ALPERN AT LARGE-History was made, or at least came full circle, last Thursday afternoon. Approximately 7-8 years after the Green Line Interagency Task Force was arranged by then-CD11 Councilmember Bill Rosendahl, now-CD11 Councilmember Mike Bonin called together City and County officials, LAWA and Metro officials, and the community together to announce a potential way to bring all sides together and connect LAX with MetroRail.
And as I informed that very important gathering of about 40 or so dignitaries, community representatives, grassroots leaders and political forces...all I could think was, "I see a lot of C's here!"
"C" as in Completion--Roderick Diaz and his Metro team has done an extraordinary job of balancing so many forces it almost boggles the mind. Mid-City/Crenshaw forces, LAWA (LA World Airport) forces, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) forces, South Bay forces, Westside forces and grassroots transportation advocates like myself. It hasn't been easy, but we now have the ability of fixing the MetroRail/LAX Connection.
As I explained in one of my recent CityWatch articles], too much oxygen in the room has been used for the first part of the namesake of the Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line ("Crenshaw"), and not enough has been used for the "LAX" part of the line.
And it's not Metro's fault. There are so many moving parts here, I'm surprised that Roderick Diaz, Cory Zelmer, Fanny Pan and Renee Berlin from Metro haven't gone crazy...but I suppose that's their job. There are legal issues, however, that Metro must adhere to, and so political will must step up to support and not undermine Metro's efforts to bring together the Mid-City, the Westside, LAX and the South Bay via light rail.
"C" as in Conundrum--Ask anyone about connecting MetroRail to LAX, and you'll get a different answer from every person who believes that THEY have the perfect solution. Most of us have no idea of the legal, fiscal, operational and engineering limitations of every option considered, so feel free to learn the history and get smarter about what REALLY happened with this issue from Steve Hymon of Metro.
As the aforementioned article shows, Metro and LAWA have come up with a huge host of ideas to connect the Crenshaw/LAX Line to the LAX central terminals. They have NOT been asleep at the switch, although their growing convergence of ideas is arguably decades overdue.
But connect LAX to MetroRail we must, so let's not blame Metro for the new consensus that's suddenly come up over the last few weeks...after four years of cities and county approval of a Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail Line that included a routing along Aviation Boulevard, with a prominent Century/Aviation station to boot, that would potentially connect with a LAX People Mover.
Yet everyone knew that the LAX linkage at Century/Aviation was nebulous, unfunded and legally challenging. The rail right of way that Metro owns is by far too much to the east to please all parties, but we didn't have the Consensus, Planning and Funding to fix this...yet!
"C" as in Collegiality--That meeting room was filled with good will, a desire to avoid blame, and an urge to focus on the future.
One of the smartest phrases I've ever heard Mike Bonin promote was and is to "fall forward". To "fall forward" means to recognize but not dwell on the errors of the past--much of which are too late for fixing--but to focus on the issues that can be addressed and fixed, and to make sure the errors aren't repeated.
Yes, I wish that LAWA had been more cooperative in the 1990's, when the Green Line was originally built--and I certainly wish that the FAA was and would still be more cooperative (even today!). But despite Metro taking the blame for LAWA's intransigence in the 1990's, we've got a Green Line that has its first phase built decades before planned as part of the I-105 freeway effort...
...and with the potential to have future connections and extensions not only to the South Bay (the Galleria Mall, Torrance), to Norwalk (and the Metrolink network at the Norwalk station), to LAX and to the Westside.
None of these had or has a glimmer of being created without the painful and courageous first step that Metro did in the 1990's by creating the Green Line in the first place, while being screamed at by everyone about its shortcomings.
You need not be aware of the heat and opposition that Metro took from local cities and political forces while it studied LAX, Westside, South Bay and Norwalk connections and extensions during the 1990's, but those of us active in Friends of the Green Line during its heyday a decade ago are quite aware of it.
But now it's time to follow CD11 Councilmember Mike Bonin's advice and "fall forward" as these same cities and political forces are demanding Metro include a proper, comprehensive and newly-promoted LAX connection to the Crenshaw/LAX Line.
LAWA now has a new land use plan (see below) that includes three potential MetroRail/LAX connections:
1) At the aforementioned and Metro-approved Century/Aviation station, or
2) A Metro-proposed (and expensive) underground station west of Sepulveda with an underground light rail line to connect the Metro Green and Crenshaw Lines directly under LAX, or
3) At an Intermodal Transportation Facility (ITF) at 98th/Airport/Jenny with a connecting People Mover and an underground Metro station, but with a westward diversion of the Crenshaw/LAX Line that would replace the Century/Aviation station with a station closer to the airport
"C" as Capital--Both fiscal and political capital are at stake here, but the third option, dubbed by Mike Bonin last Thursday afternoon as the "LAX Connect" option, is the one that is being promoted now with a sudden upsurge and collective support from LAWA and Westside forces in an effort that can only be described as breathtaking.
