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Expo Line: No More Trees On Olympic?:

Santa Monica’s Treesavers group wants to save 44 coral trees in the median strip of Olympic Boulevard in east Santa Monica. They’re alarmed by the Expo Construction Authority’s potential plan to run a light rail train down Olympic Boulevard.

At a meeting on February 9, members of Treesavers discussed the issue with Monica Born, director of the Expo Authority Project.

Born gave a brief history of the Expo Line’s construction. The train route for Phase One-from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City-is already under construction and will open in 2010. Phase Two-from Culver City to Santa Monica-has been through a series of steps involving studies by experts and input from the public. The project has now reached the DEIR (Draft Environmental Impact Report) phase and the DEIR “is complete and we’ve put it ‘on the street’ for public comment.”

Four alternative routes for Phase Two have been proposed and are outlined in the DEIR. The first option would use the old Expo railroad right-of-way (ROW) to run through the Rancho Park area into West Los Angeles and continuing into Santa Monica. The alternative option in this part of town would reroute the light rail line down Venice Boulevard and up Sepulveda Boulevard, running at grade (street) level, in conjunction with regular traffic, and eventually join the ROW in West LA.

In Santa Monica, one option would have the trains running along Olympic Boulevard west of Cloverfield, while the other option would have the line cross over and run down Colorado Boulevard. Both options would terminate in downtown Santa Monica.

Born showed the Treesavers a mock-up photo of what Olympic Boulevard might look like with a light rail line running down its median strip. The trains would run on two tracks built slightly above grade, with traffic lanes on either side. There would be some landscaping, but the coral trees presently growing there would have to be removed.

There were murmurs of “Bad, bad” from the group. “It’s not a pretty picture,” Born agreed. “In the DEIR, we say that it is a ‘significant and unavoidable impact.’ ”

Even if the trees could somehow be kept in place during construction and after the light rail lines are installed, there would be problems, Born said, with the tree roots being impacted. “We’re not tree experts,” she admitted, adding that the real facts will have to come from the City’s arborists.

Members of the group suggested an aerial rail line, and a line running on the 10 freeway, as possible solutions. Mostly, however, the sentiment ran in favor of using the Colorado alternative.

Herb Silverstein said: “Why choose a traffic-heavy street like Olympic?” He pointed out that Colorado is a faster route to the downtown area.

Born said that the Expo Authority’s studies had initially shown that Olympic was a fast route to downtown Santa Monica, but that the City had asked that they consider the Colorado option.

Jerry Rubin commented that the Crossroads School, located on Olympic, had come out in support of saving the trees. He exhorted everyone to get together and work to have meetings in which all sides could discuss a solution.

Born agreed. “Now is the time to make comments,” she said. “Come to all the public meetings.”

Expo’s Phase Two public DEIR hearing will held February 18, 5 to 8 p.m., at Santa Monica High School Cafeteria. A public hearing on the Expo Line will also be held February 17, 7-9pm, at Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. For more information, call 213.922.EXPO.

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