Los Angeles, Calif. – The Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line will hold a community organizing meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m. in the Foshay Learning Center Auditorium, and people who attend will find out that contrary to popular belief, the ongoing South Los Angeles protests about this under- construction light rail system are not simply about the two at-grade crossings near local schools.
Instead, according to community activist Damien Goodman, the goal of the coalition is to bring about equity in how the line is being financed and constructed. That goal is being sought because according to information passed out during a meeting held at Dorsey High in December, the Expo Light Rail Authority is spending $185 million to construct the one-mile portion of the rail line between La Cienega and Robertson Boulevard and only $140 million to build the 4.5 mile segment in South Los Angeles. That part stretches from Vermont Avenue to Clyde Street, which is just one block east of La Cienega.
Goodman pointed out that with the passage of Proposition R, additional money should be available to provide equity in how citizens in South Los Angeles are treated compared to their West Los Angeles counterparts.
The community coalition, with the backing of L.A. School Board member Marguerite LaMotte and the LAUSD, have taken their concerns about all stops in the South L.A. portion of the light rail to the state Public Utilities Commission, which recently ruled that the street-level crossings near Foshay Learning Center and Dorsey High School were not acceptable but approved the other 36 crossings.
Consequently, as a result of numerous hearings, public forums, and attempted settlement conferences, one proposed decision (PD) and one alternative decision regarding the two contested stops have been put forward.
The proposed decision was given by Administrative Law Judge Kenneth Koss and the alternate proposed decision was issued by CPUC Commissioner Rachell Chong. A second alternative decision may be offered by another commissioner, and if this happens, an additional 30-day public review period could result.
In both the Koss and Chong proposals, the request for an at-grade or street-level crossing at Farmdale that the Expo Authority prefers is denied.
Chong added that grade separation is needed at the intersection but said there was not enough information available to choose between the three options offered–a rail flyover, train undercrossing or pedestrian bridge and closing off Farmdale Avenue.
The proposed decision by Judge Koss also denied the at-grade crossing at Farmdale, and instead selected closing off the street and constructing a pedestrian bridge over the rail line.
Many community residents oppose closing Farmdale Avenue, citing the increased traffic burden this would place on three already busy intersections–Crenshaw, Buckingham, and La Brea.
A study draft concluded that closing Farmdale would negatively impact the area but then in its final version reversed itself.
At the Foshay/Harvard Boulevard crossing, the proposed decision by Judge Koss denies the Expo Authority request to utilize an existing tunnel as the primary way to cross the train, while Commissioner Chong agrees with the request to construct the line above the existing Harvard Boulevard tunnel.
In contrast, Judge Koss cited safety concerns and inaccessibility for disabled passengers as key concerns in denying the request to use the tunnel. He further went on to say that there is not enough information provided on the proposed crossings to recommend one option over another.
The Utilities Commission is slated to take up both the Chong and Koss decisions on the Foshay and Dorsey stops at its Jan. 29 meeting. This is the third attempt at resolving the conflict, after the item was held over from its November and December meetings.
Goodman said the Citizens’ Campaign is not happy with the decisions posed, and to further demonstrate why they are opposed to what they claim is the mostly street-level configuration of the light rail as it travels through South Los Angeles, the coalition invited a former light rail operator and a Southern Pacific locomotive engineer to address a community forum held in December.
Lester Hollins said he worked at the Metropolitan Transit Authority for about 25 years, the majority of which was as a bus driver.
“I had an impeccable safety record, when I left the bus to go to the rail in 1991 or 1992. Within the first year on the rail, I was involved in three accidents,” explained Hollins, who added that the third incident resulted in a fatality.
Hollins also talked about the time he stopped the blue line train to rescue a toddler who had wandered through a hole cut in the fence. He also noted that the rail drivers have nicknamed the Blue Line section between Washington Boulevard and Willowbrook as “death row” because of the number of accidents, and warned that if the plans for street-level crossings of the Expo Line through South Los Angeles are not revised, “someone you know will experience tragedy because of the rail.”