Broadside: Billionaire Philanthropist Makes Last Minute Appeal to Re-Route Regional Connector

Nothing comes easy.

For over a year, Regional Connector seemed a sure bet to earn quick passage from the Metro Board of Directors later this year.  A route and station plan compromse was reached with the Little Tokyo community that left rail advocates and community activists feeling good.  Partial funding for the project was approved in Measure R.  The Metro Board of Directors certified the draft environmental documents and a locally preferred alternative route in December of 2010.  Without some major change to either the politics or environmental review, the project will most likely be certified by the end of the year, and given the bi-partisan support for America Fast Forward might be in line for federal dollars.

The Regional Connector is a proposed mass-transit rail project to create a new light rail corridor in Downtown Los Angeles that would connect the Blue and Expo Lines to the Gold Line and Union Station.  Metro is currently accepting comments on the Final Environmental Impact Report and final approval is expected later this year.

Community Connector Coalition

In a letter, dated August 30 (embedded above), to Metro and Federal Transit Authority staff, a shadowy group known as the Community Connector Coalition(CCC) is urging Metro to throw out all of the work already done on the routing and environmental studies of the Regional Connector and start over with a new route drawn on top of a google map.  The membership of the group is left secret, a google search of the name produced links to the letter above which I just uploaded last night and nothing else.  So why does this letter scare the bejeezus out of some Regional Connector supporters?

Because the letter is signed by Eli Broad.  Yes, the Eli Broad who is a billionaire philanthropist who has an art collection you might have heard of and certainly has the ear of many a Democratic politician.  In a sign that Broad is playing for keeps, the contact information with follow-up questions on the letter isn’t a planning firm, but a high-powered corporate legal firm.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and philanthropist Eli Broad talk to the media at the groundbreaking for the Civic Center park. Photo:##http://blogdowntown.com/2010/07/5505-broad-art-museum-approved-by-cra##Blog Downtown##

In what they continually call a series of simple adjustments, Broad’s team urges Metro to: move the Bunker Hill Station to the top of Grand Ave., move the Broadway/Civic Center Station and adjust the route in that area, and to move the Little Tokyo Station.  These “modest amendments” would basically require scrapping just about all of the work done over the last five years, just months before the final environmental documents were scheduled to be approved.

Even if all of the CCC’s claims about cost savings are true, by not moving forward with design in 2012 the cost of supplies, inflation, and other costs could well wipe out any savings made by the line adjustments.  And if the delay cost Metro a federal grant or low-interest loan, it would be a disaster for everyone waiting for the connector.  And there’s no way to measure the cost of the time and money already put into the project.

Broad’s curveball provides a challenge to Metro.  Will the agency staff, or Board, be swayed by this just before the bell argument, or will they resist what is surely an intense lobbying effort by the CCC?  Will Metro follow established policy for comments received during the environmental process and wait to respond until the Final Environmental Impact Report, or does Eli Broad get special treatment?  Will Metro direct staff to examine the suggestions as their outlined in the above letter and hand-drawn in blue ink on a google map?

And if they do go back on their original plan, who’s going to tell the Little Tokyo community after all the work the agency and community put in to create the current route?

Critics of Metro often portray the agency as somehow beholden to wealthy investors and developers.  Broad’s curveball might be a tricky one to hit, but it will be a home run if the agency handles it correctly.

  • If Eli Broad pays for the Regional Connector, then I’m all for it. If not… I just want to ride from Pasadena to Staples without a transfer before I die.

  • Allison

    Thank you for bringing this to light, Damien. This will be really problematic to not to take into account the very real concerns of the Little Tokyo small business community’s request not to be detrimentally affected by the Regional Connector. Hopefully, the Metro Board will stand strong on community vetted designs at least at that station.

  • Anonymous

    Connection to Grand?  We have one.  Take the Red/Purple Line to Pershing Square, exit through the (non-ADA compliant) Northwest exit, board Angel’s Flight et voila.

    Cleaning up that area, and making improvements to both the headhouse and Angel’s Flight would cost a fraction of what these hard-to-read doodles-on-a-Google-map will cost to implement.

    Has CCC ever heard of “GIS”?

  • Marcotico

    @Tapman forget GIS, do they know they can download Google Earth for free, and ask a 12 year old to draw what the techies call a “path”.

  • Irwinc

    Where was Eli 5 years ago? It’s too late dude…

  • Eli-come-lately

    Only in LA.

  • Anonymous

    Yup, why be the “job creator” the uber-rich tell us they are when you can document your demands at a cocktail party?

  • As a community stakeholder in Little Tokyo (I work at a nonprofit and sit on the board of the Little Tokyo Community Council), I am appalled and insulted at this situation. Members of the Little Tokyo community have been actively engaged on this project since at least 2008 (and a few even further back when there were still 32 options on the table), and it has been a hard, arduous process for us to get this far. It is quite frankly disrespectful of Mr. Broad to even attempt to subvert the progress we’ve made so far and while ignoring the time and needs of our community. Also, I am pretty outraged that Metro is responding so quickly and thoroughly to this letter – basically, giving him the special treatment that our own letters of concern over the past several months have not received. 

