Battle Over Crenshaw Line Gets National Nod from New York Times

At the press conference announcing the half billion dollar loan for the Crenshaw Line, Antonio Villaraigosa was surrounded with a multi-ethnic team of elected officials and union members. In today's piece in the New York Times, the battle over the Crenshaw line route and stations sets him against the interests of black South Los Angeles.

It was a rainy day on October 20, 2010, much like today. Days before her most recent re-election, Senator Barbara Boxer was in town, with USDOT officials in tow, to announce a $543 million no interest loan to expediate construction of the Crenshaw Line. At this point, it was all but official that the Crenshaw Line would be a light rail line. A parade of public officials that included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Congress Woman Jane Harman and Boxer herself all took to the podium to praise each other and the Crenshaw Line.

Standing by one entrance to the park was Damien Goodmon, wearing a coat with a “Crenshaw Subway” sticker on, talking to whatever official had an ear to bend about his concerns. He shared a laugh with me that the location of the press conference was ironic, because the park we were standing in, the one that had been cleaned for the first time “in years” by city staff the night before, was not one that was going to get its own stop. We were standing in Leimert Park.

In May of 2011, the Metro Board of Directors made the route of the Crenshaw Line official. A light rail was selected, not a busway. But the hundreds of South L.A. residents in the audience left disappointed. The proposed station at the corner of Vernon and Crenshaw, the one that would serve Leimert Park, was listed as “optional.” Also, the rail light rail line would run at-grade down a portion of Crenshaw’s business district.

Today, the battle over the routing of the Crenshaw Line is as hot as ever. Today’s New York Times takes a look at the ongoing battle between black political leaders and the Crenshaw Community against Metro and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. Ian Lovett’s article places the struggle over Crenshaw into a larger historical context of the struggles of South Los Angeles against transportation development that divides the community going back generations. After lamenting that Crenshaw was supposed to be different, Lovett talks to business owners who fear the line will be a step back, not forward.

“I appreciated that the article put our battle for the future of Crenshaw in a historical context,” writes Goodmon. “There is an unfortunate history of transportation projects devastating communities, particularly local black communities. It is what led to the federal environmental justice laws and the protected status of minority and low-income communities. Just within our coalition there are people who were displaced by freeway construction, and had their communities cut in half with the Blue and Expo lines. MTA has always had a choice to either return a little bit more of our tax dollars to make these projects the true asset and catalyst they can be for our community and region, or continue that ugly history. Unfortunately, they’ve chosen the latter.”

The Crenshaw Subway Coalition has had an eventful month. In addition to their apparently successful efforts to defeat the Measure J transit tax extension, they’ve also filed their opening brief in a lawsuit against the Federal Transit Administration and Metro at a time that is both crucial for the campaign and possibly for Villaraigosa personally.

“I like our trajectory as we head into possibly the most formative 6 months our our effort thus far,” concludes Goodmon.


The Crenshaw Subway Coalition protests as Villaraigosa passes at the 2012 Martin Luther King Day Parade.

As for Villaraigosa, the article has to be a somewhat bitter pill. With the exception of a remarkably even-handed review of the battle over the Westside Subway route, Villaraigosa has been treated to a stream of positive coverage. Heck, the New York Times presented Villaraigosa as a possible 2016 presidential candidate as few as four months ago.

Yet, with the increased speculation that he could be tapped by the Obama administration to head the USDOT, Villaraigosa is cast in the lonely role of defending the project against a slew of critics. The Mayor notes that the original plan for the corridor was a busway until a locally preferred alternative was passed in 2009 by the Metro Board favoring light rail. He also notes that he believes a Leimert Park station will still be constructed.

But in the defense of the line the Mayor is left alone. Maria Elena-Durazo, the ubiquitous union boss who is one of the Mayor’s top allies is absent as are rail supporters from Move L.A., The Transit Coalition and Southern California Transit Advocates.

Probably not the picture he wants presented if his eyes are set on a national prize.

19 thoughts on Battle Over Crenshaw Line Gets National Nod from New York Times

  1. I want to lend my voice to those who think Leimert Park needs an underground station.  The area is TOD already, and maneuvering a surface LRT through there is going to require some very detailed traffic signal work.  In addition, getting the line into a tunnel could help facilitate a station at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (think Expo Park/USC) and get it under Stocker which we must remember is high-capacity and high-speed and connects to both La Brea and the portion of the La Cienega/Laurel Canyon Freeway that was completed. (Funny how that only happened in minority neighborhoods, huh?)

  2. That part of the line (Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, and Stocker St) already is proposed to be a tunnel, and there is going to be a station at BHCP, with the headhouse right at the plaza entrance. The only surface portion on Crenshaw is 48th St to 59th St.

    And Metro wants a station at Leimert Park, the “option” is in the RFP documents. Contractors know that it’s going to really help their bids to put it in. The reason you don’t put money for that station in Measure J is that if you do, you’ve just announced to the contractors that they can increase their bids by whatever amount you marked for that station.

    And for the record, I would love to see all of LA’s rail projects be totally grade separated, but to support that cost we’d have to allow a lot of development along all of the corridors. And for the record, I’m in favor of that too, but I don’t see Crenshaw Subway Coalition saying “build a subway and change the zoning for the corridor to allow 5-10 story buildings by right”.

  3. To be fair SO.CA.TA never really were big fans of the Crenshaw subway. Historically many of us thought that it was just done to placate Supervisor Burke. The route barely supports a Rapid Bus running every half hour, and ends at the Expo Line instead of going to Downtown. It would be more useful as a north-south route connecting to Hollywood, but then you have a wacky detour to La Brea in order to avoid Hancock Park. 

