After more than two years of community discussions, the Final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) for Expo Line’s Phase 2 light rail project was approved by the Expo Metro
But approval came after more than four hours of public comment from citizens both in favor of and against approval.
Currently under construction, the Expo Line will travel along the Exposition railroad right of way (ROW) between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City. Phase 2 will extend light rail service from the Phase 1 terminus in Culver City to 4th Street and Colorado Avenue in Santa Monica.
Those who disapproved of the FEIR were concerned about the use of the existing ROW as it runs through the Cheviot Hills/Rancho Park area. The rail line is to run “at grade,” that is, at level with the street, through this neighborhood. Residents fear that crossings will be dangerous, especially for children, as there is an elementary school at Overland Avenue close to the planned tracks.
Residents who wanted the Expo Authority Board to defer a vote on the project for at least 90 days in order to study grade separations (including a proposed tunnel between Westwood and Sepulveda Boulevards) sat on one side of the Board of Supervisors Auditorium, while supporters of approval, including a busload of Santa Monica College students in bright blue Expo Line T-shirts, sat on the other side. Both sides applauded and cheered the speakers who expressed their positions.
Supporters of immediate approval for Phase 2 were representatives for Fran Pavley, Julia Brownley, and Sheila Kuehl; Culver City Council reps Mehaul O’Leary and Andrew Weisman; and from Santa Monica, Jerry Rubin; Brian Chase of the SM Chamber of Commerce; former SM Mayors Nat Trives and Denny Zane; a representative from St. John’s Medical Center; and a number of SMC students.
Reasons cited for supporting immediate approval included cost considerations (a tunnel would be extremely expensive and would take more time), the fact that the FEIR had been vetted by community members and had the support of the majority, and the need to respond to momentum—as LA County Supervisor and Expo Board member Zev Yaroslavsky expressed it, “If we don’t build it now, we will never build it.”
The speakers who supported deferral were largely residents of the Cheviot Hills/Rancho park neighborhood. Almost all of them expressed support for light rail and for the Expo Line but insisted that safety, health, and noise abatement were important issues. Some expressed anger with the Expo Board members and referred to the Phase 2 FEIR as a “flawed document.” A couple of these residents claimed that Santa Monicans were only concerned with their city’s needs and were ignoring the needs of other areas.
Siding with the deferral advocates were two Board members, LA County Supervisor and Expo Board member Mark Ridley-Thomas and 11th District City Council member Bill Rosendahl, whose district surrounds Santa Monica.
Santa Monica City Council rep Gleam Davis, subbing for Pam O’ Connor, voted for approval, saying that Santa Monica was “very excited” about Phase 2. Other votes of approval came from Yaroslavsky, Culver City Council rep Scott Malsin, and LA City Council reps Bernard C. Parks and Herb Wesson Jr.
The Board paid tribute to Santa Monica’s late Mayor Ken Genser for his support of Phase 2 and his help in resolving community concern over the planned train maintenance yard at the former Verizon site in Santa Monica.
The next step will be the design-build process. Selection of Stage A preliminary engineering teams is scheduled for March 2010.
Mirror Contributing Writerlynne@smmirror.com