CITY HALL — While residents and city officials for months have pushed for the relocation of a proposed Exposition Light Rail maintenance yard away from homes, it’s looking more likely that the facility will remain as planned in the Pico Neighborhood.
That appeared to be the direction after the City Council on Tuesday authorized its staff to negotiate an agreement with the Exposition Construction Authority regarding mitigation measures to protect residents who live just across from the facility where some of the expected functions include light duty repairs and train car washes.
Opposition remains strong despite changes in the proposal to address concerns raised by residents, who first learned about the maintenance yard more than nine months ago.
“In my mind, it’s been a complete failure of the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) process and the political process given where we started and where we are today,” Jason Ranne, a resident, said during the meeting.
The draft environmental impact report for Expo Phase 2, which goes from Culver City to Santa Monica, proposes to place the maintenance yard at the Verizon lot on Exposition Boulevard, a location that immediately drew criticism from residents and city officials because of the proximity to homes.
Several iterations of the plan followed as a result of discussions between city and Expo officials, including the most recent alternative — a “hybrid” plan that would use the Verizon site and Santa Monica College satellite parking lot, which would allow a 100-110 foot buffer to be erected, separating the facility and homes on Exposition Boulevard.
The final decision will rest with the Expo board as the council can only make recommendations.
The buffer, which could be anything from a park to housing, will be determined through a city-managed community outreach process. If a park is selected for the location, city staff is proposing that approximately $2 million be set aside in next year’s capital budget.
The space for the buffer will be controlled by City Hall through a three-way land exchange involving SMC and Expo. Under the plan, Expo would acquire the college’s parking lot while SMC would obtain the land for the maintenance buffer. SMC and City Hall would then enter a swap in which the college would receive land adjacent to its Santa Monica Airport Bundy Campus. A city appraiser has determined that the existing SMC parking lot, the proposed buffer and airport land are equal in value based on square footage.
Aside from the buffer, Expo has agreed to put up landscaping features to soften the building facade, eliminate track loops to avoid screeching, and remove a paint and body shop that just last month had entered the picture to the disdain of residents and councilmembers. Paint and body shop functions will move to the Green Line maintenance yard in the South Bay.
A power station will also now be located about 150 feet north of Exposition Boulevard. Expo and city officials are also working on ways to muffle the air conditioning unit from the station.
Expo has also agreed to pursue LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for the facility.
“We are committed to being the best neighbor we possibly can to the community and that’s why we have been involved, we want to be involved and stay involved through the process of developing what goes on [at] the facility and mitigations that are there because we will be the ones who will be delivering on the ongoing mitigations for the life of the project,” Paul Taylor, deputy CEO of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, said.
Councilman Kevin McKeown remained concerned about the project.
“A lot of things have changed as we looked at this at multiple meetings but one thing has not changed and that is this is and always has been the wrong place,” he said.
While still preferring a different location, several council members said that the light rail project won’t be possible without a maintenance yard somewhere along the Phase 2 route.
“To me it’s as simple as that,” Councilman Bob Holbrook said. “It’s unfortunate that the existing line comes through the Pico Neighborhood along the Olympic Boulevard corridor into Santa Monica.
“It’s a tough situation that we’re trying to resolve here.”
City officials surveyed numerous alternative sites along the route with a real estate consultant but did not yield any options that were deemed viable to Expo because of cost or configuration issues. One of the more recent options included a cluster of properties between Ninth and 11th Streets but was found unfeasible because of the high acquisition cost — $152-$203 million.
Holbrook urged Expo to hire local residents for both the construction and operation of the maintenance yard. Expo does have a program that sets aside 30 percent of construction jobs for local residents.
“I wish we knew there was a program that would train people for technical jobs to work at this facility,” Holbrook said. “They will be close to a working facility where they can make a living.”