien,

    However its very specific Measure R funding.

    http://www.metro.net/measurer/images/expenditure_plan.pdf

    The 2% which is for Metro Rail System improvement projects. One can argue that a Leimert Park station is for system improvement and I would incline to be open to that interpretation…if the rest of the necessary system improvements (such as the rail yards and rail cars) have been completed.

    However when the funding as it’s being suggested in the staff report is directly related to Metro Rail system improvement which are the very storage/rail facilities needed to operate these projects if 30/10 is to become a reality, which is why the other Damien is making claims to ‘try and kill’ it because that is the very component that is setting this in motion.

    Per the report these funds will be borrowed as a loan in a small scale version of 30/10 or America Fast Forward.

  19. Damien Goodmon is directly responsible for any and all Expo Line delays and cost over runs.
     
    And I hear he stalks Expo Authority staff, sending love notes and making unnecessary phone calls.

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