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More Cowbell: Cheviot Hills Expo Line Meeting Wrap

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Curbed correspondent Sophie has long been covering public reaction to phase II of the Expo Line, the planned light rail line that'll extend from Culver City to Santa Monica, and files her report from last night's discussion, held at the Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services Center on Motor Avenue in Cheviot Hills.

Sophie reports: Well, it was another rambunctious round in Cheviot Hills for this series of community meetings regarding the EXPO Line Phase II. Last night's meeting featured mainstays such as the members of the Cheviot Hills Homeowners Association and Damien Goodmon [who has been vocal in his objections to some components of the line]. There was also the added perk of a cow bell interlude! Last night’s meeting was one of three around the Westside presented by EXPO to give an update on the project process. Most notably, discussion focused the refinements and changes made to the EXPO Phase II DEIR in response to all the comments (over 9200!) submitted last spring after the previous round of meetings. Additionally, EXPO has been trying to resolve some issues over which EXPO and DOT had disagreed on. The meeting began with Steve Polechronis, project manager for Phase II giving an update on EXPO planning. Later Goodmon would publicly question Polechronis over donations he made to various political officials. Good times.

Points made by Steve Polechronis included:

-Reviewing the proposed alignments and noting that ROW to Olympic is the recommended route.

-Explaining that EXPO’s grade crossing analysis is the same standard analysis done by Metro, and looks at factors such as safety, environmental issues, and potential traffic issues/delays. Polechronis also noted that it is the California Public Utilities Commission that will have final regulatory approval of the EXPO DEIR.

-Reviewed the grade crossing recommendations for the Phase II stations and said that, after further studies and counts, all stations remain with at-grade recommendations except for the following notations:

Centinela/Exposition – will be grade-separated due to Centinela’s ¼ mile break at Olympic. EXPO’s studies determined that it would be too much traffic stress to add an at-grade rail crossing to this disjointed portion of Centinela/Olympic.

Sepulveda/Exposition – EXPO is including in the design allowances for grade-separation BUT grade-separation will only occur if the added cost is funded by an outside source.

-Regarding concerns about overflow parking occurring in residential neighborhoods: EXPO did another round of counts at various proposed stations and found that street parking in most station neighborhoods is underutilized. EXPO will monitor parking after opening and, if required, implement measures such as permit parking, time restrictions, and meters to mitigate any overflow parking in the residential streets.

-Regarding noise/vibration concerns: Polechronis reiterated that EXPO is using national standards in assessing and planning noise issues for the LRT. He explained that a high-tech track work will be put in place to ensure the quiet passing of trains.

-The EXPO maintenance facility: Two locations, both in Santa Monica, are the proposed sites for the maintenance facility where EXPO trains will be repaired, stored, and washed. Polechronis also mentioned the importance of good architecture for the facility, and showed photos of working facilities in Charlotte and Denver.

-Regarding the bikeway: While EXPO is designing the rail route to accommodate a bikeway, the bikeway is to be funded separately and its EIR requires a separate clearance from DOT and the city of Santa Monica. The hope is to secure bikeway funding and move along its EIR clearance so that it can be built simultaneously with the EXPO line.

-Next steps: The final EIR will be submitted for approval in January 2010. If approved and certified, design and construction will begin later in 2010, with anticipated service beginning in 2015.

Polechronis closed this portion of the meeting by showing a few nifty minute-long digital simulations of proposed stations, and one simulation of being on the train going from Overland to Sepulveda (it was like the Back to the Future ride!). Also shown was a real-time recording of the Gold Line crossing at Mission/Meridian in South Pasadena, to show how an intersection looks when a train passes through it (i.e. pedestrians were standing on the sidewalk corner and cars were waiting behind the lowered gates).

