Editorial: Don’t Let the South Figueroa Corridor Project Get Lost in the CRA Shuffle

The South Figueroa Corridor Plan proposes changes for more than just Figueroa Street.

The South Figueroa Corridor Plan proposes changes for more than just Figueroa Street. However, despite being fully funded, politics in post CRA Los Angeles may doom the project.

In 2008, we were curious. In 2011, we were ecstatic. In 2012, depression is starting to set in. The South Figueroa Corridor Project, unveiled to the cheers of Livable Street advocates last February, may be on the ropes.  Without action by a city agency, or the mayor’s office, advocates are going to have to say goodbye to the separated bike path, bus only lane, increased open space, pedestrian plaza and other improvements the project promised.  But it shouldn’t be that way.  In 2011, advocates were given three progressive visions for South Figueroa, currently a four or six lane street with whizzing cars or gridlock depending on the time of day.   Instead of “good,” “better” and “best,” we might get status quo. With the state-mandated dissolution of Community Redevelopment Agencies, a certain amount of chaos is occurring around the state.  Nowhere is that more prevalent than Los Angeles. One month after the dissolution of the local Community Redevelopment Agency, the city seems no closer to having a plan than it did when the California Supreme Court upheld Gov. Brown’s plan to shutter the CRA’s doors at the end of January.

Good.

One project of major concern to Livable Streets Advocates is the South Figueroa Corridor Project.  One of the reasons for the ongoing chaos involving the CRA projects is that confusion still reigns on where funding will come for projects of the former CRA.  The CRA earned many grants that require a “local match” and the eternally cash-starved City of Los Angeles isn’t eager to assume even the small funding requirement necessary to get some projects going.  Many projects that are partially funded will never happen, returning even more dollars to the state government, federal government and even some non-profit grant makers. In other cases, as was reported in Intersections South L.A.earlier this week, a different process will occur.  In order to redevelop blighted or abandoned structures, the CRA purchased the land for the purpose of fixing or rebuilding.  Rather than having a plan to move those projects at a later date, the state will sell off the properties and use the proceeds to, well, do something.  Nobody is sure what.

Better

But neither of these concerns should impact the South Figueroa Corridor Project.  First off, it’s not a real estate project, it’s a transportation project.  Second, the project received a substantial amount of grant funds to the tune of $30 million in 2008 without requiring any matching funds from the City of Los Angeles to complete the project. Some money has already been spent, $2 million for the Soboroff Sports Fields in Exposition Park and on fees for the design team.

In other words, guiding the project to design, environmental review and construction would only require the commitment of staff to manage the design team and oversee the  of the streetscape improvements construction.  Los Angeles could still get its first complete street, or at least part of its first complete street, without having to spend any funds.  Failure to pick up this project would be returning the remaining approximately $27 million to the state after funds were spent on the sports fields and the public outreach and the initial renderings that excited the community so much last year.

From Parking Lot to Public Park

But that’s where things start to get murky.  When asked point blank about the project, the Bureau of Street Services, Metro and the Mayor’s Office all demurred, basically refusing to answer the question.  LADOT at least offered a “remain calm” of sorts, assuring us that the city’s plan for CRA projects will be unveiled “in the coming months.” As much as many would like to believe a project that proposes a separated bike lane in its worst case scenario is something of a game changer for Los Angeles, the project needs a champion.  The two mile project falls in the City Council districts currently represented by Jan Perry and Bernard Parks, although Jose Huizar gets a part of it too under the currently proposed redistricting plan.  And of course, there’s always Mayor Villaraigosa himself who has fifteen months remaining to round out his legacy, a legacy that hinges on his ability to change Los Angeles’ transportation network. The project is there.  The community support is there.  The money is there.  But in the post CRA Los Angeles, someone needs to step up or the project will go away.  Who wants to lead?