    Furthermore, the fact that John Welborne is doing a lot of the dirty work on this – coming up with the plan, shopping it around to folks (he approached two of our community leaders about this proposal before the letter even reached Metro) – seems pretty unethical and shady, given that his wife (Martha Welborne) is more or less in charge of the project on Metro’s side. Conflict of interest much? 

    This is a terrible idea. Despite the claims made in the letter, the cut and cover up and down Historic First Street will have major impacts to the community, and most likely kill off the business community on 1st. If Metro takes this seriously, they can expect a fierce reaction and opposition from Little Tokyo. 

  • MadPark

    NOT only in LA – poke around on Seattle Transit Blog to read about Sound Transit’s nightmares in dealing with suburban shopping mall owner Kemper Freeman’s attempts to prevent rail transit from crossing Lake Washington from Seattle to Bellevue.

  • Jerard Wright

    There are many problems and impacts that they don’t recognize in their designs nor does it look like this group has read the latest EIR;
     
    Bunker Hill – placing the station at the top of the hill though admirable can not be done  due to the fact that there is a HILL on that Bunker that is of significant elevational difference between Flower Street and Bunker Hill. If this design were to work the Flower Street portion would have to be an elevated alignment that transitions into a tunnel under Bunker Hill. Also per the EIR there is/will be a Pedestrian bridge that will connect Upper Grand/Hope Street to the station to make up the difference in elevation and connect the very riders they’re refering too so maybe Broad Museum could have a pedestrian bridge connection in an artistic manner ala the Pomepidu Centre in Paris. Also this design reveals a key flaw that I’m not at all surprised this group didn’t notice, What construction site will Metro use to build this now 200′ below ground station given this new location that is even deeper then the current design and require reconfiguration of the historically significant Second Street Tunnel? 
     
    Broadway –  Using the Federal Courthouse site is something that the project team is considering for a potential construction site per the EIR. However turning the alignment to go up First street will introduce two curves in short distance increasing trip times and reducing the cost-effectiveness thus reducing the ability to gain Federal New Starts funding all contradictory to what their letter is claiming, In addition for the suggested transition would require the tunnel to be significantly below the existing Red/Purple line tunnel in order to make the suggested curve still impacting said utility line underneath the Second Street tunnel. TBM’s can not curve on a dime like a car could or a pen line on a map could.
     
    Little Tokyo – The core factor in the suggested alignment under First Street is that it now places the station box right in the street of the Little Tokyo Business community rather than off street which will all but sever the good will between Metro and the Community over the past 2 years that both sides have worked hard in developing. 

  • I like Eli Broad for what he has done for the arts in Los Angeles, and I like his new museum planned for downtown.

    However, this is way too late. Little Tokyo has been involved with the planning process from the very beginning; there have been some huge discussions over what to do with the existing station and the new proposals.  We have finally come up with a plan which I think works for the community.

    We’ve don soil testing on Second Street, for goodness’ sake.

    The Little Tokyo station as currently planned, would have trains from all parts of Los Angeles. The Broad plan would only have trains north-south.

    Even if you accept the Broad plan to shift construction to First Street (where a lot of the buildings in Little Tokyo would be older and more historic than the buildings on Second), it would still make more sense to have the station before the wye, on the parcel just south of JANM.

  • IK

    I get why he wants the Bunker Hill Station moved, I really do.  The 2nd/Hope location does kinda suck, especially for his purposes.  The proposed change isn’t realistic (in terms of elevation, funding, *reality*), but I get it.  What I don’t get, though, is why he’s pushing the changes elsewhere.  Little Tokyo certainly won’t benefit from the changes.  Broadway and the Historic Core certainly won’t benefit from the changes.  Everything else in the proposal is total rubbish and I can’t see why anyone (let alone Mr. Broad, who is focused mostly on Grand Avenue) would propose them…

  • We don’t need his version of the Regional Connector. We can find sources of funding other than Eli Broad’s pockets.

    I’d be happy if he paid for links between the Bunker Hill station and his new museum, though. A few escalators/ stairs/ tunnels/ pedestrian walkways would be cheaper than redesigning the whole project.

  • The dude abides

    I understand bunker hill, but in the spirit of the crappy drawings he submitted I created a equally crappy rendition of a solution. He should build escalators from flower to grand like they háve on 5th to hope place.

    http://yfrog.com/j2gmxoej

  • Here’s Metro’s official response:

    http://thesource.metro.net/2011/09/16/metros-response-to-the-community-connector-coalition-letter/

    “We take the coalition’s letter and all public comments seriously, and
    will follow our well-established technical process to review and respond
    to all letters and comments to the Regional Connector’s environmental
    document.  We are currently reviewing the letter with the project’s
    technical, environmental and operations staff and consultants, and
    expect to have written responses in the coming weeks.  The Final
    EIS/EIR, which will include responses to all public comments, will be
    submitted for Metro Board consideration in December contingent on FTA
    approval.”

