The light rail train that is scheduled to arrive in Santa Monica in 2016 has enjoyed generous support from the residents and elected leaders of this affluent coastal city, which will have three stops on the Mid-Cities Exposition Light Rail line.
But protests from the cityís elected officials, members of its artistic community and homeowners near Stewart Park are raising concerns about a maintenance facility for the train proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) that some believe may threaten the revitalization of the area and an arts complex that has become a destination for art connoisseurs.
An environmental impact study identified a location adjacent to Exposition Boulevard along the Metro-owned right-of-way as the best alternative for a maintenance facility that would service the light rail as it winds its way from Bergamot Station, the first stop in Santa Monica, on its way to Fourth Street.
But if the structure, which would be operated on a 24-hour basis on land owned by Verizon, were to be built there, Bergamot Station, the cityís thriving arts complex, would be displaced, according to one local gallery owner.
ìIf they build the maintenance facility at the Verizon property, it could be the end of us,î Wayne Blank, co-proprietor of the Shoshana Wayne Gallery, told The Argonaut. ìBergamot Station is a tremendous asset to the community and we want to keep it that way.î
Samantha Bricker, the chief operating officer of the Exposition Construction Authority, denied that the arts center is in jeopardy.
ìOur recommendation does not involve Bergamot Station,î Bricker told The Argonaut. ìIt is not mentioned in our DEIR (draft environmental impact report) and it is not a site that we are contemplating.î
Residents of the nearby Stewart Park neighborhood are also expressing their apprehension of having the facility near their homes. 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 cityís waste transfer station, as well as the Santa Monica Museum of Art and the art galleries.
Eleanor Path, a Stewart Park homeowner, says that it is unfair to ask ìone of the most racially and economically varied areas in Santa Monica to take the brunt of a 24-hour-a-day/seven-days-a-week, industrial train maintenance yard.
ìTo the neighborhood, this is an unjustifiable discrimination,î said Path, who is a proponent of the light rail line.
ìThe main concerns I have about the proposed maintenance facility (are) the safety risks and the environmental impact this maintenance yard would have on our neighborhood,î said Katie Ranne, who lives on Exposition Boulevard. ìThe Stewart Park neighborhood now backs up right into the 10 Freeway where there is constant noise.
ìTo put another noisy maintenance yard that would include testing of horns, brakes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, just two blocks away would be outrageous.î
Ranne said that she and her husband Jason both support the Expo Line, but not the location of the rail yard.
ì(We) think that it will be great for the city of Santa Monica and its residents,î she said. ìIt is also great for the environment and the traffic that all Los Angeles residents have to deal with on a daily basis.
ìAs an employee of a company in downtown L.A., I look forward to some day riding the light rail to and from work, not having to deal with the traffic every day.î
Santa Monica city leaders sent a letter to transportation officials opposing the Verizon site as the best alternative for the maintenance facility last month.
Councilman Kevin McKeown, who has been the most vocal local legislator opposing the proposed facility, introduced a motion at the March 3rd City Council meeting to oppose the construction of the maintenance structure, which passed unanimously.
In an interview in February, McKeown expressed his anxiety regarding Metro constructing the maintenance structure near the Stewart Park area.
ìIím concerned about the suggested rail maintenance yard in the Pico Neighborhood (near Stewart Street), directly across the street from multi-unit family housing. Whereís the environmental justice in that?î the councilman asked.
Blank, a developer who helped create Bergamot Station, says that the residents of Stewart Park and the art galleries feel that the reason given for building the maintenance yard near them was not made clear by Metro authorities.
ìMTA has not really explained how they can make this neighborhood-friendly,î he asserted.
Bricker said that the Verizon site fits all the necessary requirements for a light rail maintenance yard.
ìThere are certain criteria that we look for in this type of facility,î she explained. ìBeing adjacent to the light rail line and having the correct size and shape for that kind of facility is important, as is the zoning, which is already in place for a maintenance yard, and it was for sale.
ìIt was a very exhaustive process, looking for a site that was compatible with the light rail line.î
Bricker added that the authority is aware that the arts community, the council and a number of residents are anxious about the proposed facility.
ìWe understand that there is concern among some of the residents of the area,î Bricker said. ìWe are looking at other alternative sites, but right now, the (Verizon site) has been proposed as the best alternative for the project.î
Santa Monicans for Rentersí Rights has joined the chorus of opposition. Like the City Council, the group sent a letter to the Metro board asking it to reconsider.
ìThe proposed maintenance yard will be a hazard to the neighborhood due to noise pollution and 24-hour noise and lights,î said Patricia Hoffman, the chair of the organization.
ìThere is widespread community support for protecting this mixed-income neighborhood, and particularly for protecting the largely minority low-income renters who live closest to the proposed round-the-clock yard,î McKeown added.
The Rannes purchased their home as the neighborhood was in the midst of revitalization and they believe that the rail yard would set back the progress that it has made.
ìBecause of the upward progress and the potential we saw in the neighborhood, we purchased a house on Exposition Boulevard,î said Katie Ranne. ìOur neighborhood has been through many setbacks in its history, and we hope we donít have another one to battle in its upcoming chapter.î
Path proposed a different location for the MTA facility.
ìThe train maintenance yard could be placed under Bergamot,î suggested Path, who lives on Delaware Avenue.
She also believes that there are safety concerns by building the light rail line at grade, or ground level.
ìBy 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),î Path said.
McKeown and Blank want Metro authorities to know that they are proponents of the Expo Line, despite their objections to the proposed location of the maintenance facility.
ìPlease donít confuse our concern about the location of the maintenance yard with any second thoughts about having light rail,î the councilman said.
ìThe completion of Expo is essential to a healthy economic and recreational life in Los Angeles,î Blank said. ìThis project will help alleviate severe congestion on freeways and surface streets that link the west and east sides of Los Angeles.î
The Metro Board of Directors will make the final decision on where the facility will be built, which will not be decided for several months, according to Bricker.
Santa Monica Councilwoman Pam OíConnor, who is a member of the Metro board, did not return calls for comment.
The board will vote on the alignment that will take the line to the beach on Thursday, April 2nd.