Local mass transit activists cry foul after Metro leaders push to name Westchester’s light rail station for an Inglewood nonprofit
By Gary Walker
Denny Schneider is used to butting heads with bureaucrats.
The Westchester resident has spent decades fighting LAX expansion efforts and is an elected member of his local neighborhood council.
An ardent mass transit supporter, Schneider frequently attends Metro board meetings and volunteered to serve on the Crenshaw/LAX Community Leadership Council, an advisory body appointed to represent the interests of residents and business owners during construction of the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line.
That was, until last week.
After the Metro board very nearly chose not to include Westchester’s name on a planned light rail station at Hindry Avenue that the community had fought for, Schneider threw up his hands and quit.
“For me, that illustrated how little we matter and how little [the Metro board] cares what we have to say,” Schneider said.
It wasn’t just about the name.
Over the objection of Schneider and other Westsiders, Metro authorities have chosen to place the Crenshaw/LAX line’s 18-acre maintenance yards — large enough to service 70 rail cars — in a largely industrial area at Arbor Vitae Street and Bellanca Avenue in Westchester. And that was after Westchester leaders protested initial plans to build the yards near Hindry Avenue, which would have forced demolition of the popular Westchester Playhouse and other buildings.
The Hindry Avenue station — the second-to-last stop before the 8.5-mile light rail line’s LAX-adjacent terminus — wasn’t always a given, either. It was initially proposed as an “optional” station before the board funded the project in 2013, meaning Westchester had to fight for community access to the rail line that would run through it. All the while, Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro board chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas pushed for another “optional” station at Leimert Park in South Los Angeles.
Schneider is also disappointed that Metro appears “adamant,” he said, about not providing additional parking for the hard-fought station at Hindry, which he fears will discourage local ridership.
“We had no real say in anything that ever occurred. I still believe in mass transit, but I just got tired of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic,” Schneider said.
So how did it come to this?
Following 10 community meetings last year to solicit recommendations for the Hindry Avenue station, Metro staff recommended using “Westchester” as the station’s operational and official name, according to Metro director of construction relations Yvette Rampose.
But at a July 23 meeting of the Metro board, Ridley-Thomas and Inglewood Mayor James Butts successfully moved to have the Hindry Avenue station rechristened “Westchester\Veterans” — a nod to the nonprofit U.S. Vets employment and housing center for military veterans, just east of the station in Inglewood.
Westside mass transit proponents say Metro leadership has been consistently tone deaf to Westchester’s needs.
“This station-naming needed to have open meetings to gather consensus, not a closed-door discussion between a handful of politicians,” said Ken Alpern, a Mar Vista resident and president of the Transit Coalition, a nonprofit transportation advocacy group.
“Every station has a name that identifies it with a community. The people at Metro were not really paying attention,” said Matthew Hetz, a Westchester resident who is a member of the local L.A. City Council district’s transportation committee.
In a letter to his Westchester constituents, L.A. City Councilman and Metro board member Mike Bonin said that Butts, a former Santa Monica police chief, had requested that the word “Veterans” be included in the Hindry Avenue station’s name to raise the visibility of the veterans resource center in such close proximity.
“Given that most of the people I heard from in my community wanted ‘Westchester,’ and given that the request from Inglewood sought to honor a nearby and under-recognized veterans facility, ‘Westchester/Veterans’ sounded like a sensible and reasonable way to address the request and the desires of both communities,” Bonin wrote.
Ridley-Thomas, who represents parts of Westchester that are east of Manchester Avenue, echoed Bonin’s remarks, saying he intended to “celebrate and showcase” both U.S. Vets and Westchester.
“While the station is located within the well-known community of Westchester, others may be less familiar with the housing and support-services facility for veterans,” Ridley-Thomas wrote in an email response to questions.
Regarding the dissatisfaction among Westchester light rail advocates and residents about the name change, Ridley-Thomas responded that there “wasn’t consensus on the name for this specific station” despite the staff recommendation for Westchester.
“My objective in determining the final name was to be as inclusive as possible, and to showcase and link riders to the multiple assets that are adjacent to this station,” Ridley-Thomas wrote.
But Alpern believes that, starting with the maintenance yard, there has been a clear pattern of Metro’s leadership generally overlooking the interests of Westchester.
“I totally think that Westchester has gotten the short end of the stick despite avoiding a regional controversy and allowing the train maintenance yard to be built in that community,” Alpern said. “As evidenced by the lack of attention and attentiveness to Westchester’s needs, I’m not even certain the rest of the Metro board even knows how to pronounce ‘Westchester.’”