South LA opposition to Measure J

By Emmanuel Martinez and Melissa Runnels

Listen to an audio story from Annenberg Radio News

Members of the Bus Riders’ Union, Beverly Hills Unified School District, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and other groups held a small rally Tuesday at the corner of Crenshaw and Slauson to protest Measure J.

image />The measure, which is on the November ballot, would extend the half-cent county sales tax until 2069 and generate $90 million for the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA). Sun-Young Yang, of the Bus Riders’ Union, sees Measure J as a $90 million imposition that won’t improve the bus system she depends on: “MTA has actually no plans to expand bus service and in fact they plan to raise fares and cut bus service.”

Yang also believes MTA has already failed to deliver on promises regarding the recent light-rail expansion. “The rail lines that they have built out so far did not deliver half of the ridership that they promised. When you have $1 billion per-mile price tag, that means we should get ridership that we see in Seoul, Korea, and other metropolises that have not a thousand riders, but millions of riders,” she said.

The rail expansion is a touchy subject for Damien Goodmon of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition. Goodmon says MTA simply cannot be trusted. “ This is not an agency that plans well. This is not an agency that responds well to community concerns.”

imageFile photo: Damien Goodmon

Measure J would extend Measure R—a similar measure passed in 2008. Goodmon believes MTA’s record since then speaks for itself. “We passed Measure R just four years ago and in that period of time, they have ignored the concerns of a cross section of community groups, from the Boyle Heights to Baldwin Hills to Crenshaw to the Bus Riders’ Union,” he said.

However, it’s difficult to ignore the success of Measure R. MTA completed the extension of the Orange Line in three years and also started two light-rail projects.

If Measure J is approved, the 15 projects already in the works won’t necessarily get stuck in neutral. The tax extension could jumpstart work on projects like the Subway to the Sea, more soundwall construction, and improvements to the 5, the 405, and the 110 freeways.

The measure needs a two-thirds super-majority to pass. Current polling shows 67 percent in favor, 27 against—which means approval isn’t guaranteed. With about three weeks before the election, the tide could shift either way.

OpEd: Crenshaw Subway Coalition Heads to Court Over LA Mayor’s Betrayal

By Damien Goodmon
Chair, Crenshaw Subway Coalition

On October 21st, our coalition of Crenshaw corridor residents, merchants and stakeholder groups marched into court to file a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County MTA for violating the laws of the state of California when they approved the faulty Crenshaw-LAX Light Rail environmental document at their September 22nd board meeting. Our 200-paragraph lawsuit specifies how the currently proposed MTA plan, which lacks a Leimert Park Village station and features a destructive, disruptive and dangerous street-level segment on Crenshaw Blvd from 48th to 59th Street, violates our state’s civil rights act and eleven major provisions of our state’s environmental law.

The full lawsuit can be read here.

Citizens suing their own government is a bold and daunting undertaking. But the Antonio Villaraigosa-led MTA board has left us with no other alternative.

For four long years the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Fix Expo Campaign have been clear: we want the Crenshaw-LAX rail line, we just want it built right. In 2007, we began singing, eventually creating a chorus that was reflected in the over 600 citizens who flooded the MTA headquarters in May of this year to request that line be built with a station at Leimert Park Village and underground for the last mile still proposed at street-level on Crenshaw Blvd. Every major South L.A. community, clergy, labor and business group stands united in their request that the train not impose on fragile Crenshaw Blvd the safety hazards, traffic congestion and other environmental disruptions that accompanies street-level rail.

imageSimultaneously, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition has been advocating for the project to be adequately funded to make such happen. Yet, at every turn we’ve been met with forceful opposition from the MTA staff and the board – most prominently Mayor Villaraigosa.

The MTA response is always, “There’s no money.” While Villaraigosa and the rest of the Westside politicians who control the MTA board have a blank check mindset for the Wilshire subway extension, which the Mayor considers a personal legacy project, we on Crenshaw have been met with a tight-belt mentality. Even after receiving a $546 million federal loan for the Crenshaw-LAX Line, MTA decision-makers stated there still was no money for a Leimert Park Village station or tunnel from 48th to 59th – that the loan would be used to help build other projects more quickly, not improve Crenshaw-LAX!

These types of discrepancies and actions are nothing new to those of us in South L.A. The historic disinvestment and lack of return of our tax dollars is as old as the call made by those who perpetrate and benefit from these policies that we “shouldn’t bring race into the discussion.”

We should, so they say, ignore that Crenshaw is the only remaining corridor with a significant concentration of black-owned businesses in all of the Western United States and 5-6 long years of street-level construction from 48th to 59th Streets, coupled with the long-term environmental changes, will lead to its destruction.

We should, so they say, not consider this yet another ugly chapter in the history of transportation decisions that have harmed many communities, but undoubtedly have disproportionately harmed communities of color.

There are many causes for the current Crenshaw-LAX predicament. Among them is that many on the MTA board, think that Crenshaw Blvd is and always will be a ghetto. They see no harm in taking half the businesses’ parking spaces (308 in total from 48th to 59th), and cutting down the mature median trees to replace them with industrial utility lines and prison-like fences. They see no consequence in closing off streets, eliminating left-turns, getting rid of the frontage roads and pushing the toxic fumes of vehicles 18-feet closer to the day care centers and schools that line the alignment.

