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Neighborhood Council Dispatch: Cheviot Hills Fights The Expo Line

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It's another edition of Neighborhood Council Dispatch, wherein Curbed and its correspondents sit for hours at neighborhood council board meetings to bring back the first word of what changes are afoot in the area. Your reports from the field always encouraged to the tipline.

Last night’s EXPO Phase 2 community meeting in Cheviot Hills was, as anticipated, standing room only as the topic of grade crossing determinations was on the table. Leading the meeting was Steve Polechronis, the senior vice president and project manager for DMJM Harris, the architecture and engineering firm charged with the EXPO Phase 2. The meeting played out typically with a quick Powerpoint presentation then much pontificating during the comments portion, with the added bonus appearance of Damien Goodmon, the vocal advocate for grade separation in South LA.

After everyone checked in, got their water and crunchy granola bars, the meeting began with a 20 minute presentation reviewing the EIR process, and the current recommendation of at grade crossing for all Phase 2 rail crossings: Overland/Ashby; Westwood/Exposition; Sepulveda/Exposition; North Charnock/Exposition; Barrington/Olympic; Centinela/Olympic (see here).

Many of the crossing construction projects would include adding additional driving lanes on the streets being crossed, restricting street parking around the crossing during rush hours, and widening/refurbishing the nearby sidewalk. The presentation portion of the meeting wrapped up with Steve saying they have taken in all considerations when deciding what type of crossing recommendation to make and that it’s the CA Public Utilities Commission that has the final word on whether or not to accept these recommendations.

Then the microphone was open to comments, complete with a huge LCD timer clock that would countdown each speaker’s 2 minute limit, which frequently was ignored due to audience talk-balk, shouts, clapping, and general guffawing all around. The majority of those speaking were anti-at grade crossing, some were anti-any rail, and concerns that were most frequently raised include:

· Impact that the Casden project at Sepulveda will have in conjunction with the EXPO line: The complaint was that this mixed use development would bring more traffic and cars to an already congested area, according to a Cheviot Hills speaker. EXPO rep responded by saying that (a) the project that is further advanced must be accommodated by any subsequent developments, i.e. Casden EIR must defer to the EXPO line and (b) the hope is that by building mixed use developments near light rail will encourage people to utilize the public transport.

· Environmental racism yet also equality: Second speaker in line was Damien Goodman. He began by thanking the EXPO reps for (a) allowing him to speak tonight, since he has been denied in the past at the South LA community meetings and for (b) taking a step toward “race relations” since he sees that “EXPO is giving the shaft to an affluent white community as it is to South LA.” He received enthusiastic applause after loudly declaring that “All rail should be grade separated” and asserted that he is not against the light rail -- he just wants it done the right way, not the cheapest way. He asked why the one mile of rail in Culver City was being grade separated, but not in South LA; and he asked fellow attendees to join him in taking EXPO to court.

· The kids, the kids – of Overland Elementary, Dorsey High, and the Foshey Learning Center. How will they learn to cross the road safely? What about the respiratory problems that will be incurred due to all the idling cars are grade crossings? To the former, EXPO responded by saying that all safety measures that are available (lights, guards, gates) will be implemented when planning the crossings. To the latter, it was noted that the time cars will spend idling waiting for a train to pass will not be much more than what they spend stuck in traffic as is.

· Bicycle lanes and the concern that they are an active part of the planning process: While the majority of Phase 2 includes a bike lane that follows the light rail, EXPO admits that they are still trying to figure out where to place a bike lane around the Motor/National area, where the 10 freeway, proposed EXPO line and weird street geometry conflux. That is the only non-contiguous part of the current bike plan, and EXPO is also working with DOT on this matter.

· A fan of light rail!: The first of only a few pro-rail advocates got up to speak and identified himself as a Huntington Park resident that was “tickled pink” when the blue line opened. He wanted to remind everyone that the rail project is being funded by sales and other taxes that everyone pays, not just property tax paid by homeowners. Dissenting grumblings grew louder as he continued to speak until Damien Goodman interjected with a statement (which I missed due to the growing fray) but a verbal scuffle took place that ended with the pro-rail advocate yelling, “Don’t shaft the Hispanic-American. I grew up in South LA too!”

· Noise pollution by train horns and signal bells: EXPO said they are investigating sound mitigation in the form of walls, berms, and special horns with aiming devices that minimize the spread of the sound (somebody out there probably knows the physics of this better than me). Some subsequent speakers said walls along the track or stations would only encourage graffiti, tagging, and general vandalism.

· And the trees. Oh lord the trees. One speaker was very concerned about how many trees would be excavated during sidewalk construction, especially those on Westwood and Overland Blvds. EXPO explained they would look at each block individually to assess whether the trees may be incorporated in the planning scheme. A small (slightly smug) outcry was heard when an EXPO rep admitted that, yes, the trees that are currently in the path of the train will have to be removed.

The meeting ended with EXPO explaining that their next step is to finish the EIR and sent to the feds for review, after which it will circulate to the public, all of which is slated for this fall. Prepare now for another heated meeting in the fall! Exit mumblings and grumblings overheard from attendees mainly discussed possible court and litigation strategies. No, really.

More info and copies of handouts can be found here:

On a lighter note, things actually said at the microphone of the meeting:

· “Nothing wrong with going deep”?. for a grade separated crossing, that is.

· “This is an unconscionable project that will kill kids!”

· “Just because Santa Monica has problems doesn’t mean we have to suffer.”

----Sonja Cendak, Palms correspondent
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