Koretz Takes Credit for Expo Line, While Spreading Blame for Its Flaws

Missing sidewalk west of Palms Expo Line Station. Photo by Jonathan Weiss
Missing sidewalk west of Palms Expo Line Station. Photo by Jonathan Weiss
Missing sidewalk xxx
Missing sidewalk west of Palms Expo Line Station. Photo by Jonathan Weiss

Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz’ website includes photos of the councilmember celebrating the Expo Line’s opening. The site touts Koretz’ time on the Expo Construction Authority Board: “Councilmember Koretz served first as an alternate board member and then as a full board member of this body until 2015. He served on this body through the completion of Phase 1 of this project and through most of the construction for Phase 2, much of which travels through Council District 5.”

But what Paul Koretz has delivered is the worst section of the Expo Line.

Koretz’ section has a mile-long gap in the bike path. Koretz’ section has kids walking in the street because of a missing sidewalk between the Palms Station and Lycée Français High School. Koretz’ section has an at-grade crossing at Overland Avenue that is worsening gridlock and leading to crashes that prompted neighbors to create a “Stop the Wrecks on Overland” Facebook page.

Koretz takes no responsibility for Expo’s flaws – flaws that were clear when he was a member of the Expo Board. At last night’s Cheviot Hills Homeowners Association meeting, he said “we kind of knew this would be a disaster.” For that, Kortez blames his predecessor. “Unfortunately, my election was kind of being too late to the party. The previous councilmember really was there when all of the negotiations were happening. And … at least regarding the Expo, I don’t think he did enough to protect the community.”

But Councilmember Koretz shouldn’t get off the hook so easily: he could have resisted widening Overland and he could have pushed for grade separation. Indeed, before he took office, the city of Los Angeles Department of Transportation wrote to Expo opposing the misguided widening – which was designed to dodge Metro’s grade crossing policy that required grade separation based on the per-lane traffic count without widening. Councilmember Koretz could have tried to stop it. He didn’t.

Now, Councilmember Koretz is claiming credit ($300,000 of taxpayer money credit) for reducing wheel squeal noise as the train passes Cheviot Hills. At last night’s meeting, Koretz spoke on Expo line “problems” including “an unanticipated screech of the wheels” stating: “We’ve been trying to figure out different ways to address that.…. So, we’ve actually gotten the Expo Board to approve a $300,000 expenditure to bring a huge wheel-grinding machine.”

But the wheel screech/squeal was not “unanticipated.” Indeed, the staff report [PDF] on the wheel-grinding motion says, “The FEIR indicated that wheel squeal was possible in specific curves along the alignment based on the curvature of the rail alignment. …. Rail grinding has been identified as a method to correct these track gauge variations in order to mitigate the wheel squeal.”

Expo’s Council District 5 flaws will cost millions to fix. If Paul Koretz wants credit for the good, he must take responsibility for the bad.

Jonathan Weiss practices law, lives in Cheviot Hills, and served as an appointed representative to the L.A. City Bicycle Advisory Committee between 2009 and 2016. He is also a boardmember of Streetsblog L.A.’s parent nonprofit, the California Streets Initiative.

  • MEFromWestLA

    For reference, this is Koretz’ statement from 2/4/2010. It would seem to contradict the claims made in this article despite the fact that the author of the article was mentioned in Koretz’ statement.

    Councilmember Paul Koretz
    Expo Phase 2 FEIR Comments
    Feb. 4, 2010

    At the outset, I know that many here expected me to be voting today from my position as an Alternate Member of this Board. I, too, expected to be voting and am disappointed that I will not be able to do so.

    As some of you know, my colleague Councilmember Parks and I had agreed that I would be the voting member today, but this week Councilmember Parks informed me that he had changed direction and decided that, instead, he would vote today. I am disappointed because I believe that it would be appropriate for me to be voting as this next phase of Expo is absolutely critical to the residents of the Fifth Council District.

    Still, I appreciate having the chance today to express my views.

    I want to make clear that I am in support of this line and I am convinced that this light rail line will be heavily utilized, including by many in my Council District. I do have concerns, though, about a number of aspects of this line as it passes through my district. Some of these concerns give me pause enough that I was inclined to vote against the acceptance of this FEIR. I will not get that opportunity to vote, but I would like to go on record and take this opportunity to raise my concerns.

