Responding to the plaintive pleas from residents in Westchester as well as regional light rail advocates, county Supervisor Don Knabe has asked the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to consider building a second Westchester station near Manchester Avenue and Aviation Boulevard on the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor.
The board voted Sept. 27 to approve the environmental impact report for the 8.5-mile light rail line, which will run from South Los Angeles to Aviation and Century Boulevard, currently the only stop in Westchester.
Several Westchester residents have expressed a desire to have another station that will serve local residents and do not consider the Aviation/Century stop to be a true Westchester location.
In the EIR, an at-grade, or ground level station at Hindry Avenue was environmentally approved by the Metro board. An aerial, or above grade stop at Manchester and Aviation was also listed as an optional station until the final environmental review was approved, but was not considered at the time.
In one of his last acts representing the eastern portion of Westchester, Knabe presented a motion Oct. 27 that addressed comments by a number of residents who wish to have a stop near Aviation and Manchester.
“The Westchester community in the city of Los Angeles would benefit greatly from a rail transit station (at Manchester/Aviation) for the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor Project and (in September), the board heard from community leaders that a station is desired and needed,” the Fourth District supervisor wrote.
“An at-grade station alternative near Hindry has been environmentally cleared and should be advanced in the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Project’s design and construction (request for proposal), in a manner similar to but not competing with the Vernon (Leimert Park) station, in order to not preclude a station in Westchester if that station can be designed and constructed within the project budget.
“It is appropriate at this time, to advance the concept of a Westchester station by taking this important step toward making it a reality.”
Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has been publicly advocating for a station at Leimert Park and he was successful in getting the board to consider the addition in its construction bids, which Knabe is now asking for the Westchester station.
Ridley-Thomas, who now represents Westchester since the board passed its county redistricting law in September, pointed out that the federal government had chosen 14 transit projects, including the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line, to receive federal assistance to have the environmental review process expedited.
This, the supervisor stated, will create construction jobs and gives added importance for a light rail station in a part of the city where residents, as in Westchester, have been clamoring for a light rail stop.
“Not only does this action by the Obama administration demonstrate the president’s commitment to job creation, it provides new momentum for a Leimert Park station as part of the Crenshaw-to-LAX line,” he said in a statement. “Securing a Leimert Park station remains our goal, and any assistance that may shorten the time needed to develop the line is likely to produce savings that can be directed to the station.”
In an interview with The Argonaut, Knabe said he had been considering exploring a possible station for east Westchester for some time. “Now’s the appropriate time to look at it as (the board) is looking at Leimert Park,” he said.
Westchester resident Kent Strumpell, a transit and planning advocate, said he prefers an aerial station at Manchester instead of the at-grade option at Hindry.
“I think it is crucial to explore all the possibilities for constructing a Manchester station before we put all our eggs into a Hindry location,” Strumpell wrote in an email. “Manchester has always been the superior location for multiple reasons.”
But MTA Project Manager Roderick Diaz said the easier alignment would be the Hindry station for a variety of reasons.
“Putting in an aerial station becomes more difficult because it would involve significant disruption to the system and make it more expensive and difficult to retrofit the system,” Diaz explained.
There is a great deal of cost disparity between the two alignments. According to Metro estimates, expenditures for the Hindry station would be approximately $11.6 million and the Manchester/Aviation stop would cost in the neighborhood of $81.8 million.
Asked if an aerial station would also require the purchase of certain properties near the intersection of Aviation and Manchester, Diaz said that is one of the reasons why the difference in the estimates is so large, as well as the expenditures that an above grade station entails.
“(A Manchester/Aviation station) would require the relocation of businesses and more property purchase,” he said.
Knabe thinks a Manchester/ Aviation station would be more feasible because of the transit-oriented development possibilities at the site as opposed to the Hindry location.
“The access to that particular area to (Los Angeles International Airport) is very important,” he noted. “It’s strategically located and there could also be some potential development opportunities around a station there.”
Strumpell believes it is crucial to have another station in Westchester and favors an aerial design at Manchester and Aviation.
“I think that it would be a gross oversight to have a 3-mile stretch without a station to serve Westchester,” he said. “We are vastly underdeveloped on the Westside in terms of our transit network.”
Diaz said two reasons were considered when the Metro board did not vote to make the Manchester/Aviation site an optional station in September.
“The ridership numbers at Manchester and Aviation were among the lowest projected numbers for the line,” he said. “We also received a lot of negative comments about building a station at that location.”
Knabe’s motion preceded a lawsuit by a group of South Los Angeles residents against MTA alleging a violation of environmental and civil rights laws in approving the Crenshaw/LAX light rail project.
“We’re going to court to preserve the environment, to protect the future of Crenshaw Boulevard and to defend our civil rights,” said Damien Goodmon, who heads the Crenshaw Subway Coalition.
The legal action contests the project’s EIR and alleges that sections of the California Environmental Quality Act were violated.
“MTA violated provisions of CEQA…in that the EIS/EIR [environmental study] failed to comply with the information disclosure provisions of CEQA and failed to adequately analyze project environmental impacts. MTA also failed to require all feasible mitigation and failed to consider an adequate range of alternatives,” the legal brief states.
“MTA’s determination to approve the project has a discriminatory impact on the African-American population in the project area, the last major concentration of African-American owned and operated businesses in the area and the region’s center of African-American culture.”
Aside from the confluence of events with the support from the federal government and the reconsideration of Leimert Park, Knabe said there was another reason why he submitted his motion.
“It’s good public policy,” he said.
Knabe’s motion will be presented to Metro’s Construction Committee, which he chairs, Nov. 18.