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Metro Board Passes Ridley-Thomas Motions: Loan Fund, College Student Pass

California's Strategic Growth Council has awarded the city of Los Angeles a half-million dollar grant for a study that will make it easier to build infill housing in Transit Priority Areas, similar to this transit-oriented development above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Under a motion passed today, Metro will provide loan support to transit-oriented businesses, such as this ground-floor retail above the Metro Red Line Wilshire/Vermont Station. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

At this morning’s Metro Board of Directors meeting, County Supervisor and Metro Board Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas shepherded the passage of two worthwhile motions that advance local livability. The motions are detailed below:

Community College Student Passes

The board unanimously approved a Ridley-Thomas motion that directs Metro’s CEO to report back in 60 days regarding current college TAP programs and the feasibility of piloting a “Universal Community College Student Transit Pass Program.” Benefits of these types of programs include increased transit ridership, reduced driving, and reduced traffic congestion.

It is not clear how student passes would be funded, though the motion includes a number of possible funding options:

In addition to the “opt-in” increase in student registration fees, the costs of such a program could be subsidized by the college, as it will reduce parking demands. In addition, Metro could solicit additional resources through the South Coast Air Quality Management District’s Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee. Later this Fall, the Metro must also provide a proposal to the State of California on how we propose to spend approximately $30 million of Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund/Low Carbon Transit Operations Program revenue that is expected to be allocated to the agency through the State’s Cap and Trade Program; a revenue source that is anticipated to grow in the coming years. Given the focus on increasing ridership, this may also be a viable funding source for a Universal Pass program.

Transit-Oriented Housing/Business Loan Fund

As a result of a November, 2014, motion authored by then-Chair L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, as well as the leadership of new CEO Phil Washington, Metro is stepping up its involvement in affordable housing. Among recent developments on this, Metro has upped its targets for affordable housing in joint development projects, and retooled its development policies to allow discounted land prices to incentivize affordability. In March, Metro set aside $10 million ($2 million per year for five years) for a loan fund primarily supporting transit-oriented affordable housing. The way this fund will work is still taking shape.

Read more…


Planning and Programming Committee Recommends Metro Board Take Next Steps on Rail-to-River ATC

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

The Slauson corridor that runs through South L.A. takes another step forward toward becoming an Active Transportation Corridor. Sahra Sulaiman/LA Streetsblog

On October 23, 2014, the Metro Board of Directors voted to adopt the Rail to River Intermediate Active Transportation Corridor (ATC) Feasibility Study and directed staff to identify funding for full implementation of the project. The Board also authorized $2,850,000 be put towards facilitating the environmental, design, alternative route analysis, and outreach work required for the project to move forward and requested the staff report back in May of 2015.

At this past Wednesday’s Planning and Programming Committee meeting, the committee filed the requested report detailing recommendations that the Board take the next steps of applying for grants from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery Discretionary Grant (TIGER) program and the state Active Transportation Program (ATP). To facilitate the application process, staff also requested the Board authorize an allocation of $10.8 million in hard match funds in time to make the grant programs’ June 1 and June 5 deadlines.

The report suggests the Rail-to-River project has the potential to be very competitive.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), it will eventually connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

First proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, it has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The visuals included in last year’s feasibility study divide the project into two phases (to be implemented concurrently). The central segment runs along Metro’s ROW on Slauson, eventually connecting with the Crenshaw line, to the west, and possibly the river, on the east.

But it isn’t going to come all that cheaply. Read more…


Motion to Move Forward on Rail-to-River Bikeway Project up for Vote Thursday

The tracks at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

The ROW which would form part of the Western Segment of the proposed Rail-to-River bikeway. Photo taken at Crenshaw, looking east. Sahra Sulaiman/StreetsblogLA

In a motion before the Metro Executive Management Committee last Thursday morning, County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Mark Ridley-Thomas cited the successful “transformation of unused or abandoned rail right-of-ways into pedestrian access and bicycle routes” around the country and here in L.A. as support for his call that the Board direct Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy to move forward on the recommendations found in the 212-page feasibility study on the proposed Rail-to-River Bikeway.

Sited along an 8.3 mile section of the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor right-of-way (ROW), the project would connect the Crenshaw/LAX rail line to multiple bus lines (including the Silver Line), the Blue Line, the river, Huntington Park, Maywood, and/or Vernon via a bike and pedestrian path anchored along Slauson Ave.

