Santa Monica has been looking forward to having a light rail in the City by 2015 but controversy about the placement of the project’s maintenance facility has been raging for months.
The controversy began after the project’s Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) stated that the only suitable location for the project’s maintenance facility was the Verizon property (located on Exposition Boulevard near Stewart Street) which is located across the street from a residential neighborhood. Neighbors were concerned because the facility would need to be operated 24 hours, seven days a week, by three shifts of employees, would generate noise, increased traffic, and health hazards from the materials being utilized there.
In July the City and the Expo Construction Authority proposed a split alternative to help allay the fears of the neighbors which would use the Verizon site, an adjacent Santa Monica College (SMC) parking lot and the City’s 1800 Stewart Street property across the street. That proposal was also rejected by the neighbors, caused opposition from The Lionstone Group (which has a lease agreement with the City for 1800 Stewart Street), generated additional costs, and created more environmental impacts.
At the August 11 City Council meeting the City and Expo proposed a new alternative which utilizes a portion of the Verizon site, the SMC parking lot, a portion of the City Yard for a shared parking facility, and a 120-foot buffer for most of the frontage facing residents on Exposition Boulevard. However, most of the neighbors continued to object and many stressed that the Expo Authority just had their first meeting with them on August 10. Linda Pierre Avila comments summed up the neighbors objections when she stated, “The Pico Neighborhood should not serve as the City’s sacrifice zone for everyone else’s greater good.” The neighborhood is already housing the 10 Freeway, the trash transfer yards, and the recycling center. “ Now, the Pico Neighborhood is being told they most shoulder yet another burden, the light rail maintenance yard, with its attendant environmental impacts of noise, vibration, possible carcinogenic paint fumes, and diesel exhaust fumes from industrial operations performed on the rail cars.”
Also objecting was Peter Gutierrez, an attorney for Maguire Properties, the owner of the Lantana Entertainment media Complex which is directly behind the Verizon property. Guiterrez explained that Lantana was “concerned that the sensitive uses at the Lantana complex have not been identified by Expo or the City as uses that would be affected by the noise and vibration from a maintenance yard at the Verizon site.”
Pico resident Darrell Clarke who is also a former Planning Commissioner spoke in favor of the new alternative by noting it would not have the same negative effects as a freeway or a dump transfer site nor was it as bad as the current Verizon site except it would create nighttime noise that could be mitigated.
Bergamot Station’s representative, Howard Robinson, also spoke in favor by stating this new alternative honors the new Land Use and Circulation Elements proposed concepts.
School Board member and Pico resident Oscar de la Torre told the Council “the community expects that you will protect the health and welfare of the residents even though the Expo Authority has the ultimate authority.”
During the Council discussion Mayor Ken Genser stated that the site between 9th and 11th Street which runs along Colorado should also be explored as a potential site because it isn’t near a residential neighborhood. He noted it might be more expensive to buy the businesses out that are located there but in the long term it might be worth it for Expo. He also stressed that the mitigation measures necessary for the new alternative would also be costly because of its proximity to a residential neighborhood.
The CEO of the Expo Construction Authority, Rick Thorpe, told the Council his agency “could move along with both sites (the new alternative and the site at 9th and 11th Streets) simultaneously.”
In the end the Council unanimously voted to recommend that the Expo authority consider both sites and continue meeting with the community.
In other business, the Council voted to allow the Jonathan Club to continue to lease three beach parcels for their private use. They also conducted a study session on the revision to the scope of work and schedule for the California Incline Project, the status of the Palisades Bluffs Project, and the proposed relinquishment of Lincoln Boulevard from the Santa Monica Freeway to the City’s southern limits.
Lastly, the Council adjourned in memory of Eunice Kennedy Shiver, the mother of Council member Bobby Shriver and founder of the Special Olympics.