Crenshaw Subway Coalition rallies community in the “battle for Crenshaw”

imageOver 100 residents, merchants, property owners and supporters crowded the Crenshaw DWP Auditorium last Monday night to find out about the Crenshaw Subway Coalition’s newest strategy to “Win the Battle for Crenshaw” – that’s what the Coalition calls their fight for the economic survival of a key African-American business corridor during the building of the largest public works project in South LA history.

The crowd listened attentively to Damien Goodmon, chair of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, as he revealed the third component of the advocate group’s strategy – directly engaging the contractors in the process. Goodmon considers this to be a game-changing step in their fight against the MTA.

The plan is to encourage contractors to find a way to prove the proposed underground subway will cost less than what the MTA claims. Goodmon wants contractors to submit a “responsible” bid for the project that includes both the Park Mesa Heights tunnel and the Leimert Park Village station.

According to Goodmon, this is part of a multi-pronged approach. The first step was to file a lawsuit against the MTA, which they did on October 21st.

The second step is to hold elected officials, like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, accountable for returning tax dollars to the community. At the meeting Monday, Goodman played a recording of Mayor Villaraigosa stating that the city could have the Crenshaw tunnel built if it could be done within the project’s budget.

The Coalition remains steadfast in its goal to have the portion of the Crenshaw-LAX line from 48th to 59th street to be built underground and to have a station at Leimert Park. Goodmon says that the station at Leimert Park, considered to be the African American cultural center in the region, is something that was in the MTA’s plans from the beginning and something Crenshaw always should have had.

“They take something away that we always should have had. We have got to fight for that. And when we get it back they say, ‘Look what you got,’ but no. We want a tunnel and the station,” said Goodmon.

Without this tunnel, the Crenshaw line will be built at grade, above ground. This would block left hand turns on Crenshaw, and some residents say it will clearly separate the west from the east side, directly affecting businesses that will no longer be easily accessible from the east side of the street.

“You aren’t going to be able to make a left turn. There won’t be any way to get across Crenshaw Blvd. Now I’m on 54th. How are you going to get to me? It would be easier to go downtown. You might as well get on the freeway,” complains Wesley Smith Jr., a business owner on Crenshaw Boulevard.

imageNot only are residents upset about the practical inconveniences that the above-ground Crenshaw line brings, but the Crenshaw Subway Coalition also cited economic racism in their lawsuit, stating that the MTA has violated their state’s civil rights act, giving one region preference over another.

“For [the MTA] to come through and have their way – it’s rape. It’s abusive. It’s discriminatory,” said Julienne Boyd, a retired children’s social worker of LA County, who attended the meeting.

The preservation of African-American culture in the area is a prime-motivating factor for the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. At the meeting, Goodmon mentioned that other cultural centers, such as those in Chinatown, Olvera Street and Little Tokyo, all have stations on the MTA’s railway.

The preservation of Leimert Park is a project that is especially important to Goodmon. He says his great-great-grandfather was L.A.’s first ever African-American millionaire. He was a contractor that helped build an African-American center and now Goodmon is fighting to keep one.

The Crenshaw Line, an 8.5-mile light rail line mass-transit project, is designed to run from the Expo Line at Exposition Boulevard, through South Los Angeles and Inglewood to the Green Line near Los Angeles International Airport.

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