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From the Orange Line to LAX to JMB: It’s Beginning to Get Exciting!

GETTING THERE FROM HERE-My commitment to transportation/urban planning was strengthened at--of all places--the vacation-town of Aspen, Colorado, which is my last stop on a busy/exciting family vacation.  As my family was comparing their favorite national parks/destinations and playing "I Spy' while at dinner, I could not help but overhear the passionate conversation four young people were having at the table right beside us--LA transit and overdensification! 

I could not ignore the foursome, who all lamented the overdensification and lack of mobility and problems with transit in LA.  Two were from Orange County, and two were from the San Fernando Valley, but it was the latter two whose ideas merit the most attention (more on them later, at the end of this piece).  But for starters, all four loved the walkability and layout of Aspen as a welcome change from LA. 

So in honor of my two Valley neighbors (we struck up a nice and brief conversation after my family had finished our dinner), I'll start with a relatively major revolution in transit in the Valley: 

1) The San Fernando Valley has finally united to form a decades-overdue advocacy for the Orange Line Busway to be converted to a Light Rail Line! 

The Valley Industry and Commerce Association (VICA) has launched a coalition aimed at bringing rail transit to the San Fernando Valley called "Valley on Track".  Furthermore, this group also supports creating a rail system along the East San Fernando Valley Transit Corridor and tunneling under the Sepulveda Pass to create yet another rail system. 

VICA President Stuart Waldman is spot on in advocating the need to make freeways better and to allow people to get out of their cars, and that the best way to do that is with rail.  I've no doubt that behind his sentiments are the efforts and discussions of many, including my Transit Coalition colleague (and Valley resident) Bart Reed and the neighborhood councils of the Valley. 

While the Sepulveda Pass rail project--which is front and center the number one priority for this corridor after the 405 freeway project widening project is completed--has tentative support but is many years away, there is clear unified sentiment of Valley electeds was to convert the Orange Line Busway into a rail line.  

Furthermore, Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian of Van Nuys has sponsored a bill to repeal the 1991 legislation of former State Senator Alan Robbins (limiting transit projects on the Orange Line right of way to either a subway or a dedicated busway).  This bill has just passed the Transportation and Housing Committee, so it's hoped that the San Fernando Valley get catch up with the rest of the county. 

And WHY did the Robbins bill get passed?  Simple NIMBYism...yet the 1990's was an era when most of us were at a different place than we are now.  The Red Line subway effort had gotten hideously cost-inefficient, and Zev Yaroslavsky killed future subway construction until Metro (and its then-inappropriate Board) got its act together. 

Furthermore, at that time even Zev Yaroslavsky and House Rep. Henry Waxman primarily served the needs of the Westside NIMBY's who opposed the Wilshire and Expo Lines they have now championed. 

Despite Transit Coalition pleas, the Valley electeds of the 1990's and 2000's were NOT willing to reverse the Robbins bill, and backstabbed efforts by Caltrans to widen or just to even out the 101 freeway chokepoints (at local freeway narrowings).  Valley electeds and the mobs blindly spouted out "Transit!" (whatever the heck they thought that meant) while not being able to unite for a true Orange Line light rail alternative. 

So the Valley got its Busway, which all transit/transportation advocates knew was entirely insufficient to do the job of providing an alternative to the 101 freeway--some of us even coined a spoof advocacy group called Friends Of the Orange Line, or FOOL .  Pragmatically, and in hindsight, when money and support was scarce, this Orange Line Busway was a "rabbit out of the hat" performed by Zev Yaroslavsky. 

Yet now the Valley IS ready, and its residents are more familiar with transit and willing to work together for a first-rate line that should connect Warner Center with the Red Line...and perhaps even the Gold Line--the latter of which was a Downtown to Pasadena light rail line that was yet "another rabbit out of the hat" performed by Mike Antonovich and other east LA County and San Gabriel Valley officials. 

It's hoped that BOTH Valleys can get their light rails studied and/or funded (the SGV wants a full Gold Line to Claremont, and they deserve it).  10-15 years ago we agonized over how we were going to fix the 101/405 freeway interchange and finish widening the 405 freeway...but we did all that.  Now it's on to the next steps, eluding us potentially for no longer if our electeds and our voters can muster the political will... 

...and speaking of political will... 

2) Metro staff has now come out in favor of not one but two light rail stations on the Metro Crenshaw/LAX Light rail line, and to work with LAWA to connect that light rail line to the central terminals via a People Mover rail line! 

I'll just preface my next remarks with a statement that both Metro and LAWA planners have done yeoman's work trying to figure out how to connect the north-south Crenshaw/LAX light rail line (linking the Expo and Green Lines) to both LAX in the west and Inglewood in the east.  They've toiled on this for years, and it's a very thorny and challenging problem, with legal and geographic hurdles confounding this LAX/Metro Rail link for decades. 

And while I'm very fond and respectful of both groups of planners, I just hope that the latest report of the Airport Metro Connector takes both long-range plans (both Metro and LAWA) into consideration.  Metro staff will have presented to the Planning & Programming Committee and Construction Committee this week, and it will be interesting to see if acrimony or consensus will be had by all parties. 

I still believe that LAWA's plans for a Consolidated Rental Car Facility, and its overall road/freeway access plan, must align with Metro's right of way on Aviation Blvd.  I am very well aware (and have been extremely critical in the past) of LAWA's tardy introduction of the Intermodal Transit Facility alternative proposed for Airport and 96th Street, which will be both expensive and challenging.  

