By Gary Walker
Transportation advocates and a contingent of east Westchester residents are rejoicing after the Los Angeles City Council and the county Metropolitan Transportation Authority took separate but similar actions that will pave the way for a second light rail station in Westchester.
The council voted May 22 to approve $15 million for the construction of a light rail stop on the Crenshaw/LAX Corridor Light Rail Line at Hindry Avenue near the Inglewood border in Westchester.
The funding vote comes after a May 1 motion by Councilman Bernard Parks to acquire funding for a stop at Hindry. Parks’ motion asked the city’s transportation committee for an amendment that would include an instruction for the city’s administrative officer to present a proposal to bond against future Measure R revenues to obtain a $40 million contribution from the city to build an underground station at Leimert Park and use $15 million toward a Hindry station.
Measure R is a county transportation measure passed in 2008 by the electorate to tax themselves a half-cent to fund transportation projects for 30 years. The measure is expected to raise approximately $40 billion.
“The March 15, 2013 report to the city administration office relative to Measure R Local Return Programming states that the Department of Transportation estimates that $259 million in bond proceeds could be available to combine with $54.5 million in cash for a total of $313.5 million between fiscal years 2014-18,” the May 1 motion states.
The city would have $227 million in bond proceeds generated if Metro issued debt for the city and assuming that at least $200 million in bond proceeds could be generated, the city would be able to access $55 million in new revenue, according to the Public Resources Advisory Group, one of Los Angeles’ financial advisors.
The following day, the Metro Board of Directors approved $80 million for Leimert Park but nothing for Westchester.
Nevertheless, Judy Citrin was thrilled with the City Council vote.
“I think it’s just fantastic that after all of our hard work, we’re going to get our Westchester station,” said Citrin, a longtime east Westchester resident.
One local lawmaker thinks the council action spurred Metro into including the Westchester station in its new budget.
“I’m thrilled and delighted that the MTA board took action on this,” said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, who represents Westchester and chairs the council’s transportation committee. “The board saw that the city put its money where its mouth is, and this is not only a win for the people of Leimert Park and for my constituents, but also for anyone who wants to have a connected rail system.”
The 8.5-mile light rail project will run between the Metro Expo Line on Exposition Boulevard and the Metro Green Line. It will serve the Crenshaw Corridor, Inglewood, Westchester and Los Angeles International Airport area with six stations, a maintenance facility and park-and-ride lots.
One of those stations is located in Westchester at Aviation and Century boulevards.
Ken Alpern, a member of the Mar Vista Community Council and a longtime mass transit proponent, sees these developments as a welcome change in the politics of transportation for the Westside.
“As the old expression goes, ‘Be careful for what you wish for because you might get it,’” said Alpern, the co-chair of the Transit Coalition, a light rail advocacy organization.
While supporters of the Hindry station have also advocated for a Leimert Park stop as well, some take issue with what they say is county Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ at best lukewarm support for an additional stop in Westchester.
“Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is not the kind of person who turns his back on his constituents, but the time will come when he is going to have to ask his Westchester constituents for an apology or ask that Westchester be redistricted back into (Fourth District Supervisor) Don Knabe’s district,” Alpern asserted.
Three years ago, the county changed some of the supervisorial districts and the portion of Westchester west of Lincoln Boulevard stayed in Knabe’s hands while the rest of the community went to Ridley-Thomas.
The supervisor’s office counters that Ridley-Thomas sought and obtained an amendment to a Metro motion by Knabe in 2010 that asked that a second Westchester station be included as a “bid option” during the construction procurement phase.
The amendment for the Hindry station was contingent upon the construction of a Leimert Park underground station.
In a release from his office after the Metro vote, Ridley-Thomas only addresses the Leimert Park station.
“I am delighted that the board has approved funding to make this historic community a train stop,” he said. “Leimert Park is an iconic neighborhood in Los Angeles. All we have ever said is that it should be treated on par with our county’s other great cultural landmarks.
“This was always a matter of will – a test of will. Because we knew there was a way to make this happen. This is one case where it really did take a village to get a fair share for Leimert Park Village,” Ridley-Thomas continued. “It is a major achievement for those who have advocated for the station, for those who insisted that the Crenshaw line quite obviously had to stop in the heart of the Crenshaw community.”
Alpern said he hopes the lack of public advocacy for a second light rail stop in Westchester can be explained at some point, instead of leading some to think that the supervisor is showing preference to his largely African-American Leimert Park constituents and ignoring his Westchester constituents, the majority of whom are Caucasian.
“This is not in line with his history of respecting grassroots participation for his constituents,” Alpern noted. “It is my hope that Supervisor Ridley-Thomas finds it within his heart to explain himself at some point.”
Knabe, whom many Westchester residents see as more of an advocate for the Hindry station than his colleague Ridley-Thomas, said the outcome reflected what can happen when  governmental agencies work for the same cause.
“I’m pleased that the MTA approved my joint motion to include funding for stations at Leimert Park Village and Westchester-Hindry, as part of the extension of Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX line,” the supervisor told The Argonaut.   “The city of Los Angeles has agreed to partner with us to fund the Hindry station, which will really benefit the local community.
“It is something I have supported for a long time and I’m pleased that the wheels are now in motion to make it happen.”
Alpern credited the City Council for its role in allowing the Westchester station to go forward.
“I am proud of Councilmen Parks and Rosendahl for reaching out beyond geographic and ethnic boundaries that will link communities together,” he said.
Alpern also said that despite the news of having the Hindry stop paid for, the urgency of getting the light rail line into Los Angeles International Airport should not be pushed to the back burner.
Transportation advocates have been pushing for years for an extension of the Metro Green Line or the Crenshaw/LAX line onto airport grounds.
Gina Marie Lindsey, executive director of Los Angeles World Airports, the city agency that operates LAX, has said she supports an extension into the airport. §