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Expo Construction Authority

Expect Plenty of Debate Before Tomorrow’s Vote on the Expo Line FEIR

12_18_09_expo_map.jpgThe Source has a full sized map here.

Tomorrow's meeting of the Expo Construction Authority Board of Directors promises to be one of the best-attended, most controversial and longest meeting of the body. The Board is scheduled to vote on approval of the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Phase II of the Expo Line, and there are still many issues that are controversial with various constituencies. The meeting begins at 2:00 P.M. at the Kenneth Hahn Hall of Administration at 500 West Temple Street. For those of you that plan on listening in at home, you can call in at (213) 974-4700 or (877) 873-8017. Spanish language call information and more details at the meeting can be found at the Expo Construction Authority's website.

If the FEIR is passed tomorrow, only a court order or loss of funding could stop construction of the controversial light rail line. While a close vote is expected, passage seems somewhat assured. There are seven voting members of the Expo Construction Authority, and only a majority is needed to approve the documents. Assuming that Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Santa Monica City Council Woman Pam O'Conner and Culver City Council Member Scott Malsin all vote in favor of the project, then only one vote is needed from Los Angeles City Council Members Herb Wesson, Bill Rosendahl, Paul Koretz or County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. Yaroslavsky has already announced his support on his blog.

So what issues need to be addressed? It seems as though the controversy over where to put a rail yard in Santa Monica has cooled off, but that leaves several controversies to be addressed.

The main obstacle to passage is the local advocacy group Neighbors for Smart Rail, that is an umbrella group consisting of local organizations and homeowners groups from areas such as Cheviot Hills and Westwood Gardens. Some of these groups have been opposed to the line for, literally, decades, and others have joined the effort recently. Their main concerns with the project, as outlined in an email to members, can be found here:

The report calls for all train crossings through our community to go at street level (at-grade), blocking traffic as often as every 2 ½ minutes, 22 hours a day at Overland, Westwood, Military and Sepulveda! They have not studied any below grade options and will consider elevating at Sepulveda only if someone else pays for it!

The FEIR document is woefully deficient and the data is flawed - it should not be adopted! We need your support to show the Expo Board that we care about our homes, our schools and the quality of life in this neighborhood. It's time to stand up and be counted.

Unlike some of the other groups attending tomorrow's meeting, Neighbors for Smart Rail aren't encouraging changes to the document, but its outright rejection. It is widely assumed that Neighbors for Smart Rail will be pursuing a legal remedy if they don't succeed tomorrow, but they're keeping that decision close to their vest and haven't said anything about future plans other than what happens tomorrow will determine their next steps.

So what changes would Neighbors for Smart Rail like to see? Their stated position is that grade-separated crossings need to be more seriously studied and approved for crossings at all major intersections and near schools. They note the high accident rate for at-grade rail crossings, most recently exemplified by a Gold Line crash last week.

Countering the assertions of Neighbors for Smart Rail is the pro-Expo group Friends 4 Expo Transit who have relentlessly pushed for the quick construction of the Expo Line from Downtown L.A. all the way to Downtown Santa Monica. They have been encouraging members to write the Expo Board, and show up tomorrow, to provide a counter-weight to the opposition. In response to Neighbors for Smart Rail, Friends 4 Expo write:

We've waited years for this alternative to horrible Westside traffic, that will serve this dense corridor's many residents, jobs, recreational, educational, and cultural opportunities, plus provide landscaping and a bike path.

Its opponents, after failing to detour the line from its straight path to Santa Monica, now demand unprecedented special treatment for one neighborhood under the guise of "Build it right or don't build it." But their prohibitively expensive, long deep tunnel beneath the existing railroad right-of-way has never been built on any modern U.S. light rail line and would threaten Expo's completion.

Friends 4 Expo is supported by broader transit groups such as the Transit Coalition and the Southern California Transit Advocates.

Friends 4 Expo points out that the planned crossings are consistent with Metro's policy, but even that policy is under fire. Just last week, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, one of those voting tomorrow, wrote to Metro CEO Art Leahy and asked for a review of the crossings policy.

Another group concerned about the line's impact on traffic is the UCLA Bicycle Coalition. While the group expresses support for the concept, and writes that it's "pretty exciting to get a new train line in our 'hood;" they have serious concerns that the configuration will make cycling on Westwood Boulevard, one of the most heavily cycled roads in L.A. County, dangerous and daunting.

Current plans will reconfigure lanes on Westwood Blvd in such a way that it will be a pretty nasty road to bike on. We're asking the board to redesign the street here to preserve space for bikes, and to even add bike lanes. (More details in the letter below).

I know a lot of us bike on Westwood regularly, so we should rise up and demand that this road stay safe for bicyclists.

The cyclists are also asking their members to write the Board or attend tomorrow's meeting.

A third issue to be addressed, is the configuration of the station at Overland Avenue and Westwood Boulevard. A group calling itself "Expo Greenway" is urging that instead of a parking lot the space around the station should be preserved as green space. "Park not parking" is the slogan, and a full detail of their plan can be read at their website.

Of course, there are other issues to be addressed, including the fate of the Expo Bike Path which will be approved if the FEIS is approved tomorrow but is not funded by the Construction Authority.  However, heading into tomorrow's showdown at Kenneth Hahn Hall, these are the groups that appear to be doing the most mobilizing.

If tomorrow seems a little short on stories here at Streetsblog, it's because we're planning on "live tweeting" the hearing via telephone.

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