The City Council voted at it Tuesday, November 24 meeting, to approve, with amendment, a recommendation that the City Manager proceed to negotiate terms for the siting and construction of an Expo Light Rail maintenance facility with substantial accommodations for the Pico Neighborhood.
As nearly everyone in Santa Monica knows by now, the Exposition Light Rail line from downtown Los Angeles is coming to town – Phase 1 from L.A. to Culver City is now under construction, and Phase 2 out to Santa Monica (probably 4th Street and Colorado Avenue) is in the environmental review process. And as nearly everyone in at least the Pico Neighborhood knows, Phase 2 will almost certainly include an equipment maintenance facility east of Stewart Street between Exposition Boulevard on the south and the new Expo tracks on the north (the old Red Car right-of-way, behind the Lantana Entertainment Media Campus on Olympic Boulevard).
There has been considerable objection to the siting of this facility so close to a residential neighborhood, as there are homes beginning just across the street on Exposition. Such decisions are made by the Exposition Construction Authority (Expo), which will build the system, in consultation with the operations group at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), which will operate the system. The City of Santa Monica can only make recommendations.
Pico residents and the City Manager, as directed by the City Council, have been urging Expo and Metro to build the maintenance shop somewhere else or, failing that, to build it in such a way as to minimize its impact on the neighborhood, including noise, vibration, air quality, and aesthetics.
Kathryn Vernez, Assistant to the City Manager, reported to the Council Thursday night on the City’s discussions with Expo.
The highlights were:
• Despite extensive review, moving the shop to another location seems out of the question;
• Discussions continue on using adjacent Santa Monica College (SMC) land as well as the contemplated Verizon property so that the facility can be designed with a 100-foot buffer between most of it and the neighborhood (this would probably involve a land exchange among Expo, SMC, and the City);
• The paint and body shop would be eliminated, although a light duty repair shop would remain, and loop tracks would be eliminated to avoid “wheel squeal”;
• Some functions would be relocated to the north end of the property near the tracks and away from the neighborhood, and various noise-muffling measures and directional lighting would be employed;
• Expo will construct a sound wall prior to any major construction, will pursue a LEED certification for the facility, and will work with neighbors regarding site development and aesthetics.
Vernez introduced Expo CEO Rick Thorpe and Metro Deputy CEO Paul Taylor, who expressed their willingness to work with the City and Pico residents on the project.
Public comment ran the gamut from those who wanted to see the public transit project move forward as quickly as possible to the greater number of Pico residents who continued to object to any such shop in their neighborhood, including one who told the Council he “thought you represented all of Santa Monica and not just people north of Wilshire and south of Ocean Park Boulevard” and another who said the project “indicates the neighborhood is of no value to you or the City except as a dumping ground.”
In the end, the Council adopted the City Manager’s recommendations and authorized him to proceed with the negotiations now underway, including the Expo/SMC/City land swap and the reservation of up to $2 million in a future budget for the development of the buffer land (which would become City property) as a possible park. The Council added an amendment directing City staff to work as mediators/liaisons to improve communications between Expo and residents.