This empty lot located adjacent to Stewart Street and Olympic Boulevard may become the maintence warehouse for the proposed Exposition Light Rail. (photo by Maya Sugarman)

DOWNTOWN — More than four months after the City Council rebuked a proposal to place a rail maintenance yard within earshot of residences, officials will return tonight with a different set of plans to create a sound buffer mixed-use development between the facility and homes.

The Exposition Construction Authority is proposing to build a maintenance yard to service the Westside portion of the light rail, which goes from Culver City to Santa Monica, at the old Verizon site on Exposition Boulevard, a plan that’s received opposition from residents because the property faces homes in the Pico Neighborhood.

City staff has spent the past few months looking at different locations with the Exposition Construction Authority and has identified an alternative that would involve moving the noisier operations to the other side of Stewart Street, placing it right next to the city yards and farther away from homes, while the storage tracks and train washing facility would be located on the east side of Stewart Street. Doing so would still involve using part of the site owned by Verizon, which sits east of Stewart Street, but the yard would instead by separated from homes on the south side of Exposition Boulevard by a mixed-use development that will include residences and perhaps some neighborhood-serving retail.

City Hall owns the property — 1800 Stewart St. — where some of the louder operations would take place.

A representative from the Exposition Construction Authority could not be reached for comment.

The alternative plans have not however allayed concerns from residents about noise and health impacts from the maintenance facility.

The Pico Neighborhood Association is planning on sending a letter to the council opposing the plans, stating that it’s disappointed that residents were not given an opportunity to participate in the process of finding new locations.

Maria Loya, the co-chair of the association, said the alternative creates a whole new set of problems, including forcing trains to constantly cross Stewart Street, creating safety issues.

She added that the proposed buffer is inadequate and defeats the purposes of separating the noise from homes.

“You’re creating impacts to a whole new set of residents, which doesn’t address the fact that we feel a maintenance facility should not face residential,” she said.

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 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 to a few viable candidates, including Bergamot Station and the Casden property off Sepulveda Boulevard.

The Casden site, which 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 and for its value in the cultural community. The station was however purchased in 1989 by City Hall to one day house such a facility, thought it has since grown to be one of Southern California’s premier art and cultural centers, housing more than 30 galleries.

City staff hired a real estate consultant and engineering firm to review options for the maintenance yard, only to find that there was not a site that met all of Expo’s operational requirements.

Kate Vernez, the assistant to the city manager, said if the alternative plan gets the greenlight from council, City Hall will ask Expo to include it in the environmental analysis that looks at the Culver City to Santa Monica phase of the light rail.

She stressed that the final decision as to where to place the facility will fall on the Expo board. If the board decides to go with the alternate plans, City Hall will also need to work around an existing lease it has with the Lionstone Group, a real estate investment firm, for 1800 Stewart.

Lionstone has a leasehold on the site until 2030.

The proposed alternative could also mean impacts to Santa Monica College, which has a satellite parking lot on Exposition Boulevard.

“The overall objective is to bring the Expo Light Rail to Santa Monica while sensitively dealing with neighbors and the college’s needs,” City Manager Lamont Ewell said.

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