CITY HALL — A controversial proposal to build a light rail maintenance yard near homes is raising new concerns about whether an environmental impact review will be performed to address recent plan changes to add a paint and body shop to the facility.
The issue involves a “hybrid” plan to place the light rail maintenance yard over the existing Santa Monica College parking lot on Stewart Street and the Verizon property on Exposition Boulevard, the latter of which is the sole location originally proposed for the facility by the Exposition Construction Authority, which has drawn criticism from neighbors because of the proximity to homes.
Responding to the concerns, city and Expo officials this summer developed an alternative hybrid option, designing a 110-foot buffer to separate the facility from the residences but also expanding the capacity of the yard by about a dozen cars and adding a new paint and body shop to the list of operations.
The concern for city officials is that while the original Verizon-only proposal was included in the environmental impact report (EIR), a supplemental review has not been initiated for the hybrid option.
“It seems to me the people of California are supposed to get the ability to comment on things put in their community and if there is nothing in that draft EIR about a 50-odd car yard or a paint and metal shop, then the people have not had the opportunity to comment and have their comments heard and responded to,” City Councilman Kevin McKeown said during a meeting this week.
Expo officials said the paint shop will be fully contained and do not believe that the changes would require an additional review.
Steve Polechronis, a consultant with the Exposition Construction Authority, said he believes the process — which has included an extensive comment period and ongoing meetings on the development of the alternative hybrid plan — is compliant with requirements under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Polechronis said that Expo received approximately 3,000 letters containing more than 9,000 comments during the draft EIR process. McKeown questioned how many of those comments mentioned a paint and body shop to which Polechronis responded small if not none.
The council authorized its staff to continue exploring mitigations of the maintenance facility and discuss with SMC officials the possibility of swapping residual land near Santa Monica Airport for the college’s parking needs. The council also directed its staff to review CEQA options.
City staff is also looking to move the paint and body shop to the MTA Green Line’s rail yard, which a group a Santa Monica residents recently toured.
Kate Vernez, assistant to the city manager, said that several concerns raised during the tour were addressed in the hybrid plan, including eliminating track loops that would create a screechy sound.
The configuration of the hybrid plan has also been rearranged to move some functions farther away from homes, including the car wash and cleaning platform. Expo officials said they are willing to look into reducing the alarm for the vehicle lift — another concern from the tour — to make it directional.
An earlier suggestion to place the maintenance yard on a 13-acre piece of land consisting of two city blocks was recently taken off the table because of the high cost to relocate businesses that include Jerry Bruckheimer Films. There are 27 businesses located in the area bounded by Colorado Avenue to the north, Olympic Boulevard to the south, Ninth Street to the west and 11th Street to the east.
Vernez said that the cost to acquire land and compensate the businesses for relocation is estimated to be between $152 to $203 million.
The maintenance yard proposal continued to draw opposition from residents who said the facility should not be located in a neighborhood filled with homes.
“I think the council needs to reflect on its relationship with the neighborhood and the fact that historically it’s been the place to site most of the industries that nobody else in the city wanted,” Ruth Sarnoff, a resident, said.
The final decision on the location will be made by the Expo board, not the City Council.
The owners of the Lantana Entertainment Media Campus, which sits to the north of the yard, have also spoken out against the hybrid plan, which they said would disrupt the creative work going on in the studios.
The disruption would be caused by vibrations and noise from the facility, said John Chibbaro, an attorney representing Maguire Properties, which owns the Lantana campus.
“The decision to push the sheet metal machine shop and car wash facility up against Lantana was made without any regard toward the impact those uses may have on business operation,” he said.