Does the Crenshaw Subway Coalition Have Enough Juice to Alter Metro’s Crenshaw Plans Again?

The dark yellow line marks the Crenshaw Light Rail route.

Yesterday, the Metro Board of Directors awarded the nearly $1.3 billion construction contract for the Crenshaw Line to Walsh/Shea Corridors Construction.

While the decision was unanimous on the dais, it was not a popular one in the room. Dozens of speakers spoke out asking the Board to not award a contract to anyone who would not tunnel for the Crenshaw Line through an 11-block segment between 48th and 59th streets through Park Mesa Heights. Some of those speakers were as young as seven years old, and testified that they worried that the train line would kill them.

The tag line for the Crenshaw Subway Coalition is “it’s not over until it’s under,” the same one used by the Citizens Campaign to Fix the Expo Line. The Expo Line Phase I literally has more bells and whistles and a station at Dorsey High School because of Fix Expo. But the Expo Line isn’t “under.” For all practical purposes, the Citizen’s Campaign is “over.”

So, with environmental documents, a contractor, and funding all in-hand, is the battle for Crenshaw “over?”

Not yet.

For one thing, the Campaign still has a lawsuit pending over the environmental documents. It is possible, although given Metro’s winning streak against these sorts of suits it is unlikely, that a judge could rule with the Coalition and force a new environmental review.

The Dodgers would love to go one for two these days.

It’s also possible that when Damien Goodmon, the leader of the coalition, finally gets his hands on construction bids submitted to Metro that include the “Park Mesa Tunnel” that a public outcry will compel Metro’s Board to put the brakes on the project. Goodmon has filed multiple public records requests to the transit agency demanding their release to no avail. Metro has all-but-admitted they exist. However, a new environmental impact report would be needed to construct the tunnel and they want to build it today.

And just days before the vote, a new argument against the Crenshaw Subway arose. An op/ed in the Morningside Park Chronicle, a weekly newspaper in Inglewood, charges that Metro plans to build a 30 foot wall sectioning off North Inglewood from the rest of the city.

The Board is set to approve a 30-foot high, 1/4-mile long concrete wall that will isolate north Inglewood from the rest of the city. This design change was not a part the EIR process and was never disclosed to the public. Metro’s position is that adding this wall is a minor change and will not impact the community in any way.

However, assuming that the lawsuit is not successful  there are two reasons why a publicity campaign may not have the same impact as the ones that brought about the Leimert Park Station for Crenshaw and the Dorsey High Station for Expo.

The first reason is Mark Ridley-Thomas. The popular County Supervisor who sits on the Metro Board of Directors is excited about the project moving forward with the Leimert Park Station and is ready to be the face of the project. In a press release, the Supervisor praised yesterday’s decision.

“This has been a decades-long, monumental effort by an array of elected officials, community advocates and Metro staff,” said Ridley-Thomas, who has championed the line since his days as a Los Angeles City Council Member in the 1990s. “We did this together and now we are poised to begin construction on a dream that will help millions.”

 Ridley-Thomas doesn’t just provide a spokesperson for the project, but also plays a key role in the politics of the Metro Board. He was a tireless champion of the Leimert Park Station, and without a champion it’s much harder to get the Metro Board to do anything.

Second, there’s an excellent chance that more people from the Crenshaw community will be building the project. The same was not true for the Expo Line.

In January 2012, Metro passed a “Construction Career Policy” requiring that at least 40% of all construction workers on Metro projects come from communities with a median income below the poverty line. Since then, the Los Angeles Alliance for a New Economy (LAANE) has worked with local unions on mentoring programs to insure that a labor force of qualified residents of South L.A. are ready to begin work on their transit line.

There’s a reason that politicians and unions always sell transit projects in terms of the jobs created, all the advocacy in the world isn’t going to convince someone who has a good paying job with benefits that the project they’re working on is a bad one. The same holds true for that worker’s family and friends.

So yes, the battle rages on over Crenshaw. The Subway Coalition lost in the Metro Board Room, but is ready with a lawsuit and a continuing press campaign. But with construction scheduled to start “immediately,” it might be over before it’s under, and be over pretty soon.