LAWNDALE — There was screeching and honking and other noises expected of a maintenance facility for electric trains.
They were the sounds that a group of residents from the Pico Neighborhood described hearing during a recent visit to the MTA Green Line’s rail yard in Lawndale, a tour arranged by the Exposition Construction Authority to show first hand what life can be like next to such a facility.
The tours to the Green Line’s maintenance yard in the South Bay and the Gold Line’s in Pasadena last week were organized in response to concerns from residents in the Pico Neighborhood that the proposal to place a facility on Exposition Boulevard at Stewart Street would impact their quality of life, fearing disruption from activity that will include washing the trains and testing the horns.
The maintenance facility in Lawndale was built in the 1990s in an industrial area on Aviation Boulevard, near an old U.S. Air Force storage site. A hotel and a condominium complex have since been developed next to it.
The Gold Line opened in 2003 and the maintenance yard surrounds the Los Angeles River, the 110 Freeway and the old L.A. jail.
Monica Born, the project director of Expo Phase II, which covers the route from Culver City to Santa Monica, said that residents rode the train from Chinatown to the Mission Station in South Pasadena where they saw what the at-grade crossings were like for automobiles and pedestrians, and observed how they all interacted.
“The Gold Line is similar to what we are proposing,” she said. “It’s about the same number of vehicles stored there and the Gold Line was built more recently than the Green Line so they got to see a little up-to-date technology as far as the train system and maintenance facility.”
Oscar de la Torre, a long-time resident of the Pico Neighborhood and a member of the school board, said the situation in Santa Monica is different from the Green Line in that the neighbors of the facility in Lawndale chose to move in knowing that there was a maintenance yard already there.
“The price of the condo is probably not as much because they were moving in next to the maintenance yard,” he said. “There was a choice.”
The current proposal in Santa Monica is to spread the facility over several properties on Exposition Boulevard, including on the Verizon site, the Santa Monica College parking lot and the a portion of the City Yards, separating the building from the residents with a 120-foot linear buffer, behind which would be the car wash, storage tracks, train-washing facility and traction power station.
Alan Quinn, a proponent of light rail who has lived in the neighborhood for 38 years, said he tried to go into the tour with an open mind, not sure of what to expect.
The bottom line is that there will be a lot of noise coming from the maintenance facility and there should be a plan to enclose it if located near residences, Quinn said.
He also had concerns with the screech of the trains as they rounded tight corners, which Expo officials said will not be an issue in Santa Monica because the configuration would be more open.
“If they house the facility and all of the work is done inside a single building or even two buildings and if we agree that it’s the best location, then I think it will work if it’s enclosed,” Quinn said.
Quinn still believes that the facility would be better left outside of the neighborhood and hopes that MTA officials will consider one of more than 40 locations that were previously studied as candidates.
There were several city officials who also joined the tour, including Councilman Richard Bloom who said he was pleasantly surprised to find that the impact on the residents next door was relatively minimal.
He spoke with several of the neighbors who had concerns about the screeching from the tight curve.
But the residents said they were not willing to move because of it.
“Our job from the council perspective is we need to look at the last remaining options but from what we know right now, it appears that our city staff has left no stone unturned trying to find a site elsewhere,” Bloom said. “It would be frankly in Santa Monica’s best interest all the way around economic and otherwise if we were able to find a site in an industrial zone outside of the city of Santa Monica.”
Born said she will take the community’s concerns and include them in the environmental impact report, which is expected to be certified as final in January. Expo officials also plan to return to the City Council later this month to further discuss the layout of the proposed maintenance yard.
She added that the maintenance facility will be enclosed but the track storage portion will be open. While enclosing the entire facility is possible, she said it’s not needed because the impacts can be otherwise mitigated.
de la Torre believes that the noises cannot be 100 percent mitigated.
“It’s impossible unless you cover the whole thing with thick walls and sound barriers,” he said. “Everything becomes an issue of it’s too expensive to mitigate noise. I translate that as it’s the people in the community that will be impacted and they aren’t worth the investment to make this work.”