    OVERLAND & WESTWOOD BLVD., GRADE SEPARATION AND METRO GRADE CROSSING POLICY

    First, about the Metro grade-separation policy. It was developed in 2003 by the Metro Board of Directors; the Board did not consider or seek input from the communities that it impacted.
    .
    The EXPO grade-crossing policy was prepared in a vacuum and did not take into account the unique communities that the rail may run through. It is impossible to have a policy that can apply uniformly across the county, especially when so few were involved in preparing and giving input into that policy.

    That said, at Overland and at Westwood, and for that matter at Sepulveda, the EIR has attempted to shape the conditions to the policy, not apply the policy on its face. The EIR attempts a desire to do this part of the project “on the cheap” to shoehorn three intersections into the policy and they don’t really fit. At both Overland and at Westwood, current conditions indicate the need for grade separation under the adopted policy. It is only through the addition of “shadow” intermittent lane additions that these crossings meet the grade crossing criteria.

    The document is flawed because it did not apply the grade-crossing criteria on the existing conditions on the ground today. While street improvements have been contemplated before, they have never been taken to such an extreme…all for the purpose of preventing grade separation exactly where it is necessary. The argument for these at-grade crossings is that we must treat these intersections the same as those in Phase One. I would argue that the Board is going considerably further out of its way to dance around its own policy to save money.
    It is also disappointing, as a policymaker, to see that cost information about grade separation is found in the EIR but not at a fully studied level. What this means is that we have been placed in the position of having financial information and choices about grade separation, but those choices have been denied to us as policymakers because they are not fully cleared in the environmental document.

    A big part of CEQA is providing decision-makers with alternatives, that is partly why it is so disappointing to see that the EIR before us ignored the community request and decision-maker request to at least fully study environmentally clear grade separation. This is not only a huge issue for my constituents and my district but, it presents a problem for the EIR as a whole.

    Sepulveda Boulevard is a secondary highway that carries even greater traffic volumes than Overland Avenue, and, as LADOT has also pointed out, is the alternative to the 405 freeway. The FEIR amendments from the draft document now show that LADOT concerns raised about this crossing can be resolved by widening the street and adding a northbound lane at an estimated cost of about $13 million. They have also offered an alternative that allows for the construction of an above-grade separation at this location if another $14.5 million can be raised from another source, possibly the developer of an adjacent property. For the record, I do not believe that the FEIR has adequately addressed the issue of the close proximity of this crossing to Pico Blvd. and the potential of southbound traffic cueing upstream into Pico Boulevard. This intersection has an F rating during evening peak and a D during morning peak.

    Based upon these concerns, I think that the Expo should be made responsible for the additional cost to place an above-grade crossing. This should not be the responsibility of a private developer, the City of Los Angeles, or any other source. As the Councilmember for this neighborhood, I don’t appreciate that the need for another funding source should have any impact upon my need, and the need of City Planning, to make an independent decision on the merits of a controversial private development. This crossing should be grade-separated and the responsibility of funding should be upon this body. I make this point now without the intent to provoke a debate at this time. This is an issue that this board will need to resolve at a future date.

    As I have already pointed out, I have serious concerns about the lack of grade separation, especially at Overland and Sepulveda and I support the community on these issues. However, I suspect that the majority of this board is about to approve the recommendations of the Final EIR. Therefore, as the local elected representative of the impacted communities of West of Westwood, Westwood Gardens and Cheviot Hills, I see this as the time to raise a number of issues on behalf of the community, under that assumption.

    PARK / NOT PARKING

    There has been a great deal of concern among residents of neighboring streets about the potential impact of the parking proposed for the area around the Westwood station. There is a concern among the residents of Richland Avenue to the south and Ashby Avenue to the north about Expo line commuters driving and parking right up to the back fences of their homes. There is also a concern about the extra traffic circulating on these two streets and others adjacent from vehicles entering and exiting the dual parking strips adjacent to the light rail tracks. The commuters, in many cases, would use these streets to get themselves pointed in the correct direction between the parking and the north/south corridors of Overland and Westwood. I share these concerns and support the removal of the parking from the Westwood station and would like to see this parking added at Sepulveda, which is more viable as a commuter station. Most of the ridership from Westwood is expected to come from connecting bus lines anyway and not from commuters. I hope that someone will make this motion for me, and I ask for the support of this body.