“Its just Crenshaw after all,” is their attitude.

imageWhat they don’t recognize is the decades-long work the community has done to position Crenshaw for its rebirth in spite of constant political and bureaucratic challenges and neglect. Residents and business owners came together to push for and pass a specific plan for the Crenshaw corridor that prohibits uses like liquor stores and motels, and guides future development in a direction similar to Downtown Culver City.

What they don’t respect is the dozens of community visioning processes, feasibility studies, and resident-led programs that have incrementally sought to transform Crenshaw’s Hyde Park into a community of choice, and Leimert Park Village into an even more thriving cultural center.

They don’t view Crenshaw Blvd’s unique cultural and ethnic character and it’s positioning in the middle of an international triangle of commerce (LAX, Hollywood and Downtown L.A.) as an asset that can be leveraged for both local and regional economic prosperity.

They definitely don’t envision Crenshaw Blvd the same way decision-makers viewed West Hollywood’s Santa Monica Blvd 15 years ago. Today MTA studies state that the only possible rail option for Santa Monica Blvd is an underground alignment. Ripping out trees and landscaping to widen the street’s roadway, or taking away half the businesses’ parking spaces to fit street-level rail or elevated rail columns on a median once used by trains are not an option on Santa Monica Blvd. Underground all the way is what they say at MTA when it comes to Santa Monica Blvd!

So while we have been forced to go to court like environmental groups and civil rights leaders before us to protect, preserve and enhance Crenshaw’s future, we recognize this is just another in a long unfortunate series of decisions, where the hopes and dreams of a community of color positioned for a revival are being stymied by politicians who benefit more from spending our tax dollars elsewhere, rather than adequately investing in our backyard.

The Crenshaw Subway Coalition will be hosting a community meeting on Monday, November 7 from 6-8 pm at the DWP Crenshaw Office (4030 Crenshaw Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90008) to discuss their lawsuit and reveal the most intriguing aspect of their strategy to achieve a Leimert Park Village station and tunnel from 48th to 59th Street.

Crenshaw Subway Coalition calls for emergency meeting; preparing to sue MTA



Crenshaw Subway Coalition Community Meeting

Today Monday, July 18 6:30 – 8:30 PM
US Bank Community Room on Crenshaw/Slauson
5760 Crenshaw Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90016

MTA is Trying to Speed Up the Game Clock stopwatch(Forgive the incredibly short notice, but we are in part responding to MTA’s unprecedented attempt to vote to approve the project 7 weeks sooner than legally permissible.)

Attendees of our June 30th meeting were first informed of two elements of our multi-faceted strategy to win the battle with MTA for an underground Leimert Park Village station and subway on Crenshaw Blvd:

1. Holding our elected officials from Congress down to City Council and the Mayor accountable for delivering more of our tax dollars to the Crenshaw-LAW project to fund the Leimert Park Village station and subway in Park Mesa Heights

2. Suing Metro in court for violating environmental and civil rights laws

At tonight’s community meeting we will further explain the legal basis for a lawsuit, in particular the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) that MTA is violating.

The importance of tonight’s meeting increased a few days ago when it was revealed that MTA is attempting to “speed up the game clock” and approve the project at their August 4 board meeting as opposed to their September 22 board meeting. (After MTA approves the project, the window of opportunity to file a CEQA lawsuit is JUST 30 DAYS.)

In our review of every other transit study of similar nature over the past decade, MTA provided a 30 day public review period and multiple community meetings after the final project document was released to provide citizens an opportunity to, at the very least, go on the record to express their concerns.  There are even federal requirements for a 30 day public review period.  And yet as of this morning, just 17 days from August 4, MTA still has not released the final project document for review.  They haven’t even given it to the elected officials or fellow public agencies!

This is just the latest greatest display of disrespect of our community and egregious violation by MTA and partially why we believe that a legal challenge is key to our victory.  It will make MTA more likely to concede the Leimert Park Village station and Park Mesa Heights tunnel.  As was clear in the lead up to the May 26th MTA board vote.  MTA has the money to build the project the way the community desires, they just currently lack the will.  Simply, MTA’s draft document is legally flawed, the basis for Metro staff, Mayor Villaraigosa and wanna-be Mayor Zev Yaroslavsky’s opposition to the Leimert Park Village station and Park Mesa Heights tunnel is flawed, and if MTA had conducted a proper environmental study both designs would be in the project.

There will be more to come after tonight’s meeting, but for now, please hear our urgent appeal for generous donations so that we can fund a legal challenge.  Lawyers are interested, but because this type of law is a true specialty – there will be costs.

The leaders of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition and Fix Expo Campaign have adopted as a policy to only ask the community for financial support when we need it – and now is that time.

As has become clear both in our fight with MTA on the Expo Line crossing at Dorsey High School and in other project fights with MTA by other communities, the agency/board does not begin taking communities seriously until lawyers get involved.