The Expo Line … One Big Step Closer to Reality on the Westside

TRANSIT TALK-It's said that no good deed goes unpunished, but the Westside will soon have to grapple with the benefits and challenges of a major mass transit line running through Culver City through West LA and ending up in Santa Monica. And make no bones about it -- there are both solid benefits and thorny challenges to be confronted. 

On Friday, January 15, 2016, roughly 15 years after it was approved by Metro in 2001, the Expo Line Construction Authority handed control of the Exposition Light Rail Line to Metro to begin pre-revenue service (testing, troubleshooting, analysis but no actual commuters yet.) 

The Expo Line was and is a very special moment in both county and grassroots politics. Its main support came not from the top down but from the non-profit, volunteer organization Friends4Expo Transit  which was founded, led, and co-chaired by Santa Monica resident Darrell Clarke and several others at a time when the Internet, modern grassroots advocacy, and neighborhood councils were all in their earliest stages of development.  

The Friends4Expo Transit was itself championed by both those in power and ordinary residents who -- as the memory of the LA riots faded and an awareness developed that gridlock was destroying our quality of life -- realized that Los Angeles needed new paradigms in both mobility and development. Initial outreach from Metro came in the form of two special engineers -- David Mieger and Tony Loui -- who provided guidance, updates, and education. 

LA and other Westside, Mid-City and Downtown residents needed their cars because buses alone cost most commuters more time and patience than they could tolerate, and because greater access to a reviving Downtown was imperative to reestablishing an urban core necessary for Los Angeles County to become a major national and worldwide economic power. 

Friends4Expo Transit intentionally had co-chairs and an inner circle made up of both men and women, and of individuals of both black and white ethnicities, and were both Westside and Mid-City residents. Outreach to grassroots and political entities was foremost and was performed with virtually no budget whatsoever. 

The grassroots and political powerhouses of the City and County of Los Angeles really didn't know what to make of Friends4Expo Transit, whose members paid out countless of their own dollars and devoted years to the work of overcoming the political and economic obstacles necessary to make the Expo Line a reality. 

There were more local and political obstacles to overcome than could possibly be described here, and the struggle to create a proper, well-built, and environmentally-friendly Expo Line was a tedious, prolonged fight which still goes on today. Even the formation of the Expo Line Construction Authority did not end the struggle – and arguably that Authority's leadership may have created a few problems. 

Only when the Authority did true outreach to community leaders and Friends4Expo supporters did things begin to happen; but issues such as native plants, station design and allowing the existence of the accompanying Expo Bikeway was and are still ongoing points of contention. 

This is particularly true for the Expo Bikeway that still remains a hotbed of contention in the Cheviot Hills region that had been the focal point of opposition to the Expo Light Rail Line. 

It is certainly not the fault of either Metro or Friends4Expo Transit that the City of LA has problematic and potentially illegal tendencies to overdevelop, thwarting both its own City Charter and CEQA law, the question of whether a "Pandora's Box" has been opened weighs heavy on the minds and hearts of those who fought for the Expo Line. 

People who gave it their all fighting for the Expo Line were and are also being strong-armed by City of LA and Santa Monica leaders and planners whenever issues of common-sense zoning, congestion, and environmental law arise. 

Following the approval and initial construction of the Expo Line between Downtown and Culver City, momentum for mass transit throughout the county helped pass a half-cent sales tax (Measure R).  A decade ago, the empowerment of county residents and political leaders, influenced by the passage of the Expo Line, helped Measure R pass by an overwhelming majority of county voters. 

Yet the modern-day debates over Planning and Mobility in both Santa Monica and Los Angeles threaten whether a "Measure R-2" will achieve the 2/3 voter threshold this November that is needed for voters to approve more local funding to jumpstart transportation and mass transit. 

But it began with Westside and Mid-City grassroots voters and organizations willing to take a big chance on mass transit and who were optimistic yet concerned about what the Expo Line will bring. 

And, depending on how much local governments respond or fail to establish a successful Expo Line, will see whether the same grassroots that got the City/County powers-that-be to create the Expo Line will change course to halt more mass transit because of overdevelopment this November. 

Let's just hope and remember that -- in an era where ordinary citizens feel less empowered than ever -- that the Expo Line is a symbol of what ordinary individuals could do if they put their collective hearts and minds into a singular project: a rail line, the Expo Line, which is hoped and meant to connect us and bring us together.

 

(Ken Alpern is a Westside Village Zone Director and Board member of the Mar Vista Community Council (MVCC), 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 CD11Transportation Advisory Committee and chairs the nonprofit Transit Coalition, and can be reached at  [email protected].   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 14 Issue 6

Pub: Jan 19, 2016