As predicted here three weeks ago, Gleam Davis was picked to replace the late Herb Katz on the City Council last Tuesday. She’s a co-chair of the powerful Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights organization.
With a four to two SMRR majority, was there really any question how it was going to turn out? Although last election’s fifth place finisher Ted Winterer and the other SMRR co-chair Patricia Hoffman were under consideration, when the smoke cleared Gleam Davis was standing.
If all things were fair and forthright here in “Bay City,” Winterer would be in Katz’ seat. But this is city politics, SMRR style. Winterer didn’t have a chance, this time.
We’ll all be watching Davis’ first important vote tomorrow when City Council makes decisions on the Expo Light Rail route through Santa Monica. One issue is whether electric trains will travel down Colorado Avenue from near 20th Street to Fourth Street or on Olympic Boulevard from 20th to Fourth and Colorado.
Last week, I wrote Colorado was a bad choice. The Euclid Neighborhood Group e-mailed that I’d failed to mention Expo trains, “going at grade will likely cut off access to the alleys for residents of apartments on the north side of Colorado, eliminate parking and create noise impacts from crossing gates on 17th, 11th, Lincoln, Seventh, Sixth, Fourth.”
The unsigned e-mail continued: “So far the SM City Council has said there are no residential areas impacted by the Colorado routes. This is not true. There are apartments one lot north of Colorado all the way from 23rd down to Fourth Street. Olympic is almost entirely light industrial in this area.”
Another concern is the Expo maintenance/train storage yard proposed for Exposition Boulevard, east of Stewart Street. Sources tell me area residents are now organizing to fight the facility. Angry neighbors are also asking, “With a Santa Monica council woman (Pam O’Connor) on the Metro Board, why weren’t we given a ‘heads up’ about this before the printed DEIR (environmental report) was dropped on us with only 45 days to review and comment?”
Above-grade tracks are a hot button topic. I favor fully elevated tracks on Olympic because elevated trains on Colorado would have serious impacts on adjacent neighborhoods. The city is pushing for street level tracks on Colorado and a “pedestrian-friendly” downtown gateway street terminus at Fourth.
However, the impact of dozens of peak hour at-grade trains running sixteen blocks will gridlock vehicular traffic, create extensive delays at side street crossings, eliminate left turns on and off of Colorado and cause accidents, injuries and deaths for generations.
Although, none of this appears to be a City Council concern, the “look” of overpasses are. Another reader tipped me off that Councilmen Bob Holbrook and Kevin McKeown oppose a 35-foot high elevated route because “it wasn’t very eye-appealing.” I e-mailed them for comment.
Holbrook responded. “The picture I saw shows the train about three stories in the air on top of a station. I guess riders would take escalators or elevators to the train platform. That is the reason that I would rather have Colorado. I think the bridges from 11th to Fourth and the train on top of the station would not look good.”
McKeown replied, “One big advantage of the Colorado alignment is avoiding an ugly elevated trainway into downtown, with a 50-foot or taller terminal looming over Fourth and Colorado. The at-grade approach means instead a human-scaled pedestrian plaza as the gateway into downtown. How ugly would an elevated train be, and how destructive to both the appearance and value of downtown properties? Take a look at the Green Line.”
I did look at Metro’s Norwalk to Redondo Beach Green Line (with its zero accident rate). It’s an exciting example of modern urban architecture. Similar overpasses in our infrastructure-filled environment won’t bother me as much as exacerbated traffic, compromised public safety and deteriorating neighborhoods. It’s unfortunate that McKeown, Holbrook and others on the dais support visual style over substance.
The real bottom line is that the Colorado route is about more growth, development and social engineering than transportation. West of 20th, there are many more commercial/industrial properties along Colorado ripe for redevelopment than on Olympic. It’s ideal for lots of new, “denser, higher, mixed-use development with “affordable/workforce housing” City Hall loves so much. A ground level, Fourth/Colorado terminal invites multiple floors of similar housing above — impossible with an elevated terminal.
This as the same philosophy championed in the proposed city Land Use and Circulation Element (LUCE) update which calls for future growth centered on transit lines. Colorado provides more opportunity for development than Expo’s shorter “street level” segment on Olympic where Memorial Park and Crossroads School occupy much of the frontage.
Clearly, Expo has disturbed a hornet’s nest. It’ll be interesting to see who and how many get stung before the swarm flies off.
Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org