Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas
One week ago today, the Metro Board threw the Crenshaw community a curveball. After quickly deciding it could not afford to put the future Crenshaw-to-LAX light rail line underground for a one-mile segment through Park Mesa Heights, the Board could not commit to building a station in Leimert Park Village.
Several Board members also said a Leimert Park Village station was too costly. But some, notably Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, knew there was tremendous popular support for the station, extending far beyond the Crenshaw community.
So the Mayor and the three Metro directors he appointed led a successful effort to support the Leimert Park Village station in principle – but without funding.
Rarely, since I entered public service, have I seen such widespread unity and commitment to a cause. However, that the Crenshaw line should have a stop in the heart of the African-American arts and business district is obvious to all of us who work, live, worship in the area or simply come to enjoy the village’s cultural offerings. Also, that the train would be safer underground then running down the middle of the street, from 48th to 49th streets, is equally apparent. That’s why more than 600 people attended the Metro Board meeting last week, filling both the hearing room and overflow rooms. Thousands more signed petitions, and every elected official representing the area urged Metro to do the right thing.
A majority of the Board quickly voted against undergrounding through Park Mesa Heights, saying it would be too expensive. The Leimert station, however, was a trickier proposition. While expressing strong support for the idea of a station in the village, the board – led by Director Richard Katz and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa – declined to fund it.
The board agreed to include a station as an option for potential contractors. Bidders will be asked to propose prices based on the entire 8.5-mile project with the Leimert station, without the Leimert station or with and unfinished “box” that would allow a station to be built at a later date. If neither of the two bids that include the station comes in under the $1.7-billion project cap, Metro officials will study the possibility of an above ground station at 48th Street.
Let’s decode this: essentially, many members of the Board were uncomfortable opposing the project— especially with so many of you sitting in the audience, facing them—So they nodded and said “yes” while their actions said “no?”
It leaves us with maybe…and more work to do.
Leimert Park is an iconic cultural destination – it is our Olvera Street, our Mariachi Plaza, our Hollywood and Highland…and it deserves a train station. When we began this journey together, pushing for the train to stop in the village, the question I was most frequently asked was not “Why does the community want a station there?” but “Why was Leimert Park left out to begin with?”
So where to we go from here? Forward. The Metro Board has acknowledged that a station should be part of the Crenshaw-to-LAX project and now it’s our job to see that that happens. This struggle for accessible and appropriate transportation didn’t begin last week at the Board meeting or with my arrival as a County Supervisor. It spans generations. It was the dream of Mayor Tom Bradley, Congress members Julian Dixon and Diane Watson and Supervisor Yvonne Braithwaite Burke.
We thought the Metro vote last week would be decisive and it wasn’t – not for Leimert Park Village and not for Park Mesa Heights. What is clear however, is this: It’s not over.