L.A. leaders call on MTA to put rail station in Leimert Park Village [Updated]
Government, community and cultural leaders gathered in Leimert Park on Wednesday to declare a “unified front” in their quest for additions to the planned Crenshaw/Los Angeles International Airport rail line that will run through South L.A. and Inglewood.
Construction of the $1.7-billion line is expected to begin next year, but to the dismay of many in South Los Angeles, it is not scheduled to include a stop in historic Leimert Park Village.
The Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority will vote Thursday on whether to add a station there -- at a cost of about $148 million -- and whether to put underground a one-mile section at Park Mesa Heights. That would cost an additional $269 million, officials estimate.
“We declare that building this project, moving a rail line along the Crenshaw corridor and not having a station at Leimert Park ... just doesn't work,” said MTA board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who has formally called for the two additions. To not place a station there would be "essentially to overlook the significance of this iconic destination for not only this community, not only the county of Los Angeles ... but for the entirety of the nation,” he said.
Some MTA officials are dubious, saying a station at Leimert Park Village would serve only an estimated 840 riders a day and that it would involve shifting money from other projects.
But Ridley-Thomas said his aides have identified sufficient funds in Metro’s proposed spending that could go toward the additions and that there are few excuses not to approve the change. Metro staff, however, said Wednesday it was unclear if the identified money could be used for the project.
[Updated at 4:14 p.m.: “We don’t recommend that the board defer those [planned] projects and take the money and use it for Crenshaw,” Yale said.
He said that the Crenshaw Line project is already about $50 million over budget even before the proposed additions, and that it is important for the agency to follow through on planned projects.
“We can’t do it; it’s too much,” Yale said of the amount of money needed for the additions. “We don’t recommend that the board do it because of the trade-offs that would be necessary to accomplish it.”]
Community leaders have argued that it’s the right thing to do for South L.A., would make Leimert Park Village even more of a cultural draw, and that funds could be provided if Metro officials and board members made the additions a priority.
“This is an old story in America. An old story where when it comes to transportation issues, communities of color get left out, communities of color get left behind,” said Tavis Smiley, host of the "Tavis Smiley" show on PBS as well as radio programs. “This city is better than that,” he said.
Smiley’s office is in Leimert Park and he hosted the news conference.
“I hope the MTA will do the right thing tomorrow,” Smiley said.
The 8.5-mile line would run from the Expo Line at Exposition Boulevard down Crenshaw Boulevard through Inglewood, ending at the Green Line near LAX.
Officials said they hope to open the line by 2018 -– some have said it could open as early as 2016 -– and predict it will carry between 12,000 and 20,000 riders each weekday.
Also on hand Wednesday were several leaders of economic development groups, the Los Angeles Urban League, activists and Ridley-Thomas and Smiley’s friend, philosophy professor Dr. Cornel West, who had stopped in L.A. on his way to China with Smiley.
“I do hope that wisdom is enacted tomorrow in this vote,” West said. “So the everyday people here in Leimert Park, the everyday people in South Central, will have their dignity affirmed.”
-- Ari Bloomekatz
Photo: Attendees stand in front of a map of a planned Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor during an Oct. 20 news conference in Leimert Park. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times