Screenshot of proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents section that Metro could move on immediately. Phase 2 would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to negotiate with BNSF to purchase the ROW.

The proposed bikeway corridor. Phase 1 (at left) represents the section of the corridor that Metro could move on planning for immediately. Phase 2 (at right) would proceed more slowly, as Metro would need to determine which routes were most appropriate and negotiate with BNSF to purchase a section of the ROW. (Source: Feasibility Study)

The active transportation corridor (ATC) project, first proposed by Ridley-Thomas and Supervisor and Metro Board Member Gloria Molina in 2012, has the potential to effect a significant transformation in a deeply blighted and long-neglected section of South L.A.

So, it was not surprising to see Ridley-Thomas ask that, when the full Board meets this Thursday, October 23, at 9 a.m., it approve his motion directing Leahy to identify and seek funds from Measure R, Cap and Trade, and other sources to facilitate the environmental, design, and outreach efforts recommended by the Feasibility Report.

Even though Ridley-Thomas’ strong support for the project was expected, the motion to move it forward still made me sit up a little straighter.

When I attended the two public meetings held on the corridor project, representatives from both Metro and Alta Planning + Design (consultants on the project) were firm in their suggestions that we not get our hopes up too high. There was no funding attached to the project, they said, and they were only looking at questions of feasibility. These were also the reasons, I was told, for the limited outreach and engagement of the neighbors that live along the corridor.

Not to mention that including the community might have brought other problems with it. Read more…


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. Read more…


Yes Virginia, there will be a Leimert Park station on the upcoming Crenshaw/LAX Line

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. Read more…


Ridley-Thomas Survey Shows Strong Support for Slauson Ave. Bike Lane

Option D-1

For years, residents surrounding the Slauson Avenue Corridor between La Brea and Angeles Vista have argued that the sad looking street needs an upgrade.  What form that upgrade takes is up to debate, some residents want the street changed to allow more cars to move through the corridor while most others want to see the four lane road improved to allow for a better environment for all users.

County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has taken a lead roll in the debate.  The Supervisor has held a series of community meetings to take ideas directly to residents and created an online survey on the six options that were presented at the meetings for people to give some feedback online.  A presentation given at an October 2011 meeting can be viewed, here.

The leading alternative in the online survey, alternative D-1, is the only one that has a “Class II” bike lane and currently garners 36% of the online support.  The next closest option includes a bike route and as 22%.  The two options that include no new bike facilities combine for only 5% of the vote.  You can see the current survey results, here.

“This is an area that has been clearly overlooked,” says Dan Rosenfeld, the transportation director for Ridley-Thomas.  “There are passionate people on both sides, and the poll has been a way to help bridge that gap.”

Such a survey is hardly scientific, but it does show support for a more progressive bike facility on the street than what is called for in the L.A. County Draft Bike Plan which calls for a “bike route” on Slauson Ave.  A bike route designation can be earned with little more than adding small green signs with a picture of a bike and the words “bike route.”  L.A. City Bike Coordinator Michelle Mowery has called the designation “useless” if it doesn’t mean more than placing a few hard-to-see signs along the street. Read more…


Ridley-Thomas’ Office in Harmony with Metro in Early Community Benefits/Protection Discussion

Last week, Metro staff responded to a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to create a community benefits plan for the Crenshaw Community, especially in the area where the line is scheduled to run at-grade, during construction and operations of the line.  The response was a power point presentation showing where the agency currently is in its thinking about community benefits and while some community activists are unhappy with the presentation, Ridley-Thomas’ office seems to think it’s a good first step.

110804 CrenshawLAX Board Presentation_Final

“First of all, we’re pleased they responded to quickly to our request,” said Dan Rosenfeld, Ridley-Thomas’ Planning Deputy.  “They responded more thoroughly to some of our proposals than others, but overall this is a good first step.”

Maybe it was Ken Alpern’s article in City Watch calling for peace in the battle over Crenshaw, or maybe the office is responding to the news that the motion concerning moving some Measure R and Prop. A funds to cover the cost of light rail yards has been removed from the August 4th agenda, but I was expecting something a lot more critical from the Supes’ office.