Yet I still favor this "LAX Connect" proposal it as the best method to both: 

1) Create a series of airport access points to benefit commuters from the Westside and Valley, which the Metro- proposed rail stations at 96th/Aviation and Century/Aviation do NOT do as well as the LAWA-proposed station at Airport and 96th. 

2) Enhance and create a huge series of commercial/jobs centers from LAX to Westchester to Inglewood, with both a Metro-funded north-south light rail line and a LAWA-funded east-west People mover to spruce up the economy of 21st Century L.A. City and County. 

It will be expensive and thorny to embark on such a project, but Metro's report is a consensus-building step in the right direction.  Metro leaders such as Renee Berlin and Cory Zelmer deserve nothing but praise for their efforts...yet it's up to Eric Garcetti, Mike Bonin, Don Knabe and the rest of the Metro Board to figure this out and lead the rest of us to do the right thing. 

This Metro/LAX link is a huge public works project that is as daunting but praiseworthy as the Wilshire Subway, the 405 freeway widening through the Sepulveda Pass and the Downtown Light Rail Connector.  It's an overdue but huge effort that is about as large as anything in our nation or world...but we can do this, despite this being very complicated!   

Yes, it's a way to connect an east-west corridor to a north-south Crenshaw/LAX Rail Line, but perhaps creating both a LAWA-favored Airport/96th Street station and a Metro-favored Century/Aviation station could be a viable but ambitious compromise that results in a LAX Connect (unless LAWA now favors Metro's new ideas)? 

3) The proposed JMB Project in Century City, which violates a host of planning and legal City laws, is moving forward with a compromise presented to the City Planning Commission to promote better mitigation to adjacent/impacted neighborhoods! 

I could be cute and say that JMB stands for "Just Mitigated...Barely!", but it does have a lot of political support from both CD5 Councilmember Paul Koretz and other Downtown leaders...as well as a lot of opposition from all over the Westside from those of us dumb enough to think that laws and Community Plans matter.  Mitigation might be the answer. 

Or not. 

As with other projects, sometimes something is just too big and breaks too many laws, but while I'm not sure if CD5 Councilmember Paul Koretz deserves condemnation and praise (or both!) in helping to arrange this tentative deal to mitigate Pico/Robertson impacts, Koretz's own conflicts of interest with the JMB promoters/lobbyists are no less inappropriate than many Westside homeowner associations. 

As describes in a rather jaw-dropping piece, the homeowner associations of the Westside who surprisingly supported the JMB project stand to collect millions of dollars if JMB goes through the Downtown approval process.    

These Westside homeowner associations know who they are, and while they can be apologists or spin-doctors or shoot the messenger (be it me or anyone else), I would love more residents of these homeowner associations to learn about the JMB project and what their "leaders" did.  I frankly doubt that they even know about what that project means to Westside mobility. 

I am pleased that the ability for those unsatisfied with the tentative compromise between JMB and adjacent and regional neighborhoods can still pursue other mitigations in court, and I am doubly pleased that the City can't touch this mitigation money. 

Yet I want everyone reading this to know that both the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee, as well as both Mar Vista and Westside Village, supported those opposing the JMB project. 

This was NOT local NIMBYism, but rather a regional opposition to a project that would be illegal in most cities to even get as far as it has.   

And if any developer wants to pay off any homeowner/neighborhood association in Mar Vista and Westside Village so they can break the law, I can proudly say that I represent those regions with the following sentiment: 

Mar Vista and Westside Village don't want your bedamned money.  Just build the right traffic and infrastructure mitigations and provide sufficient community benefits to justify any variants...and if that's impossible, then build a smaller, sustainable project the community can live with! 

...but back to Aspen, and the foursome who complained about how impossible it was to get from Santa Monica to Pasadena, and how lousy and slow the transit was, and how no one wants to live Downtown, and how LA is six cities crammed into one very large city.   

In particular, the duo from the Valley were not offended by the "I'm sorry but I couldn't help but overhear..." line I started with as my family was leaving the restaurant.  They were excited by what the Expo, Pasadena, Downtown Light Rail Connector and other projects were all about, and by the volunteer efforts of myself and others. 

They were pleased to know that transit was coming to the Valley and that Downtown was more livable, and that the walkability and livability of our City and County were being addressed, and the right challenges confronted.  They were passionate about what was going on, and grateful--even with the tax increases I played a small role in promoting because of my support for Measure R. 

They were loyal to the Valley and to the City of LA, and looked forward to a City (even Downtown) where walkability and transit weren't lousy experiences confined to those who couldn't afford otherwise, and looked forward to some day retiring in such a City.  They also wanted a City that didn't routinely break the law and overdevelop, and which hurts the environment, our economy and our quality of life. 

I joked that if we lived long enough, we'd see amazing things over the next 10-15 years.  Yet it was their interest and passion reinforced my own efforts to stay involved in these sorts of issues.  They really taught me, and reinforced a few ideas, that evening. 

But until we can get our City and County back in working order, (to quote the duo from the Valley), we'll always have our brief sojourn in Aspen.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCCT), previously co-chaired its Planning and Outreach Committees, and currently is Co-Chair of its MVCC Transportation/Infrastructure Committee.  He is co-chair of the CD11 Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at Alpern@MarVista.org .   He also does regular commentary on the Mark Isler Radio Show on AM 870, and co-chairs the grassroots Friends of the Green Line at www.fogl.us .   The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.)

-cw

 

 

 

 

CityWatch

Vol 12 Issue 50

Pub: June 20, 2014