CITY HALL — A new proposal to move a planned rail maintenance yard further away from homes in the Pico Neighborhood will go onto the next phase of evaluation, disappointing some nearby residents who said the alternative doesn’t go far enough.
The City Council on Tuesday authorized its staff to continue exploring a recently conceived plan to move the noisier operations of the Exposition Light Rail maintenance facility to 1800 Stewart St. on city-owned property, favoring it over an existing idea to place the yard at the Verizon site on Exposition Boulevard, which directly faces homes. Officials also requested the Exposition Construction Authority include the new option in its environmental analysis.
Councilmembers Bob Holbrook and Bobby Shriver were the lone votes in opposition. The final decision on the maintenance yard will fall on the Expo board.
The alternative proposal, which came after the council criticized the original location, would move the louder operations to the west side of Stewart Street next to cultural arts complex Bergamot Station and the City Yards, while the storage tracks and train washing facility would be kept on the east side of Stewart Street.
Doing so would still involve using part of the Verizon site, which sits east of Stewart, but the yard would be separated from homes on the south side of Exposition Boulevard by a mixed-use development that will include residences and perhaps some neighborhood-serving retail.
Nearly 30 neighbors, including businesses and residents, spoke in opposition to the plan, arguing that it creates a whole new set of problems and inconveniences for a community that has already been impacted by the I-10 Freeway and City Yards. Those issues include safety risks from trains crossing Stewart Street, residents said.
“A toxic triangle is unacceptable,” Ana Jara, a member of the Pico Neighborhood Association said. “As a resident that lives adjacent to the 10 Freeway, I know about health risks and harms we will be dealing with for generations to come.”
Howard Jacobson, a representative for Bergamot Station developer Wayne Blank, said the proposal is incompatible with the cultural arts facility that sits just steps away, creating disruption for the galleries.
He said that the development of a rail maintenance yard at that location would also be incompatible with the goals of the Land Use and Circulation Element for that area, which looks to build a transit village at Bergamot.
Expo officials looked at more than 40 different properties from Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica for a site that would meet the facility’s physical requirements, finding that the Verizon site would be the only one that could meet all of its needs. Bergamot Station was also evaluated but taken off the list because it was found to require too many property acquisitions and for its cultural value.
The station was purchased in 1989 by City Hall to one day house such a facility but has since grown to be Southern California’s premier art and cultural center, housing more than 30 galleries.
City staff hired a real estate consultant and engineering firm to review options for the maintenance yard, only to find that there was not a site that met all of Expo’s operational needs.
Transformation of 1800 Stewart into a maintenance yard would also require working around a lease at the site with the Lionstone Group, which has a leasehold until 2030.
Several representatives of Lionstone spoke against the alternative proposal, arguing the hybrid plan would be more expensive and cause delay in bringing light rail to Santa Monica.
Daniel Dubrowski, a founding partner of Lionstone, said the hybrid plan would require acquiring the Verizon site and buying out the lease from the firm, which he said is not a willing seller.
“Our ground lease is not for sale and we will actively oppose any effort to take our lawful right to use that for the next 21 years,” he said.
The rail maintenance yard will service light rail cars in the second phase of Expo, which travels from Culver City to Santa Monica.
“We need a maintenance facility on the Westside,” Rick Thorpe, the CEO of the Exposition Construction Authority, said. “We’ve gone through twice now trying to find an alternative location and we haven’t been able to do so.”
He said that there is no phase two without a maintenance facility, whether it’s in Santa Monica or elsewhere in the service area.
The alternative proposal would also encroach on Santa Monica College’s satellite parking lot on Exposition Boulevard. The council directed its staff to work with the college to relocate the lot.
“The proposed project does not work for us,” Don Girard, the senior director of government relations and institutional communications at SMC, said. “However we believe working together, we should be able to identify solutions mindful of the college’s needs to find replacement land and replacement parking.”
Mayor Ken Genser said he doesn’t believe the placement of the rail maintenance yard in the Pico Neighborhood would exacerbate the health effects from the freeway, noting that the electric trains don’t pollute.
“I think this (proposal) is far superior,” he said. “It doesn’t mean it’s perfect.”
Shriver urged that more sites be considered, even those that have multiple owners, which he said should not be a reason for taking a location off the list. Expo staff mentioned that one site was taken out of consideration because it was found to have too many owners, along with other physical issues.
“It’s just hard for me to believe in a world we now live in where there’s no financing for any development (and) every single piece of property all over the place is up for grabs … that we can’t find a site somewhere in L.A. that is not adjacent to a long-standing neighborhood,” he said.