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Hilda Solis

February 2023 Metro Board Meeting Recap: Security, Homelessness, Valley Rail, and More

Metro Transit Ambassadors – photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog

Yesterday's Metro board meeting was focused mostly on discussions, reports, and motions looking to address issues related to transit system security and homelessness. There were also board action on proceeding with San Fernando Valley light rail, ridership information, and more.

Transit System Security

Though the board took no actions on transit security this month, there was an extended discussion focused on some negative trends highlighted in the monthly report [presentation] from the Chief Safety Officer Gina Osborn.

Graph of deaths on the Metro transit system
Graph of deaths on the Metro transit system. Drug-related deaths spiked in calendar years 2021 and 2022. Yesterday, Osborn reported that there have been 21 deaths on the system in just the first two months of 2023 - the same total as all of last year. Chart via Metro presentation
Graph of deaths on the Metro transit system

Deaths on the Metro transit system have increased significantly in the past two calendar years. Drug-related deaths - mainly fentanyl overdoses, according to Osborn - are at heart of the trend. At yesterday's meeting, Osborn verbally reported that 2023 is off to a much worse start; in under two months, Metro system deaths already total 23 - the same as all of last year.

Osborn's presentation also noted that transit system serious ("Part 1") crimes increased by 24 percent from calendar year 2021 to 2022. Less serious "Part 2" crimes increased by 14 percent during the same period.

Though Osborn acknowledged that Metro can't arrest its way out of these problems, she did call for more "access control," essentially policing to keep non-paying riders off the system. “Not all fare evaders are criminals, but all criminals are fare evaders,” she asserted.

Metro CEO Stephanie Wiggins noted that the fentanyl crisis is impacting transit systems across the country, and southern California communities beyond just transit systems. Mayor Karen Bass called for Metro representatives - ambassadors, security and law enforcement - to carry Narcan.

Several directors noted the need for better data Metro security/crime data, which is typically reported on a month-to-month percentage basis and ends up being too noisy to find trends. For example, Osborn's report graphed Part 1 crimes by Metro rail line, which mainly showed that higher ridership lines (B/D [Red/Purple] Line, A [Blue] Line) have more crimes reported than lower ridership lines (C [Green] Line, L [Gold] Line). Osborn pointed to the K [Crenshaw] Line as a success, as it had only one Part 1 crime reported in 2022, without adding the context that it only opened in October 2022 and has drawn relatively low ridership.

Supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn pushed for Metro's contracted law enforcement - LAPD, the L.A. Sheriff's Department, and Long Beach PD - to spend more time riding transit. Often, law enforcement assigned to transit will spend a great deal of time in patrol cars and in stations, infrequently getting on trains and buses. Supervisor Holly Mitchell advocated for stepped-up transit ambassadors (praised by numerous boardmembers) and cautioned against disproportionate policing of communities of color.

Transit security issues will come to a head this year as Metro looks to approve a new transit policing contract. The reimagined layered safety approach is anticipated to include fewer armed officers and more transit ambassadors, mental health workers, station attendants, etc. CEO Wiggins will report the outlines of the transit security approach next month, with new contract/budget approval prior to the July start of the new fiscal year.

See also L.A. Times coverage of Metro system deaths and security issues.

One contested site where differing Metro approaches to public safety are playing out is MacArthur Park Station.

Just west of downtown L.A., Metro B/D Line MacArthur Park Station is located in the city's population-dense and immigrant-rich Westlake neighborhood. The station has experienced real (drug use, crime, theft, homelessness) and perceived ("informal/unregulated vending," "loitering") issues, so Metro is undertaking interventions to make riders "feel welcome and safe."

Metro's graphic of the existing state of the MacArthur Park Station portals - via Metro presentation
Metro's graphic of the existing state of the MacArthur Park Station portals - via Metro presentation
Metro's graphic of the existing state of the MacArthur Park Station portals - via Metro presentation
Metro's graphic of its plans for MacArthur Park Station portals - via Metro presentation
Metro's graphic of its plans for MacArthur Park Station portals - via Metro presentation
Metro's graphic of its plans for MacArthur Park Station portals - via Metro presentation

Some of the interventions are sticks, including: more Metro law enforcement presence, more surveillance, pumping in uncomfortably loud classical music (already underway - listen), closing an entrance, fencing off areas, installing baffles to make platform seating uncomfortable, etc.

There are also some carrots: a new kiosk with station attendants, a greater transit ambassador presence, restarting a street vending marketplace pilot (that lapsed in 2020 at the outset of the pandemic), possibly also adding restrooms and restarting plans for transit-oriented affordable housing.

Yesterday, the board approved a motion by Solis that calls for "implementing care-centered strategies to improve community safety and health" at MacArthur Park and nearby stations. The Alliance for Community Transit (ACT-LA), which recently hosted a demonstration and published a report on improving safety by activating stations, supported the Solis motion.

Metro Responses to Homelessness

Yesterday, the board approved two motions regarding Metro's role in helping to solve the region's homelessness crisis:

    • A motion, by Mayor Bass, directs Metro to inventory surplus Metro property in order to find sites for temporary and permanent housing - including potentially allowing Safe Parking at underutilized station parking lots. Metro did a somewhat similar inventory in 2020.
    • A motion, by Supervisor Hahn, directs Metro to work with agency and community partners to implement a new homeless service hub in Long Beach along the Metro A Line. This is in response to end-of-line issues, where some unhoused individuals are forced to depart Metro trains at the end of the day. See also Long Beach Post coverage.

Other Brief Updates

Metro transit ridership continues to slowly rebound toward pre-pandemic levels. Graph via Metro presentation
Metro transit ridership continues to slowly rebound toward pre-pandemic levels. Graph via Metro presentation
Metro transit ridership continues to slowly rebound toward pre-pandemic levels. Graph via Metro presentation
Finer grain graph showing Metro ridership growth
Finer grain graph showing recently rebounding Metro ridership - via last week's Metro Operations Committee presentation
Finer grain graph showing Metro ridership growth

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