The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) puts the burden of the proposed Expo Light Rail Line street level trains on South Los Angeles. The following commentary by Damien Goodman, Chair of the Citizens Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line, illuminates discrepancies and disparities affecting South L.A. residents and the schools along the route:
"In his effort to build the Wilshire Subway western extension to Santa Monica, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who chairs the MTA Board, has proposed increasing the regressive sales tax in the face of an economic downturn that is hitting the vulnerable taxpayers, consumers and businesses of South Los Angeles the hardest.
The mayor's request for sacrifice from his South L.A. constituents for the "Subway to the Sea" is audacious, given his unresponsiveness to the large L.A. coalition requesting equal investment and equal treatment from the MTA regarding Phase 1 of the Expo Light Rail Line.
As it traverses from downtown L.A. to Culver City, the 8.5 mile Expo Line is proposed to slice across nearly all intersections in South L.A. at street level 240 times a day. In addition to the adverse traffic impacts, noise pollution and other environmental concerns, the street level design poses a significant safety hazard, with 225-ton trains planned to operate at speeds of up to 35 and 55 miles an hour. At Vermont, Normandie, Western and Crenshaw, which abut large urban schools, parks and places of worship, crossing gates aren't even proposed. Twenty-one of the 27 proposed street level crossings have no gates.
This design has proved to be unsafe, evidenced by the accident record of the MTA's Blue Line, which enroute to Long Beach from downtown L.A. carves through the communities of South L.A., Watts, Willowbrook and Compton, and is the deadliest light rail line in the country, with 818 accidents and 90 deaths.
The Expo Line's close proximity to more than a dozen schools, in particular the 2,100-student Dorsey High School (which would be 10-feet from the tracks) and 3,500-student Foshay Learning Center (50-feet from the tracks) has prompted resolutions opposing all, or portions, of the street level design from United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) Parent Collaborative, and legal action by the LAUSD Board of Education. All are concerned that children will be lost, such as 14-year-old Lavert Baker, Jr., who never made it home from school last year because he was killed by a Blue Line train that was carrying his sister. Lavert is one of more than a dozen youth and young adults who have met similar unfortunate fates on the tracks of MTA trains.
Throughout the planning stages of the Expo Line, parents, teachers and residents expressed concerns about the safety and environmental impacts of the street-level design-in South L.A. and Culver City. The Culver City City Council heard the voices of its constituents and responded by passing motions prohibiting the street level crossings MTA had originally planned for their cities.
Recognizing the power of a municipality, MTA bowed to Culver City's demands, adding costly overpasses realigning National Boulevard and shifting a station platform so that Phase 1 of the Expo Line would not have any street-level crossings west of La Cienega Boulevard. The result is a 100-year project that west of La Cienega requires no child to walk across tracks, gridlocks, no traffic, delays no emergency services and inflicts no noise pollution, while imposing all of these burdens and more east of La Cienega in South L.A.
This discrepancy is perhaps best illustrated by the vast disparity in the amount of tax dollars MTA is spending for their one-mile of the Expo Line from La Cienega to the Robertson Blvd. terminus in Culver City ($185 million for the one mile) compared with the 4.5 miles in South L.A. (just $31 million per mile, for a total of $140 million).
South L.A. paid its taxes for Phase 1 of the Expo Line: $35 million from the City of L.A. versus just $4 million from Culver City. Yet, we're receiving a substantially lower return, and expected to bear greater hardship, including the ultimate calamities-the loss of life and limb.
Shared tax burdens should result in shared benefits. Thus, if the MTA and mayor hear the concerns of South L.A. and invest in life-saving and community-preserving grade separations, particularly near our schools, we're prepared to support this sales tax hike. But expecting South L.A. taxpayers to accept the street-level Expo Line design, while forcing us to pay for a subway under Hancock Park, Beverly Hills and Century City is simply adding insult to injury and furthering MTA's discriminatory tactics.
(On August 11, a Public Utilities Commission hearing officer took the street-level component of the Expo Line plan off the table, ruling, "….It appears that a grade level separation at Farmdale (Dorsey High School) is, in fact, practicable"-a major victory for opponents of street level trains in South L.A.)
Larry Aubry can be contacted at e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org