AND THE PEANUT GALLERY WEIGHS IN

After Polechronis’s presentation, the floor was opened up to Q&A from the audience (with 2 minute limits!). Always impassioned, many of the comments were equally addressed to Phase I concerns and intersections as they were Phase II. While many of the comments were those already extensively discussed (such as school safety, deaths on the Blue Line, grade separation), a few new topics and approaches worth mentioning did come up last night:

-One very curious gentleman asked if any ancient artifacts or coins have been found in the digging process of Phase I? And if so, will they be given to a museum, or perhaps displayed on EXPO’s website? Polechronis answered that the project does have an archaeologist on the team, and if anything is unearthed, the proper measures will be taken to preserve it.

-Helen Heller, member of Cheviot Hills for Smart Rail argued that if 1.7 miles of rail in the Gold Line extension (through Boyle Heights) could be grade-separated, then why not here? Is it because the Gold Line Extension got federal funds and EXPO Phase II did not? Ms. Heller suggested that instead of hiring a lobbyist, EXPO should have used that money to grade-separate.

ALLEGATIONS OF PANDERING TO OFFICIALS?
Next in line was Damien Goodmon, who asked: Why is Los Angeles, the most congested city in the nation, getting at-grade stations? Damian also asked Polechronis about contributions he gave to City Councilwoman Jan Perry and Mayor Villaraigosa while they were on the EXPO Board. Polechronis responded that “I live in this city and I support good folks I believe in.” (The circumstances of the contributions nor further info was not given.)

Lastly, Damian discussed environmental justice, noting something about EXPO will “kill one white kid [on the Westside] for every two kids in South LA,” however, this writer didn’t get the full context of the quote due to rising audience cacophony.

BACK TO THE AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

-A speaker asked about an increase in road rage due to the EXPO line. As people in cars get frustrated with having to wait for a train to cross, there is concern about escalating driver aggression and violence in the streets/intersections. Further, there was the related concern that ambulances and other emergency vehicles would not be able to reach their destinations due to trains impeding their way.

-One speaker brought up the fact that none of the stations indicate that they include public restrooms – this oversight will lead to an increase in public urination! (Really? Has this person walked down any street in Hollywood or downtown or Venice recently?)

-Musical interlude: The next speaker began speaking while simultaneously banging a cow bell with a small mallet, to simulate a noisy train crossing. Anti-rail supporters in the audience were laughing gleefully and applauding the cow bell, which continued throughout the two minutes of this speaker’s allotted time.

-Several speakers shared that they had visited Pasadena and spoke with residents living near the Gold Line, who said that they feel they have been misled by EXPO regarding noise issues. The Pasadena residents (as interviewed by these Cheviot Hills residents) said that they always have to keep their windows closed and that EXPO is not responsive to their concerns. A speaker proposed the logic chain that the LRT’s repetitive, continual noise = higher stress levels = increased blood pressure = heart attack = sudden death (!).

SOPHIE GETS THE HAIRY EYEBALL

A test of restraint and personal civility: After a Palms resident vocalized support for the EXPO line, yours truly clapped in support. A woman sitting in front of this writer turned around and hissed “Friends of Light Rail!?” The woman turned around again after a moment and asked this writer “So, how much did you guys pay that speaker to say something positive?” No. She. Didn’t.

-A rep from the Overland Elementary PTA presented over 100 letters from concerned parents regarding the effects of harmful airborne substances during construction of the EXPO line.

-Another bright side fact: a speaker asked about new jobs and commerce resulting from this project. Polechronis stated that during construction, there will be about 250 full time construction jobs over several years. Once complete, the maintenance facility will have approximately 90-95 full time employees.

ONE MORE TIME WITH THAT DONATION QUESTION

-Damian again – when all speakers had spoken, there was time for a few more comments and Damian went to the mic again with more info regarding Polechronis’ donations to Jan Perry and Mayor Villaraigosa. He said that Polechronis is on record for giving them $250 each, and noted the MTA statute that forbids giving any money to a board member. Again, the nature of the donations or further info was not clarified.

The meeting closed with a few more non-supporters emphasizing the theme of “build light rail right, or not at all.” Polechronis thanked everyone for coming and invited the audience to look at the renderings, maps, and diagrams at the back of the room.

Meetings will continue all week. Here's a list of where and when.
· Expo Line Meeting: Rapper's Delight in Cheviot Hills [Curbed LA]