  • Here’s Metro’s official response:

    http://thesource.metro.net/2011/09/16/metros-response-to-the-community-connector-coalition-letter/

    “We take the coalition’s letter and all public comments seriously, and
    will follow our well-established technical process to review and respond
    to all letters and comments to the Regional Connector’s environmental
    document.  We are currently reviewing the letter with the project’s
    technical, environmental and operations staff and consultants, and
    expect to have written responses in the coming weeks.  The Final
    EIS/EIR, which will include responses to all public comments, will be
    submitted for Metro Board consideration in December contingent on FTA
    approval.”

  • Here’s Metro’s official response:

    http://thesource.metro.net/2011/09/16/metros-response-to-the-community-connector-coalition-letter/

    “We take the coalition’s letter and all public comments seriously, and
    will follow our well-established technical process to review and respond
    to all letters and comments to the Regional Connector’s environmental
    document.  We are currently reviewing the letter with the project’s
    technical, environmental and operations staff and consultants, and
    expect to have written responses in the coming weeks.  The Final
    EIS/EIR, which will include responses to all public comments, will be
    submitted for Metro Board consideration in December contingent on FTA
    approval.”

  • Here’s Metro’s official response:

    http://thesource.metro.net/2011/09/16/metros-response-to-the-community-connector-coalition-letter/

    “We take the coalition’s letter and all public comments seriously, and
    will follow our well-established technical process to review and respond
    to all letters and comments to the Regional Connector’s environmental
    document.  We are currently reviewing the letter with the project’s
    technical, environmental and operations staff and consultants, and
    expect to have written responses in the coming weeks.  The Final
    EIS/EIR, which will include responses to all public comments, will be
    submitted for Metro Board consideration in December contingent on FTA
    approval.”

  • the dude abides

    After spending more time looking at the amateurish maps it seems clear these ideas are set out by buffoons.  Going back to Bunker hill they say they want the station at 2nd and Grand at the Top of the hill but the drawings actually show the portal at mid block on 2nd street which is also on a hill.  So if they have their plan people will still have to walk up a steep hill, albeit only half way.  And the hill from Olive to Grand is much steeper than from Hope to Grand on the other side.

    The only way this makes sense if they are planning around the long delayed Grand Ave project.  

  • Mark J.

    Broad is way too late on this.  2nd/Alameda came as a result of a lot of work with that community. No changes there please. Broadway needs to stay to connect with the streetcar.  If he has a problem with 2nd/Hope, then he can contribute to additions to improve , not move the station..  Hopefully MTA just says no and we move on.

  • R.

    The Bunker Hill station he’s proposing is effectively impossible to build. Engineering-wise, you can’t dig out a station box from the surface ANYWHERE underneath 2nd Street between Figueroa and Hill, because of the 2nd St tunnel. It just can’t be done. I mean, it’s POSSIBLE to do it if you somehow thread the subway tunnel above the 2nd St. tunnel, but you can’t do that either because then the Grand Ave tunnel gets in the way.

    Seriously, did anyone even look at a map of the neighborhood before proposing this???

  • Anonymous

    The 2nd and Hope location is just fine thanks if it then links into the basement of any building that gets built on the existing parking lot(s).

  • Anonymous

    Glad to know that Eli’s letter is getting the same exact treatment by “technical, environmental and operations staff and consultants”  that any letter from me or, for example, Damien would get at Metro HQ…

    NOT!

  • cph

    This reminds me of the Universal City Red Line station debacle back in the mid-90’s.

    At first, there was talk of putting the station at the top of the hill, but Universal would have none of it. Then as the tunnels were starting to be dug, Universal started to request that the station be placed near the top of the hill. (Universal City Walk may have figured into this decision, but I’d have to do a bit of research to be sure….)

    Anyway, Universal was a day late and a dollar short back then, and Eli Broad is a day late and a dollar short now.

  • Jerard Wright

    Also there’s another problem with the supposed savings. The current Bunker Hill Station location has a side benefit in that it can also serve the Upper Financial District Area that the 5th/Flower Station would have served with that second entrance at 3rd/Flower. By moving this station you now HAVE to have the station at 5th/Flower to serve the Upper Financil District area negating whatever cost savings that would have occured with the from relocating the stop to 2nd/Grand.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t sell yourself short.  It was far less crappy.

  • Sudaryono

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    Because now my physical condition become semi disable old man, I need possibility to get your Gift, to cover one or both of my plan: 1).To recover my blood pressure/my health $10,000USD, 2).To close my debts of $5,000USD, and 3).To install AC in my rental house $5,000USD. Total Gift Proposal are $20,000USD.
    Please send your Gift to my paypal account: jmiko147@gmail.com
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