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The Crenshaw Light Rail Experience: What Has Mark Ridley-Thomas Taught Us?

(Ed note: The building of the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line has provided its fair share of contention over the months … street-level crossings vs. tunnels and a Leimert Park station among them. Last Thursday, the Metro Board voted to support a Leimert Park stop but did not approve any funding to pay for it. Here is the report on the meeting.  Here [Link] is Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ statement on the meeting outcome. And here are small business owner, Robert Leabow’s thoughts on Mark Ridley-Thomas’ actions.)

VOICES - What has Mark Ridley Thomas taught us?  Plain and simple, pork barrel spending is alive and doing very well in Los Angeles County today.  Thank you, Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas for demonstrating pork barrel spending to the nth degree at Metro’s last Board Meeting.  These are my own opinions and not necessarily the views of any organization that I’m associated with.

Last Thursday, May 26, 2011, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA or METRO) Boardmember (and County Supervisor) Mark Ridley Thomas reintroduced a motion to extend the subway part of the proposed Crenshaw/LAX light rail line about a mile south.  (Link)

He also pushed to add another station three blocks south of the proposed Martin Luther King and Crenshaw Station for a combined additional cost of approximately $400 million.  This motion to extend the subway would create a continuous subway line from north of Martin Luther King Blvd. south to Florence and West Blvd., including building an expensive Slauson Ave. subway station. (Link)

The $400 million for this pork barrel change is in addition to the current estimate of $1.715 billion price tag to build this 8.5-mile line.

Mark Ridley Thomas tried in April to sneak this motion through by introducing it at the last minute to meet the 72-hour legal requirement for the issue to be voted on at the April meeting.  The late filing kept Metro’s staff from doing a complete study.  The Board in its wisdom carried the motion over until their May meeting, to have staff review and comment on this pork barrel motion.  (Link)

Is this pork barrel spending necessary?  The unbiased project consultants, who did a comprehensive study of the complete route and its surrounding neighborhoods, examined all the factors (among them cost, safety, traffic volumes and neighborhood impacts) and concluded that a Leimert Park station and extending the subway from 48th street to 59th street was not required.  The proposed saving in travel time by extending the subway would be offset by adding an extra station with no overall gain in travel time.

The Metro Board voted 10-3 to deny the subway extension, with Mark Ridley Thomas voting in favor along with two other board members.

A compromise was then reached for the proposed Leimert Park station, with the station being built if the cost did not exceed the total budget.  The bidders would submit three different figures for the project: one without the station, one creating a box so a station could be built later if funds were found, and one including the station.  If no station or box could be built within budget, an at-grade station two short blocks south was authorized provided the funding comes from other sources.

However, Mark Ridley Thomas did not agree with any compromise and voted NO on that motion, which passed 9-3.

Mark Ridley Thomas’ propaganda machine was in full force trying to justify this expenditure with the common motherhood arguments without any documentation, such as safety, too close to schools, hurting business and especially racial equity.  For the meeting, chartered buses took his supporters to the meeting, which packed the Board chamber and other rooms. Also accompanying him were other black elected officials to support his pork barrel motion.

The Crenshaw/LAX light-rail line was part of Measure R (link) that was approved by over 2/3rds of ALL Los Angeles County voters. This included all parts of the county, which includes projects for all regions, not just for Leimert Park.   

Art Leahy, Metro CEO stated the 2035 ridership would be 20,210, about one fourth of today’s Blue Line ridership with both the Gold and Green Lines each now experiencing about twice the projected 2035 Crenshaw/LAX line ridership.  This projected ridership is even less than the San Fernando Valley’s $330 million, 14-mile Bus Rapid Transit Orange Line ridership. (Link)

In the past, Metro Board Member Mark Ridley Thomas introduced a motion that was passed to have Metro’s Grade-Separation Policy updated.  Now he does not want to follow the Policy’s guidelines that were updated by professional qualified traffic engineers.

Arcadia voted themselves a bond to fund a grade-separation betterment on Santa Anita Ave with the Foothill Gold Line. Los Angeles City is funding Expo’s bridge over Sepulveda.  None of these funds are coming out of their respective budgets from Metro.

Both the proposed 5th Street Downtown Regional Connector Station was omitted from that project as well as a requested subway under Cheviot Hills were turned down for lack of funds.  Western and Farmdale Expo’s light rail line crossings next to schools remained as at-grade street crossings.  The Blue and Gold lines both travel close to schools with no problems.  With technology and engineering advancing all the time, this line will be built even safer.

Now, crybaby Mark Ridley Thomas wanted to steal money from all the Stakeholders for his Pork Barrel Projects that may benefit (or even hurt) only a very small handful of business owners in Leimert Park.  He doesn't seem to care about all the 9,848,011 stakeholders in Los Angeles County who want, need and yes, deserve an outstanding integrated public transportation network.  (Link)

Mark Ridley Thomas will not give up on his pork barrel desire, “… and they [Metro Board] have to be open to ultimately doing the right thing."   (LA Times – May 27, 2011)  By whose definition is the “right thing”?   Is it just possible that the majority of Metro’s Board did the “right thing”?  Yes, they did the right thing.  (Link)

We need to take all politics out of public transportation and look at the complete transportation system that benefits and is fair for all of Los Angeles County.

(Robert Leabow is a Small Business Owner, Friends of the Green Line co-chair, Los Angeles County Department of Public Works retiree, Former member of the Rolling Hills Estates Planning Commission. and an Operation Lifesaver volunteer rail safety certified presenter.  He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ) -cw





CityWatch
Vol 9 Issue 43
Pub: May 31, 2011

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