    OVERLAND AVENUE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

    I would like to raise several issues related to Overland Avenue Elementary School, located on Overland just north of the right-of-way, in addition to their great concerns about an at-grade crossing at this intersection. There is quite a bit of concern that has been expressed to me by parents at this school. One of the issues that we have heard over the last several years is concern about pedestrian safety at crosswalks located at Overland and Ashby Avenues and at Westwood Blvd. and Exposition. The first one is particularly heavily utilized by the students, their parents and their caregivers. There are even greater concerns now if this line comes through this neighborhood at-grade. We now see one additional traffic lane in each direction on both Overland and Westwood for pedestrians to pass. I know at Overland we have a so-called queue cutter which will address this issue when the trains pass, but my greater concern is when the light changes and the gate does not need to go down. I would like to see some improvements to these locations that can call attention to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Perhaps some extra crosswalk lighting and possibly coverage for the costs of the crossing guard.

    As many of you may know, a portion of the ROW has been utilized for some time as a parking lot for about 40 vehicles for the elementary school staff. Recognizing that this parking is leased and not owned by the school district, I think that we can find a way to accommodate much, if not all, of this parking as part of the design of Phase Two. My concern is not only for staff that would have to find alternative parking, but also for the neighborhood surrounding the school which would also be impacted. I know that there has been discussion about this issue, but I would like to get a commitment to work on accommodating parking for this purpose along Northvale.

    If this line is to come in at-grade-adjacent to this elementary school campus, I share the concern of parents about the temptation of youngsters to be lured to the tracks.
    I like the idea that was raised by Jonathan Weiss, who is a community leader and Overland parent, to ask that a program such as Metro’s Rail Safety Education Program be guaranteed in perpetuity annually to this school and perhaps any other elementary school that may be at-grade in close proximity to this line.
    WESTWOOD BLVD. BICYCLE CONCERNS

    A number of concerns have been raised regarding space for bicycles to pass at the Westwood Boulevard crossing. Residents along this street near the ROW have also raised a number of their own concerns regarding the taking of property, trees and parking. I don’t want to take time here in an attempt to resolve these, but my request is that we set up a task force of these residents, cyclists and others that can sit down and see what can be done to resolve their issues during the preliminary engineering stage. My office would assist in this effort. I would like to know if I can get a commitment from Expo staff to engage in this process.

    WESTWOOD BLVD. TREE REPLACEMENT

    The current plan calls for the removal of eleven mature and majestic liquid amber trees on Westwood Boulevard. I would like to see if anything further can be done to save a portion of these trees and avoid or minimize the taking of private property or the parkway. Perhaps we can also reconsider the hours for which parking will be prohibited. I would also like to see that the trees that need replacement be replaced by more mature trees. I believe that there should be a commitment for regular watering by Expo for the first two years after planting.

    TREES ALONG THE WIDE ROW

    I would also like to see a commitment from Expo to plant trees and other vegetation in the wide ROW between Westwood and Overland outside of the bikeway as a buffer. Expo should commit to maintain these for the first two years after planting. My staff and I are already working to submit an application for state bond money to be developed for this site in partnership with the adjacent communities.

    PARKING IMPACTS ADJACENT TO WESTWOOD AND PALMS/NATIONAL STATIONS

    It is clear to me that with or without the parking at the Westwood Station, there would be significant parking impacts for a number of the neighborhoods adjacent. I have the same concerns for the neighborhoods adjacent to the Palms/National station which does not have parking. The FEIR currently calls for action if there is a 100% parking utilization. We believe that this benchmark is too late for action. We would like to see that benchmark re-set at 75% with the monitoring done by or verified by an independent body. I recognized that Metro has offered to pay the costs associated with the establishment of any new preferential parking districts. My concern is that this adds a significant new cost for residents. I would like to see Metro cover half the cost to the residents for the first two years from the establishment of the district. Metro should also cover the costs for enforcement for preferential parking districts for the first two years for all residential neighborhoods within a quarter mile of the Westwood and Palms/National stations.

    NOISE MEASUREMENTS

    I would like to see regular quarterly noise monitoring of crossing bells and other noises associated with the light rail trains. This monitoring should be verified by LAPD or another agreed-upon City department to ensure that noise stays within what is permitted.