The westward deviation of the Crenshaw/LAX Line, so very late in the political and legal process (AFTER the Metro Board-approval, awarding of contractor bids) that would replace the Century/Aviation station and establish a People Mover to connect the ITF to the central airport terminals to the west, and the Consolidated Rental Car Facility (CONRAC) to the east, has been estimated to cost an extra $600 million.
To my understanding, this $600 million will not include the People Mover. So let's make it clear to anyone reading this that a true MetroRail/LAX connection would cost about $1-1.5 billion under any circumstances, because we've got the north-south rail connections (from the Expo to the Green Lines) and the east-west rail connections (LAX central terminals, airport-adjacent hotels, CONRAC and perhaps even Inglewood) to consider.
Yet there are three pieces of good news:
1) Gina Marie Lindsey, Executive Director of LAWA, in response to my query about who would pay for this, announced she would not, and could not, legally give a blank check to Metro (which is only fair and logical), but did announce that LAWA would pay for the underground Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail station at the ITF.
2) Everyone there made it clear that the People Mover would not be a second-rate bus system but rather a first-rate rail system, able to operate 24-7 and probably automated. Presumably this would be funded predominantly by LAWA. Legally, LAWA can only pay for only one station outside of LAX-owned property, so the Cities of L.A. and Inglewood, as well as the airport-adjacent hotels, would have to pony up funds for more stations.
3) Roderick Diaz announced that no matter which of the three linkages between LAX and the Crenshaw/LAX Line, there WILL be a future north-south Westside line (either up Lincoln or Sepulveda Blvds.) that will operationally be part of the Green Line to Norwalk, as well as another line created by the Crenshaw Line that will be linked to the South Bay Green Line.
...and as for the rest of the $600 million to pay for this westward extension, my guess is that there will need to be more promises made by the City of L.A. and by LAWA if their option is to win over the Metro Board and Metro staff at this post-eleventh hour time.
The ITF, and more information on this LAWA- and CD11-supported proposal can be read about and seen below:
"C" as in Commerce--Issues of operations abound, but the upside of a People Mover (versus the more direct under-LAX approach promoted by Metro, which in previous CityWatch articles I have supported) is that it can operate up to every 2 minutes on a 24-7 schedule, whereas a Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail line run by Metro can only operate every 5-10 minutes and may not be able to operate 24-7 because of legal and fiscal constraints.
Yet much of the equation involving this connection between LAX and MetroRail also involves the commercial business district next to LAX. This business district, in addition to Downtown L.A. and the Wilshire Corridor, is so ripe for upside development that it stands to become as huge as any Downtown Convention Center or other tourist destination elsewhere in the City of LA.
The business district east of L.A., coupled with the revitalization plan for the section of Inglewood next to the race track and Great Western Forum, allows and encourages a People Mover that is by far more than just an airport connection. It allows and encourages a commercial powerhouse to the east of LAX that merits its own transit line with prominent visibility from the 405 freeway, and to create outlet malls next to and even inside LAX.
Imagine a commercial district that isn't taking over adjacent residential districts and tracts, and with money going directly to the coffers of the City of Los Angeles, and establishing the LAX-adjacent region as a job-producing powerhouse...and the ITF/People Mover plan takes on an even greater attractiveness than just operations and legal realities of getting rail to the airport.
"C" as in Credibility--As the LA Times editorial board rightfully points out, this new "LAX Connect" proposal of Mike Bonin and LAWA is one which enjoys many upside possibilities, but must answer many difficult questions.
What about amenities--restaurants, baggage handling, elevators, escalators, and the like?
Will this work to the satisfaction and joy of tourists, LAX workers and commuters?
Where will all that money come from?
All vital questions, and it needs to be remembered that political consensus has to come first--we've all got to wrap our brain around this ITF/LAX Connect option and decide if we like it. My own changing preference from Century/Aviation, to the underground LAX rail route, and now to the LAX Connect/People Mover option is one that reminds me (and perhaps anyone reading this) how doggone hard these issues are to figure out and fix.
But it can be done.
By getting more promised funds from the City of LA and LAWA, and from Sacramento and Washington, if the right deals are made.
By focusing more on this LAX Connect and a full Foothill Gold Line to Claremont in the Metro Long Range Transportation Plan as a way to get more countywide support for an extension of Measure R (no new taxes, just an extension of our current sales tax decades in the future) so that we can borrow and fund this and other immediate projects from future projected revenues.
By getting the City Attorney, Mike Feuer (author of Measure R), to come up with a motion for a Mitigated Negative Declaration for the City Council to pass, instead of a costly and years-long EIR review process, for the ITF/LAX Connect option.
And perhaps for our new Mayor Garcetti, Metro Boardmembers Mike Bonin and Don Knabe, and the rest of the Metro Board to write up a new Metro Long Range Transportation Plan and an extension of Measure R that the county can vote on as early as the 2014 election cycle.
This can be done, and done by us--right now--in this moment of political opportunity and linkage between all the different political and grassroots forces that can get this done.
If we can only "C" it happen, and "C" it through, for our Children, Community and Collective Vision for the future.
Vol 11 Issue 83
Pub: Oct 15, 2013