It’s time to declare victory in the battle for a Leimert Park Metro station.
In an exceptionally fast-moving turn of events — by government standards, anyway — the Metro Board has voted today to fully fund what had been considered optional Crenshaw/LAX Line stations at Leimert Park and Hindry Ave.
The move comes just one day after the L.A. City Council voted to spend a total of $55 million in future Measure R fund for the two stations.
While the final battle rushed to a swift conclusion, the fight for a Leimert Park station has gone on since at least 2010, when Metro staffers originally rejected the idea of an underground station as too expensive, while offering too little benefit at an estimated $131 million.
That was followed by a second request for a Leimert Park stop from County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, which received a conditional approval — it would be built only if the entire 8.5 mile project, including the station, could be built out within the original $1.7 billion budget.
Yet that decision ignored the importance of Leimert Park, not just to the local community, but to the city at large. The area is the historic cultural heart of the city’s African American community, one of the largest black middle class communities in the U.S. And an area so vibrant that Wikipedia quotes filmmaker John Singleton as calling it “the black Greenwich Village.”
Not to mention one that could, and should, be a draw for day trippers and tourists from Southern California and around the world. But only if they have what they consider a safe, convenient way to get there.
Before this week, that didn’t look likely.
That started to change when word broke this week that the city council would hold a special session to discuss a proposal from Mayor Villaraigosa to partially fund the Leimert Park station at Crenshaw Blvd and 43rd Place, as well as a Westchester-adjacent station at Florence and Hindry Avenues.
The motion was unanimously approved by the council, with $40 million going to the Leimert Park stop, and $15 million to the Hindry Ave station.
Yet that was far below the expected cost required to fund the expensive underground station, leading to questions of whether significant changes had been made to the original plans, or if it would be used as seed money to encourage a contractor to absorb the remaining costs.
Those questions were answered at today’s meeting of the Metro Board.
Reporting for The Source, Steve Hymon posted a copy of the motion presented by County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and five co-authors, including Villaraigosa, Supervisor Mike Antonovich, Supervisor Don Knabe, Duarte Councilman John Fasana and Los Angeles appointee Mel Wilson.
The motion, which passed 10 to 1, clarified that the current cost estimate for the station would be $110 million if construction were to begin now, or $120 million if the work begins in the 2014 fiscal year.
That left the station about $80 million short.
Noting that the Metro budget for 2014 had $460.5 million in uncommitted funds, Ridley-Thomas, et al, called for a commitment to fund any remaining balance for the station if the costs for the overall project exceed the budget of $17.6 billion.
The only vote against the measure came from Diane DuBois, who was concerned that the money may be needed later for other expenses.
However, there’s still one potential roadblock that could derail the project. As Hymon put it,
One issue remains unresolved. The Crenshaw Subway Coalition has called for undergrounding the line between 48th and 59th streets, an 11-block section where the train will run at street level through Park Mesa Heights. Putting the line in a tunnel there would cost more $200 million and the Metro Board has thus far not committed to change the project to that extent.