EASTSIDE — Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights, the city’s leading political party that holds a majority on the City Council and other elected boards here, is opposed to building a maintenance yard for the Exposition Light Rail line in a residential neighborhood adjacent to Stewart Street Park.
The politically-influential group comprised of several civic leaders fired off a letter to the Expo Construction Authority Friday, the last day to submit public comments on the draft environmental impact report for Phase 2 of the rail project.
Not only is SMRR opposed to a rail yard at a site currently owned by Verizon, the group is also against any project that would displace Bergamot Station, Southern California’s largest art gallery complex, located on 9.5 acres off of Olympic Boulevard near Cloverfield Boulevard. The property is owned by City Hall and was originally purchased in the late ‘80s for $17.3 million to be used as a rail car storage and light maintenance yard.
Dating back to 1875, Bergamot was once a stop for the Red Line trolley that ran from Los Angeles to the Santa Monica Pier. After the trolley cars ceased in 1953, the station began housing several industrial uses, from a celery-packing operation to an ice-making plant and later a water heater manufacturer.
It became a cultural center after Wayne Blank, an art dealer who helped develop the Santa Monica Airport art studios, approached City Hall with an idea to create galleries there.
Now, many in Santa Monica cannot envision a community without Bergamot.
“We believe the Expo Board has to consider other sites,” said Patricia Hoffman, chair of SMRR. “I don’t think having a maintenance yard that would be operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week is a good plan for this neighborhood. I don’t think we should further isolate this neighborhood, which is already located next to the 10 Freeway.”
In the letter to Expo, SMRR suggests looking at publicly owned property adjacent to Bergamot, such as the Richlar site and City Yards, as a possible alternative, “especially for an underground facility.”
“We urge it be evaluated as an alternative,” the letter, signed by Hoffman, states.
SMRR was joined by residents in the neighborhood that could be impacted by the rail yard. A form letter was circulated this week to residents that laid out the opposition. All residents had to do was sign it and send it. Michael Tarbet, a resident in the area, drafted the letter and another circulated it. Tarbet said he received 30 to 40 letters back and planned to send them to Expo Friday.
“It’s really painful to have this dropped on a community like this,” Tarbet said. “This is a good way to make sure people’s voices are heard, particularly those who may not speak English very well. This helps to get the word out.”
The neighborhood is comprised of ethnically and racially diverse renters and homeowners with low to moderate incomes. Some feel they have been unfairly targeted because they are not wealthy. They point to the freeway and nearby waste transfer stations as proof that their neighborhood has shouldered its fair share.
Joining the letter writing campaign are artists and gallery owners at Bergamot. Blank met with Bergamot tenants earlier in the week to encourage them to contact the Expo Board, which includes Los Angeles City Council members and supervisors, as well as Santa Monica City Councilwoman Pam O’Connor, who is backed by SMRR.
A spokesman for Expo said Bergamot is not being considered as a site for the maintenance yard, but that hasn’t done anything to calm some of the nerves of Bergamot tenants, Blank said. Tenants hope Bergamot can be the anchor for a future light rail stop.
“It’s always a case of it’s not over until the fat lady sings,” when it comes to dealing with local government, Blank said. “Our campaign will not stop … until [the Expo Board] actually votes.”
The Expo Board is expected to debate the issue as well as the rail line’s alignment on April 2.