Santa Monica: Three-way deal reached on Expo Line buffer for maintenance facility
By Gary Walker
An exchange of land that will create a buffer park for the maintenance facility for the second stage of the Exposition Transit Corridor was approved Nov. 27 by the Santa Monica City Council.
The council briskly green-lighted the transaction with a unanimous vote after a brief explanation from Deputy City Manager Kate Vernez.
Santa Monica College, Santa Monica and the Exposition Construction Authority are the entities involved in the transaction.
The properties involved include 2909 and 2900 Exposition Blvd. and 3400/3500 Airport Ave.
The maintenance yard, which was a source of controversy for nearly three years, will service light rail cars from the Metro Expo Line.
In a Nov. 23, 2010 vote, the council authorized agreements between Metro and the college to obtain a site for the buffer park and maintenance facility. At that time, the complex exchange entailed SMC selling its parking lot at Stewart Street and Exposition Boulevard to the city. Santa Monica officials would have then sold the land to Expo, which owns the right-of-way where the buffer area is located and would sell that parcel to the city.
The newly constructed deal involves Expo and SMC exchanging ownership of properties on Exposition. The college will retain the option to purchase the new property of non-aviation airport land that they have identified.
“This change provides the college with a lease for the airport land and the city now will also have a long-term lease for the buffer park,” explained Vernez. “The college still has an option to purchase the land and the city’s lease of the buffer park converts to city ownership of the buffer when the college is able to own the non-aviation land.
“It is the city’s intent that this should occur as soon as feasible.”
Irma Carranza of the Pico Neighborhood Association expressed her support for the project on the condition that the buffer remain in place and not be removed.
“It’s been a long road working with residents to get the buffer and assurances that we would get the buffer,” she said.
The tone of the meeting contrasted with public hearings in the past, attended by residents of Stewart Park and the nearby Pico Neighborhood. Once largely composed of minority homeowners and apartment dwellers, the east Santa Monica neighborhood is within minutes of Interstate 10 and is surrounded by a mix of light industrial businesses, including the city’s waste transfer station, as well as the Santa Monica Museum of Art and art galleries.
At prior meetings concerns about safety from residents like Eleanor Path, who lives on nearby Delaware Avenue, were echoed by others.
“By going under the dangerous at-ground level, the train crossing at Stewart Street would be safer for Santa Monica College students walking from their parking lot on Stewart to the campus on the other side of Olympic (Boulevard)” Path said at a December meeting two years ago.
Carranza seemed philosophical about the buffer and the maintenance yard.
“No one’s happy about the maintenance yard, but if this is what’s going to happen, at least the residents can benefit from it,” she said.
The second phase of the Expo Line will have three stops in Santa Monica: at Bergamot Station, near Olympic and 26th Street; mid city at Colorado Avenue and 17th Street; and at the end of the line, Colorado and Fourth Street.
The light rail line is slated to arrive in Santa Monica in 2016. §