Leimert Park MTA stop: Board votes to keep possibility of Crenshaw stop alive

Supporters of a Leimert Park Village stop on the Metro's proposed Crenshaw light rail wear these pins.
Supporters of a Leimert Park Village stop on the Metro's proposed Crenshaw light rail wear these pins.

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The MTA board voted Thursday to keep alive the possibility of a Leimert Park station along the Crenshaw-LAX light rail line but killed a plan to put a section of the proposed line underground.

The 15-member board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority met in front of a packed room for almost 5.5 hours of heated debate and public comment about the controversial addition to the $1.7 billion light rail proposal.

Dozens of black community and business leaders pleaded for the board to set aside money for the stop along the proposed 8.5 mile Crenshaw light rail line.

“Doing this simple, small act would help revitalize an area of the community that has suffered for about 30, 40 years," said Leon Jenkins of the NAACP.

Most Metro board members expressed sympathy.

"If the money was there, I would be for it wholeheartedly," Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian said. “I just don’t see where the money is coming for this proposal.”

MTA board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas had introduced a motion to build a 1-mile stretch of the line along Crenshaw Boulevard from 48th to 59th streets underground. He argued that a line at street level would pose a safety threat to students at nearby Crenshaw High School.

Ridley-Thomas also called for the addition of a station at Leimert Park Village, a business and cultural hub in the predominantly black area of South Los Angeles. The station was not part of the original 2009 plan for the light rail line.

“The vote that was taken does not match the rhetoric that was communicated about it," Ridley-Thomas said in an interview. "If it’s iconic, if it’s a cultural destination point, if it’s an economic hub, then it ought to be a stop.”

The two projects would have added another $400 million to the line's total budget, which is already an estimated $100 million above a previously agreed-upon outlay.

The board ultimately voted to include the Leimert Park/Vernon station in the plan when it puts the project out for construction bids in 2012, but only if bidders can build the station at the originally proposed $1.7 billion cost.

That means the line could ultimately get built without a station at Leimert Park. Ridley-Thomas was visibly upset by the political wrangling and lack of support for his proposal, but conceded, ``The effort has been advanced... We know what we need to do to move forward to make sure that we have a credible
project at the end of the day.''

Board member and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he was confident the station would get built as bids for other projects have been coming in at 30 percent under estimated costs. He said the proposal, while not abiding by Ridley-Thomas' desired way of funding the station, guarantees it will get built.

"I support a fiscally responsible proposal for the Leimert Park stop that adheres to the project's $1.7 billion budget,'' Villaraigosa said. "Over 10,000 Angelenos are projected to use this line every day and would benefit
from this additional stop in the heart of South L.A."

Dozens of people -- including staff for congressional representatives, state assembly members and City Council Members Bernard Parks and Jan Perry -- expressed support for the station during public testimony.

"Will the board support a stop at Leimert, and therefore make an investment in the future of the Crenshaw Corridor?'' Rep. Maxine Waters wrote in a letter read to the board by one of her staffers. "Or will
the board vote to join a disturbing historical trend where those in power use public funds to stifle the economic aspirations of certain communities?"

This report includes wire reports