A series of meetings that will determine the fate of the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail will be held today at noon and April 28 at 9 a.m. at the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) boardroom.
At the meeting today, Metro officials on the Measure R Project Delivery Committee will review a proposal by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas to make sure there is a train station in the Leimert Park area either at Vernon Avenue or the parking lot of 43rd Street; and to take the line underground from Exposition to Florence.

Ridley-Thomas’ proposal follows recommendations developed by the South L.A. Executive Director’s Forum. This collaborative is a professional association of more than 20 African American-led nonprofit organizations.

The Crenshaw/LAX light rail line is an 8.5-mile, $1.715 billion project that begins at the Exposition Line at Crenshaw, travels south along Crenshaw to the Florence rail right-of-way and then westward to connect with the Green Line and Los Angeles International Airport.

The current proposal calls for six stations, with two optional stopping points included at Crenshaw and Vernon as well as at Aviation and Manchester.

The train is projected to run at street level between 48th and 60th streets.

According to Roderick Diaz, an MTA transportation project manager, the Leimert station is optional for some basic reasons–it did not fit into the budget at the time the alignment was drawn up; there were a number of people who expressed concern about the stop because it would require the purchase of the properties of El Pollo Loco, Tavis Smiley and the Chris Burgers hamburger stand at Crenshaw and Vernon.

“There wasn’t a ground swell against it; just a consideration that needed some extra analysis and attention,” said Diaz, who added that putting a station at that location would add $122 million to the cost of the project.

Taking the train underground as the South L.A. Executive Directors Forum is asking would tack on an additional $220 million to the project, according to Diaz.

While some people might think the exclusion of a station stop in Leimert Park is reminiscent of an earlier battle to include a Crenshaw stop on the Wilshire subway, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas pointed out some key differences between the two.

“When you look at Wilshire and Crenshaw, there was no allocation for a stop; it wasn’t in the environment impact report and the like,” said the supervisor. In contrast, a Leimert Park stop has been in the rail line plans and there is money available, if the MTA board votes to spend it.

The South L.A. Executive Director Forum pegs the Leimert Park station as a key to the further development of a vital cultural and economic community. The organization noted in its recommendations “historically, centers of commerce that have not be adequately integrated into the transit infrastructure of a city decline significantly and eventually die.”

After the Measure R Committee makes its recommendations, the full MTA board will take up the issue April 28 at 9 a.m. at the agency’s headquarters located at One Gateway Plaza, behind Union Station in downtown Los Angeles.

Construction is slated to start on the Crenshaw/LAX line in 2013, and another of the items expected to be proposed by Ridley-Thomas is a recommendation to include a local hire agreement that would insure that at least 40 percent of workers and subcontractors on the project be African American.