  4. I don’t buy that Farmdale was unnecessary. It is well over a mile between Crenshaw and La Brea, serves Drosey High School and many apartments on the south side of the tracks. Compared to some of the stations on the Orange Line or the Eastside Gold Line (does there need to be a station at both Atlantic and East LA Civic Center?) Farmdale looks quite good in comparison. 

  5. So, what are the number of boardings at Farmdale, compared to those other stations?
    Sent from my fingers.

  6. @calwatch:  Orange Line is not rail and the Gold Line has been a ridership disappointment.  So if those are the comparisons then that is a low bar.  We should learn from our mistakes, i.e. putting a bus route where we needed rail and building rail where demand wasn’t there, and not using those mistakes to justify future ones.     

  7. @calwatch:disqus If your definition of “well over a mile” is 1.15 miles, then I guess. But Farmdale is clearly the closest-spaced stop on the Expo, with the obvious exception of Expo Park/USC (and I’m curious why they didn’t just combine that stop with Vermont).

    I’d support Farmdale if someone was saying “put another stop here, and we’ll allow a whole bunch of development to justify it” but no one was saying that, now were they?

  8. Looking over the comments below… in the big picture, the most important thing about the Expo Line is that it got built and now it’s not going anywhere. Okay, the Flower St corridor is tough and down the line we are going to need some improvements. You can debate the utility of Farmdale. But if you like transit, we are indisputably better off than if nothing had been built. Crenshaw has gone through countless meetings and studies. Everyone’s voice has been heard. Now is the time to build it.

    The progressive community has a real tendency to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. So rather than being happy about Crenshaw being built, some people pine away for an idealistic project, and even worse, some people file lawsuits. That’s extremely dangerous, because every day that goes by that the project isn’t under construction is another opportunity for anti-transit forces to kill the job.

    Am I overreacting? I don’t think so. Ask transit advocates in Toronto if they’d prefer to have had an imperfect network under construction before Rob Ford took office. And maybe the supposedly pro-transit anti-measure J forces can explain to me how they served the greater good in 2017 when Mayor Antonovich axes the Westside Subway beyond La Cienega.

  9. As someone who rides every morning and afternoon… I see a good number of kids on the line enter and exit from Farmdale. That is as good of a reason as any to have the station there. Serving a school and recreational facilities is a great asset.

    The thing that kills me is the speed restrictions in the area, even when the train is in a fenced-in right-of-way on both sides.

  10. The Purple Line is LACMTA’s and the Mayor’s favorite attention getting project.  I am skeptical they will ax their legacy, even if the project cost billions more then advertised.  

    If Measure J was just about supporting the greater good, then a Sepulveda Pass rail project and extending the Red Line west would be top priorities.  We wouldn’t have lightly used airport connectors and rail lines into lightly developed suburbs getting billions of dollars while Metro builds a sky bridge for their subway station because an underground walkway is “too expensive.”

    LACMTA is not just about the greater good.  It is also about political favors and egos.  We can play politics too, and our play was a No vote on their tax hike.  Others should learn that you can’t get phase 1, phase 2, even phase 3 rail lines while others are limited to getting potholes filled and expect for everyone to be happy sharing the total cost.  At least now there is hope that those of us who are paying the bill while others feast will get to eat at the table too during our life times. 

  11. @8963afcadf5191554a863f8010de946f:disqus I don’t know where you live so I can’t comment on the specifics of your claim that you’re getting hosed at the expense of others, but since you seem to be agitated about Sepulveda and the Red Line, I’m guessing the valley. I don’t know what to say about your complaint about political favors and egos… politics has always been that way, always will be. If you’re going to try to get 2/3 support, you’re going to have to spread the projects around so everyone gets something.

    But thanks for proving my point that you’re willing to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Maybe now you do have hope that your area will get more funding. On the other hand, in 12 years we might be thanking you for your contributions to transit as much as we thank everyone who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000 for their contributions to fighting climate change.

  12. @twitter-18064570:disqus It’s an interesting hypothetical, isn’t it? I have to say, I’m a little puzzled by the chilly treatment Villaraigosa seems to get on Streetsblog. Here we have a mayor who is installing bike lanes, building light rail all over the places, getting Westside Subway done. All things that you would have been laughed at if you’d said LA would be doing 10-15 years ago.

    Yes, it’s important to advocate for even better outcomes. But it’s also important to keep taking steps forward whenever you can.

  13. “good number” can mean anything, so it isnt really useful in determining the value of the station. And those speed restrictions? Those are part of the package with having the station foisted on us.

  14. Misterbee6 the crass replies when someone else has something to say is useless, i.e. was it necessary to throw in a snide algebraic concept to Mr. White’s comment? He has something to say and it should be taken into account since he rides the Expo everyday. Do you?
      First, the problem has to be recognized and then everyone involved has to see that as the problem, but if one group sees “this” as the problem and the other group sees “that” as the problem, then there is an even bigger problem! What about what the people want? What about what is best for the community? It really is that simple, but as long as there is politicking goings on, then this is the type of mess that we end up with.
      Despite what happens, I hope within the decisions that are made the board and council members never forget the richness that lies in this community and the support it needs to blossom and that the end plans reflect this awareness.

  15.  Northendmatt,

    I couldn’t have said the points you articulated in your post any better myself in particular with the last paragraph. 

    I’m speaking for myself on this as I read through the NYT article, one of the quotes that struck me as odd was the comment on the perception that the train will speed through Crenshaw considering that the same request by this group to put the line Underground screams of that very element perception. In mind with it running on the surface at least the region can see this rich corridor in full view instead of buried and hidden.

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