Instead of fire and brimstone, Rosenfeld offered a calm analysis of what is, and isn’t in the above report.  In particular:

  • While the Supervisor continues to believe that the “Park Mesa Tunnel” that would allow the Crenshaw Line to run below-grade is the best option, they concede that unless the politics of the situation change, they aren’t going to see that.  Instead, they were happy that Metro is offering a traffic mitigation plan of some sort, and see openings to work with Metro and LADOT to get the best plan they can for the area, both during and after construction.
  • Metro has a standard local hiring program, but given the special circumstances of the community, namely the high unemployment and nervousness over the project, the Supervisor believes the local hiring numbers should be higher than usual.
  • There are already funds set aside for streetscape improvements through Prop. C and the Supervisor intends to push Metro to use those funds to beutify and improve the community connections to the stations.
  • While Metro has already tried a business protection program during Red Line construction in Hollywood, it didn’t go as well as hoped.  The Supervisor has asked Metro to look at more popular programs in Seattle and other cities before designing a plan for the Crenshaw Corridor, especially in Park Mesa.

But of course there’s a long way to go.  Damien Goodmon of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition notes that the presentation doesn’t really commit to anything and that some of the safety measures proposed are going to run into legal challenges (red light cameras anyone?).

We’ve been informed by Metro Staff that the presentation will be updated before it is given at the August 4 Metro Board Meeting.

Meanwhile, Ridley-Thomas’ office continues to work on securing a stronger commitment to the Leimert Park Station proposal that is included in the environmental studies and project description, but not yet funded.  “There is a method available to us to find the funding and include it in the project and we will take every advantage of that,” Rosenfeld promised.

We’ll be talking more about some of the options the Supervisor’s team is looking at to fund the station next week. In the meantime, Jerard Wright, Co-Chair of Sierra Club Angeles Chapter Transportation Committee, thinks the best place to look for Leimert Park Station funding is within.

“If they’re serious at trying to get stronger commitments to have a Leimert Park station, they should take a good hard look at the current LPA to fit within the existing project budget to have the Leimert Park station and change the subway at Expo/Crenshaw to a separate surface station. That would fit within the existing budget and have a little side money left over as a down payment for a future study north of Expo/Crenshaw so that in the long run that station becomes a subway and continue northward to meet with at least the Purple Line. “


Ridley-Thomas, South L.A., Gearing Up for Fight Over…Light Rail Yards?

At first, it looked like a pretty innocuous motion on a Metro Board Planning and Programming Committee Agenda.  Item #19, passed quickly and unanimously by the committee, shuffles $170 million in funds dedicated towards Red Line expansion, partially from Measure R, to cover the “unmet costs” to complete the rail yards for Expo Phase II light rail cars.  (Note: As was pointed out in the comments section, the staff report says that the Southwest yard is for Green/Crenshaw Line cars, not Expo cars.)

Metro CEO Art Leahy, along with Mayor Villaraigosa and Supervisor Yaroslavsky, have been the target of South L.A. residents after they helped defeat a motion to fund a Leimert Park Station. Photo via Metro

At first glance, it’s a yawner of an agenda item.  Placed into a larger context, it’s a call to transit war.  And Supervisor Mark-Ridley Thomas and South L.A. community activists, activists who are apparently “lawyering-up,” are readying for battle.

Back at the May Metro Board Meeting, appointees of L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa modified a resolution by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to move some funds that were dedicated towards other projects, including the Red Line expansion, to fund a station at Leimert Park and to complete the grade-separation of the Crenshaw Line.  The grade-separation was controversial, but the Leimert Park Station appeared headed towards passage until a replacement motion was put forward by former Assemblyman and Mayoral Appointee to the Metro Board Richard Katz.  The Katz motion called for the construction of the station, but only if it could be done within the confines of the existing $1.7 billion budget for the light rail line, a $1.7 billion that did not assume construction of the station.

The argument against the Ridley-Thomas motion was that it would create a bad precedence to move funds from one Measure R project to another.  South L.A. politicians and advocates were livid at what they felt was second-class treatment by the Board.   That resentment has simmered for almost two months, and this motion has only inflamed their ire.

Ridley-Thomas has written a strongly worded letter to Metro CEO Art Leahy (read it yourself, exclusively here at Streetsblog) asking this very question and Damien Goodmon, Chair of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and star of an article in today’s L.A. Times, is basically threatening the 30/10 aka America Fast Forward program if this proposal moves forward.

Ridley-Thomas writes: Read more…


Crenshaw Update: Ridley-Thomas Pushes Community Benefits, Community Weighs Options for Subway/Leimert Station

If anyone things Mark Ridley-Thomas is done with Crenshaw, just visit his transportation page.

When Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ motions to make the Crenshaw Light Rail project run entirely below-grade and to construct a station at Leimert Park both failed, the Board Member promised he would be back with a new motion to improve the project in a different way. At last week’s Metro Board Meeting, Ridley-Thomas introduced a motion calling for community benefits during construction of the Expo Line.

The motion’s asks can be split in to two parts, the fiscal parts and the transportation parts.  The fiscal parts are about protecting the businesses and local economy during construction.  The Supervisor notes in his press statement announcing the motion, “The Crenshaw/LAX line project is moving fast ahead. As it is being built we must also make sure the community doesn’t pay too high a price for its long-overdue rail service.”

Perhaps the boldest ask is that businesses along the above ground portion of the route, between 48th and 59th street,be partially compensated for lost business during construction.  To the best of my research, and that of Damien Goodmon, Metro has never taken this step before, but it is done in other parts of the country and could make fiscal sense for the agency in the long run.

“I’m guessing, it would take what $45 million?  $50 million? Of a 1.7 billion project?  Can you imagine how much smoother the sailing would be for Metro if the businesses felt taken care of?” Goodmon rhetorically asked.  “In this economic climate, in this part of the city, it doesn’t make sense to ask a community to sacrifice now for economic development some point in the future.”

Support for this portion of the motion isn’t just popular with the community advocates, small business owner Cory Hartly tells the Wave, “I think compensation would be a good thing, but it’s sad because there are a lot of businesses on Crenshaw that are going to be affected by the line.  It’s going to be uncomfortable for people to park and customers will start to go elsewhere.”

The second plank is a request that a certain percentage of the workers be hired locally from the Crenshaw communities.  While Ridley-Thomas doesn’t select a number, such as 30% of workers should be hired from the Crenshaw communities, combined with the demand that businesses be compensated, is a key part of preserving the middle-class within the community during construction.

When it comes to transportation, there are two items of note: one has to do with foot traffic and one car traffic.

The first ask is for streetscape and sidewalk improvements through the area where the train will run at-grade.  Some people view the Crenshaw and South L.A. communities as “inner-ring suburbs,” but we’ve already seen that many elements of the community desire dense mixed-use development.  Ridley-Thomas’ motion calls for the kind of pedestrian amenities that were lacking for the Gold Line Eastside Extension to connect the community to the train and its stations.

That being said, despite support for this part of the motion, the community would much rather the Metro Board reverse course and back the Crenshaw Subway proposal that was defeated at the May Metro Board Meeting. “If its between wider sidewalks and planting trees or running the train underground, we’ll plant the trees ourselves,” Goodmon laughed over the phone,  “We’ll have a whole tree people week.”

Which is not to say that every part of the motion makes sense and has broad support.  While the Supervisor’s desire to have all intersections run at a “C” Level of Service or higher is understandable, understanding that the intersections in this area don’t run at that level now make such a proposal unlikely.

Consider the intersection at Slauson and Crenshaw.  The intersection now rates an “F” on Level of Service.  There’s two ways to improve it to C, one is to turn the area into a mini-highway, and the other is to play loose with the numbers.  Neither of those methods would be popular.

With this motion as backdrop, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition meets tonight to discuss their options moving forward.  Metro should note, that another lawsuit is just one of the options their considering, but it is an option.


South L.A. Still Fuming Over Metro Leimert Park/Crenshaw Subway Vote

Leimert Park from Mark Ridley-Thomas on Vimeo.

After the Metro Board of Directors voted for Richard Katz’s “compromise” motion on the Leimert Park Village Station over the proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, Metro Board Chair Don Knabe commented to the disappointed crowd that remained that they hoped they would see the vote as a step forward for the Leimert Park Station.  Here at Streetsblog, I wrote that the station was “approved,” not having seen the motion until later.

But since the Katz motion only called for the station to be built if funds were available in the original budget, the construction of the station is far from certain.  And the band of politicians and community activists serving the predominantly African American community surrounding the proposed Leimert Park Village Station, don’t view the new motion as a step forward, and are ready to keep fighting.  For his part, Ridley-Thomas is planning a new motion for this month’s Board Meeting, although his staff isn’t ready to announce what that motion is.

Meanwhile, the pages of South Los Angeles publications are screaming invective at Mayor Villaraigosa, who controls enough votes on the Metro Board to swing the issue and could insure construction of a station at this month’s meeting.  Ridley-Thomas, and the crowd that included somewhere between 300-600 South L.A. residents, believed he had the Mayor’s support going in to the May Metro Board Meeting and found the compromise motion to be a disappointment. Read more…