Metro to aid South LA businesses choked by construction

South Los Angeles residents walk pass the construction site for the Crenshaw/LAX line on Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevards. A new labor agreement between the union and contractors could lead to more jobs for residents in the coming years. | Jordyn Holman

South Los Angeles residents walk pass the construction site for the Crenshaw/LAX line on Crenshaw and Exposition Boulevards a few months ago. | Jordyn Holman

Construction and expansion are usually good things, but they can come at a steep prices.

For those in the Crenshaw Corridor, a new light rail line coming through their neighborhood may eventually cost them their livelihoods. That’s why Mayor Eric Garcetti and others on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Board of Directors approved a pilot funding program on Thursday that will help small businesses in the area stay afloat during construction of the new line.

Heavy construction on the Crenshaw/LAX line started earlier this year, and businesses say they are losing customers due to the lack of sidewalks, parking and visibility.

The board’s First Vice-Chair Mark Ridley-Thomas — also an L.A. County Supervisor representing the Crenshaw area — introduced the proposal at the board’s open committee meeting while sitting with other members at a U-shaped table in a conference room at Metro’s headquarters in Downtown Los Angeles. The proposal would direct Metro to put $10 million annually into the fund.

“This is a momentous opportunity for us to do what we can do to aide those small businesses who are in fact in dire straights,” he said.

See also: Earlez Grille relocates to make way for Crenshaw/LAX line

The board considered the proposal last month, but tabled it to make a few amendments. Those amendments include defining a “mom and pop” business as one with no more than 25 employees, committing to doing a baseline survey of all businesses in the area and sending a monthly report to the Construction Committee, according to Ridley-Thomas.

Mark Ridley-Thomas supports the funding plan. | Rebecca Gibian

Mark Ridley-Thomas | Rebecca Gibian

Sitting a few chairs away from Ridley-Thomas, County Supervisor Gloria Molina spoke loudly into her microphone to explain why the new funding is necessary.

“The reality is that many [mom and pop businesses] disappear or are displaced because they just can’t live through the economic strain,” she said.

The 8.5 mile-long Crenshaw/LAX Line will increase connections throughout South Los Angeles but will not actually reach the Los Angeles International Airport —instead it will fall 1.5 miles short. The airport is working on a “people-mover” to get travelers to the terminals.

The last time a light rail system served the Crenshaw corridor was in 1955 when the city still had a network of streetcars, according to the Los Angeles Times.

When Metro’s construction started in January, Garcetti said he hoped the $2.06 billion, eight-station route would bring development and employment to South Los Angeles. However, protests began the day construction started because businesses owners were already worried that the construction would force them to close, The Los Angeles Times reported. Now that those original concerns have been validated, many community members support the proposed impact fund.

Ellen Endove, President of the Little Tokyo Business Association, spoke in favor of the proposal at Wednesday’s meeting, saying she wants to look out for business in the Crenshaw corridor that fall under her Business Improvement District. That area of 430 businesses includes those in the Crenshaw area. The impact fund program would also cover Little Tokyo, since the Crenshaw Line will cut through that community as well.

The funding “would be at least a comfort,” Endove told Intersections after the meeting. “It would be a way to assure the small business owners that they don’t have to close, they don’t have to worry, that there is an option for them.”

During the meeting, Lakewood Council Member Diane DuBois raised concerns about the funds coming from the Metro budget. Molina assured DuBois that the pilot program, which she hopes will expand, will create savings by warding off lawsuits from the small businesses.

“These businesses want to be part of the growth, they want to be part of the benefits that transportation will offer them, but they’re not sure they will survive it,” said Molina, referring to the fund as a “helping hand.”

“Otherwise we are just going to be a part of gentrifying our historic neighborhoods.”

The pilot program will fund up to 60 percent of potential business revenue loss, as long as the businesses can document to Metro that construction is causing the loss. Since businesses are already suffering from the construction, many board members were ready to help out.

“It certainly is a way to add the most public good and create the least private harm,” said Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker, a Metro board member. “Not a day goes by that I don’t hear from a business owner or a non-profit on the Crenshaw/LAX line about the impact that our work is having on them currently.”

Complaints have included blocked parking, accessibility and signage.

The Crenshaw corridor was developed in the early 1920s and was originally settled by Jews, Eastern Europeans and other Caucasian immigrants. For a few decades, it was illegal for African Americans and Asian Americans to own real estate in Crenshaw. Once these racial covenants were ruled unconstitutional, the neighborhood became more integrated. Many White families left the area in the 1960s. Now Leimert Park and other neighborhoods near the Crenshaw district constitute one of the largest African-American communities in the western United States.

Some board members said their own communities deserve funding too. Glendale council member Ara Najarian said he may ask Metro to fund business affected by Interstate 5 construction running through parts of the San Fernando Valley and Orange County.

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