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Residents living off of Olympic Boulevard and Stewart Street are fighting a proposal to build a maintenance yard for the Exposition Light Rail line at the Verizon lot on Exposition Boulevard. Residents believe the location is not suitable for a maintenance yard, which would lower property values and quality of life. (photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — One by one they spoke of a community unified through its racial and socio-economic diversity, yet physically divided decades ago with the construction of a large arterial known as the I-10 Freeway.

They used words such as “environmental injustice” and “disenfranchisement” when describing the living conditions in the small pocket of the Pico Neighborhood, which in addition to the freeway is also home to the city’s Waste Transfer Station and possibly soon a maintenance facility for the pending Exposition Light Rail.

The thought of having a 24-hour facility on Exposition Boulevard where train cars will be repaired, washed and tested in a working-class neighborhood was too much for its residents to bear.

More than a dozen residents spoke out against the Exposition Construction Authority’s proposal to place the facility at the current Verizon site during a City Council meeting on Tuesday when transit officials discussed how it reached its decision on the maintenance yard’s location.

“I’m deeply concerned for my family and neighbors concerning the brake dust, tire dust, … the smells and hazards of potentially dangerous chemicals and what I’m talking about now is the current effects from the I-10 Freeway and city dump blocks away from my home and neighborhood,” Eleanor Path, a Delaware Avenue resident, said. “And now the Expo Line 24-hour train maintenance facility is proposed to block us in even more.”

After hearing from residents, the council adopted a position to vigorously oppose the proposed location near a residential neighborhood and plans to send a letter to the Expo board requesting that it actively search for another site that is not near homes.

It was among a series of actions that the council took regarding its position on the light rail project, including endorsing an alignment that would have trains traveling on Colorado Avenue instead of Olympic Boulevard, which would require an above grade station at the terminal.

“It’s just impossible for us to accept this kind of thing will be done in this neighborhood,” Councilmember Bobby Shriver said, pointing out that the placement of the maintenance facility will affect home property values.

Expo officials said they looked at more than 40 different properties from Downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica, searching for sites that would meet the facility’s many physical requirements — located on land that is about six to 10 acres and is next to the main line, ideally in an industrial area away from homes, provide enough parking for employees, and have a reasonable shape that could accommodate the tracks.

The criteria narrowed the list of locations to a few viable candidates, including Bergamot Station and the Casden property off Sepulveda Boulevard in Los Angeles. The Casden site, which currently houses a cement factory, was taken off the list because its size was deemed inadequate along with other issues involving its configuration. Officials also nixed Bergamot because it was found to require property acquisitions.

Steve Polechronis, a consultant with Expo, said part of the value in having the station at Bergamot was not only to serve the businesses at the Water Garden but to maximize the connectivity to the cultural site.

He showed officials a map of the MTA Green Line maintenance facility in Redondo Beach, which is similar in size to the Verizon site. Several residences arrived nearby after the facility was constructed.

He added that most of the noise and other impacts could be mitigated by placing the shop buildings between the yard and the residences on Exposition Boulevard.

“There will be some noise of course,” he said. “We can’t deny that.”

Polechronis said that a maintenance facility is needed in order for the Expo line to be a real viable project. The facility would hold anywhere from 20 to 36 cars.

“I know it’s hard to believe in all this we came up with one alternative,” he said. “But as you know there is a great deal of development along the Expo line and the Westside and land is quite precious, particularly when it is constrained to land adjacent to the Expo right-of-way itself.”

Transit staff is expected to take its recommendations to the Expo board next month when they will discuss the proposed alignment that the train should take when traveling from Culver City to the terminal in Santa Monica, also known as Phase II of the project. Phase I, which takes the light rail from Downtown Los Angeles to Culver City, is currently under construction.

The second phase is expected to commence in 2010.

The board meeting, which comes after the 45-day comment period for the Draft Environmental Impact Report is completed, could cover the maintenance facility.

Monica Born, the project director for Phase II, said that Expo staff members have made a good faith effort in looking at alternative sites for the maintenance yard. She said that staff will look to the board for direction on the next steps in terms of whether to proceed with the Verizon site or look for another location.

“They are basically going to listen to the public and especially the City Council and make their decision,” Born said on Wednesday.

Residents last week began circulating a petition in the three to four block radius of the proposed site.

“We cannot allow the history of environmental injustice to repeat itself by allowing the placement of a facility with an onerous environmental impact in the middle of a residential area that is home to low income residents and people of color,” said Maria Loya, who serves on the Pico Neighborhood Association board.

melodyh@smdp.com