CITY HALL — After hearing a flood of concerns from residents in the Pico Neighborhood over the proposed placement of a light rail maintenance yard near homes, Santa Monica city officials will begin exploring alternative locations.
City Hall said on Thursday that it plans to hire a real estate consultant who will be tasked with identifying different properties within phase two of the Exposition Light Rail, which begins at Culver City and passes through West L.A. before arriving in Santa Monica.
The search comes in response to an outpouring of opposition from Pico residents over a recommendation by the Exposition Construction Authority that a rail maintenance facility be placed at the Verizon site on Exposition Boulevard. The City Council last month adopted a position against the location of the rail yard and requested that the authority be vigilant and serious in finding an alternative that is not near residences.
Kate Vernez, the assistant to the city manager for government relations, said that consultants bids will be due on Monday and anticipates that the findings from the search will be presented relatively soon.
“The process will be very quick,” she said. “It has to in order not to hold up the EIR [environmental impact report] for the light rail.”
City Hall could also hire a second consultant who will specialize in engineering and issues related to the operation of rail maintenance yards. Vernez said the real estate planner is estimated to cost $10,000, which would come from City Hall’s Proposition A transit funds. Some of the cost could be shared with the authority.
Expo officials have said they looked at more than 40 different properties from Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, searching for sites that would meet the facility’s many physical requirements — located on land that is about six to 10 acres and is next to the main line, ideally in an industrial area away from homes, providing enough parking for employees and have a reasonable shape to accommodate the tracks.
The criteria narrowed the list to a few viable candidates, including Bergamot Station and the Casden property off Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles, the latter of which was taken out of consideration because its size was deemed inadequate. Bergamot, which is known as Southern California’s premier arts and cultural center, was also taken off the table not only because its size and shape were deemed inefficient for a maintenance facility, but because of its reputation.
Bergamot, which is slated to be one of a handful of Expo stops in Santa Monica, was purchased by City Hall in 1989 for rail car storage and a light maintenance yard. The former ice-making plant and water heater manufacturer was transformed into an arts center in 1994.
Monica Born, the project director for phase two, said the authority will aid City Hall in an advisory capacity. The idea is to remain west of the 405 Freeway, Born said.
“If we’re able to find another site that meets our needs, I would think we would be open to it,” Born said. “We did a very good effort of trying to find locations of the maintenance facility and if they’re able to find another one, that would be great.”
Several groups have written letters to Expo about the maintenance yard, including Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, which is opposed to the facility being placed in the Pico Neighborhood, and a group of gallery owners and artists at Bergamot, which has requested that the station be taken out of consideration.
The Verizon site is about 6 acres and would be just off the Expo line, which is proposed to travel along Colorado Avenue. The Expo board was expected to vote on the Colorado alternative during the Expo board meeting on Thursday afternoon.
Vernez said the consultant will look for properties whose shape is conducive to storage and maintenance, has relatively flat topography and is under single or limited ownership.
“What we have to be sure is we’re looking at commercial and industrial areas,” Vernez said.