As expected, the Exposition Construction Authority on Thursday approved a staff recommendation for Colorado Avenue as the preferred route for Expo Light Rail, Phase 2 through Santa Monica. No decisions were made on the location of a maintenance yard or grade crossings, according to the authority’s press liaison.
An April 2, Expo Authority staff report recommended Expo travel “on Exposition railroad right-of-way from the Culver City terminal to its intersection with Olympic Boulevard in Santa Monica. From that point the alignment would continue along the Exposition right-of-way to west of 19th Street then diverge from the right-of-way and enter Colorado Avenue east of 17th Street and follow Colorado in the center of the street to the (4th Street) terminus.”
Councilwoman Pam O’Connor, also a MTA board member, confirmed what I wrote last month about why City Hall was campaigning hard for a problematic street level line on Colorado with all its negative safety and traffic impacts. After exaggerating community support for Colorado by telling her fellow board members “There is nearly unanimous support for the Colorado alignment,” she really let the cow out of the barn by saying “We think at-grade is better for development.” Growth is more important than safety and traffic problems? Unbelievable.
A recommendation for a light rail maintenance and train storage yard on property owned by Verizon off Exposition Boulevard east of Stewart Street is still under study. The authority’s staff report noted community concerns but still concluded the Verizon property is the best site for the needs of the project — and that’s after looking at 20 other alternative locations.
It’s almost certain a light rail maintenance/storage yard will be located on the Verizon, industrially-zoned property. The best that can happen now is for Exposition neighbors and other stakeholders to retain attorneys while working closely with Expo and the City of Santa Monica to minimize undesirable impacts.
Some folks are suggesting placing the yard at Bergamot Station, a 9.5 acre parcel purchased for $17.3-million two decades ago by the city from the Southern Pacific Railway specifically for a light rail storage and maintenance yard. City Council also borrowed $6.9 million from Metro’s predecessor, the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, to help purchase the property according to August 28, 1989 meeting minutes. That acreage is now temporary home to the Bergamot Station arts community.
A letter writing campaign promoted by Bergamot gallery owner Wayne Blank asking the Expo Authority to not take over Bergamot is in full swing. Blank’s letter claims “Bergamot Station is in danger of being turned into a maintenance facility by decision of the Exposition Construction Authority (MTA).” (sic). Problem is, the Authority has already discounted using Bergamot as a maintenance/storage yard.
Even through Bergamot has contributed substantially to the community in terms of art and culture over the last 20 years, its purchase was intended for light rail use or related redevelopment. Any non-light rail activity at Bergamot May be on borrowed time until Expo comes to town.
With Expo trains on the horizon, maybe it’s time for the galleries to move on. I wrote last week that City Hall should create a location for artists and art galleries at the Civic Center — instead of an early childhood learning laboratory for Santa Monica College. Blank, gallery owners and community art supporters need to refocus and start a movement for a new art and culture center adjacent to the Civic Auditorium.
Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights is taking up the cudgel for Exposition Boulevard neighbors who oppose a light rail storage/maintenance yard across the street. “NIMBYs,” one reader e-mailed me noting that SMRR leaders Denny Zane (as mayor in 1989 voted to purchase Bergamot), Michael Tarbet, Linda Sullivan and Maria Loya all live in the area.
In letters dated March 27 to the authority and Metro citing “environmental injustice,” SMRR Chair Patricia Hoffman claims the yard would have “many intolerable impacts” such as noise and release of toxic materials on the poor, “ethnically and racially” diverse neighborhood. She also mentioned SMRR leadership’s concerns that the facility would snarl traffic.
Snarl traffic? Whaaaa? Since when has SMRR been concerned about snarled traffic? They and their traffic-jamming politicians have been making decisions for decades that have made Santa Monica traffic some of the worst in the state.
NIMBY? Yes, but more disingenuous and naive. Issues about neighborhood impacts, maintenance yards and evicting art galleries from Bergamot aren’t new. They arose after SMRR social engineers and friends of mass transit requested light rail service years ago. Now that the dark side is nearing reality, some folks act surprised.
I’ve got news. There’ll be a lot more problems ahead. Many of them related to street level trains, cross-town gridlock and the accidents they’ll cause for up to 16 city blocks and redevelopment. Maybe SMRR leaders will write letters about this, too.
Bill Bauer can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.