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Pico Residents Say:: MTA’s Planned Maintenance Yard Is on the Wrong Track

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s (MTA) Expo Line light rail project is moving closer to Santa Monica, with Phase 1 in progress and Phase 2’s Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) being firmed up. At the latest in a series of neighborhood meetings on the Expo Line’s progress, however, protests were heard from residents of the Pico Neighborhood who were angry that their area has been proposed as the site of a maintenance yard for the rail line.

A group of students from the Pico Youth Council picketed outside the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium as community members entered for the October 14 meeting. Group member Johnny Ramirez told the Mirror: “There is a history with the neighborhood-the 10 freeway, the recycling plant. Our neighborhood has been the target of this kind of pollution.”

MTA has proposed that the maintenance yard be built on the former Verizon site at Stewart Street and Exposition Boulevard. The yard would be used for overnight storage of trains and maintenance, which includes washing the trains.

Pico area residents are concerned about noise, pollution, and the idea that their neighborhood is used as “a dumping ground” for the City’s less attractive facilities.

During the meeting, Pico Neighborhood Association members charged that the Verizon location is not only adjacent to residences that will be affected by pollution and noise, but is also adjacent to Stewart Park, where the City has banned barbeques because the park is built on a former landfill and “it is our understanding that methane gas from landfill decomposition currently seeps up and out of the park as well as laterally from underground surfaces,” according to literature handed out by the Pico Neighborhood Association.

Steve Polechronis, Project Manager for Expo Phase 2, told the Pico residents that MTA studies of the site had not revealed the presence of methane gas. He also described a “sound wall” that could be built to buffer noise from the site. He mentioned a similar facility in Lawndale and urged opponents to visit that facility “to see and hear for themselves” that such facilities can be safe and attractive.

Hank Konig, chair of the Santa Monica Planning Commission, commented that he had taken a tour of the Lawndale facility. “I was pleasantly surprised,” he said. “They have built condos across the street and people are living there and are happy.”

But Pico residents retorted that they live in older buildings already in place and that the building of a maintenance yard will be an invasion of their neighborhood.

Polechronis described how the MTA had studied 40 potential sites for the yard but it was necessary to find a site of a specific size and shape, with a location adjacent to the route of the rail line-for which the Verizon lot fit the bill.

Polechronis also said that the MTA was considering an alternative “hybrid” site, to be located partially at the Verizon lot and partially at the Santa Monica College parking lot.

Community members also asked questions about proposed bike accommodations (being planned), having restrooms at stations (not possible), wi-fi on trains (maybe), and the possibility of compensation for businesses on Colorado Avenue, the proposed route of Phase 2 in Santa Monica, affected by construction (not customary).

The FEIR will be presented to the Expo Board in January 2010, with construction scheduled to begin after approval. Comments may be addressed to: Gabriela Collins, Government/Community Relations Manager and Phase 2 Contact, 213.243.5535, gcollins@exporail.net.

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