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.