    Thank you members for your consideration of these requests and concerns.

  • Jonathan Weiss

    Paul Koretz telling the Expo Board his “serious concerns about the lack of grade separation, especially at Overland” contrasts with his silence at City Hall. Let me be clear: not widening Overland would have forced grade separation – a bridge or a tunnel – at the train crossing. And the City, not Expo, ultimately decided whether to widen Overland.

    So what exactly did Paul Koretz DO to try to stop the Overland widening? Did he make a motion at City Council? Did he back up LADOT – which had challenged the widening?

    Yes, my name was mentioned in Paul’s statement (in the context of the park/not parking option by the Westwood Station). Indeed, I’ve followed the grade crossing issue, too. And here’s what I know. Paul was not “too late to the party” as he recently put it. He made it to the party in time, but he was a wallflower. So, unless someone shows me facts I’ve overlooked, I’ll continue to give him credit, and blame, where it’s due.

  • MEFromWestLA

    Many in the pro-Expo community in Cheviot actively pushed the line despite it being at grade. Sound familiar? Friends 4 Expo said :”That’s why we, as Friends 4 Expo, advocate at-grade running wherever it’s possible, because it’s the most environmentally friendly and economical option.” Another leader in the pro-expo group stated :”At-grade transit is used all over the world – another excuse for the NIMBY’s and NOTEs to stop progress for the average person”

    Revisionism will not change the facts.

  • Jonathan Weiss

    Agreed: revisionism does not change facts.
    • Fact: Paul Koretz sat on the City Hall sidelines when stopping Overland widening would have forced grade separation.
    • Fact: some Expo proponents agreed with at-grade.
    • Fact: some Expo opponents insisted on a train tunnel and opposed a bridge.
    • Fact: Paul Koretz takes credit for Expo Line, while blaming others for its flaws.

  • MEFromWestLA

    Let’s go way back in time when alternative facts and faulty logic did not rule the day.

    “Neighborhood” groups like Cheviot For Light Rail and Friends 4 Expo gave Expo political cover to say the community wanted the line even without grade separation. (Example:F4E 3/25/09: “We support the at-grade crossing at Westwood” and a piece titled “Reject the fear! Get the facts!” and a piece which stated: “We feel it is time to accept that the line will come through at grade” and “Expo Line will be Safe: It’s a Fact“)

    Grade separation was not studied at Overland and Westwood in any meaningful way for political reasons. Even if Koretz could have somehow magically (perhaps through executive order?) prevented DOT from widening the street, that would have killed the line – something the aforementioned groups “railed” against. Again, this is because no grade separation was studied as an alternative – something which Koretz pointed out in his comments. Once can also only imagine the liability for the City in doing what was suggested, namely stopping the widening.

    For the record, the initial DOT letter recommended grade separation. Oddly, the then-GM of DOT was removed shortly thereafter and a new GM was hired and a new letter was issued indicating that at grade was fine combined with minor widening of Overland. The original letter was March 3, 2009. Koretz took office on July 1, 2009. DOT reversed itself on October 15, 2009 – just three months later.

    As you must know, individual council members, especially NEW council members, do not have the ability or authority to force DOT to do anything, though they wish they did.

    And no, the city didn’t decide to do the widening(and certainly not Koretz). It was expo and LADOT’s letter says so.

    So, what was done by Koretz?
    • Prevented from voting as part of the Expo board on the FEIR, he spoke out indicating that he would have voted against at-grade crossings.
    • CF09-1295-S2, proposed by Koretz, funded the grade separation at Sepulveda, preventing a truly epic traffic disaster..

    These are the facts you overlooked.

  • Jonathan Weiss

    Did Paul Koretz have the power to stop the widening? I don’t know. Did he even try? No. He said he “kind of knew this would be a disaster,” yet he did nothing. Not an LA Times Op-ed, not a community meeting, not a thing – or I assume you would have said so rather than pointing fingers at others – like Paul does.

    So let me take you back to your facts:

    • March 3, 2009, LADOT recommends grade separation.
    • July 1, 2009, Koretz takes office.
    • October 15, 2009, LADOT reverses itself and allows grade separation.

    If a politician knows there will be a disaster, I don’t care if he’s in office for a day, I want him to blow the whistle. Paul swallowed his.

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