When construction wraps up on Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Line in 2019, the new light rail route will add a key corridor to the agency’s growing transit network and, eventually, a long-sought rail connection to one of the busiest airports in the world.
The line will begin at Exposition Boulevard and travel south down Crenshaw Boulevard, passing by Leimert Park, Baldwin Hills, Hyde Park, and Inglewood, before arriving at Aviation and Century Boulevards.
But what will the train’s impact be on the neighborhoods it passes through?
Development is booming along the recently extended Expo Line to Santa Monica, and real estate prices are rising quickly around many of the stops. Will the same changes occur in close-knit communities along the Crenshaw/LAX Line that are already grappling with gentrification?
“From a homeowner’s standpoint, everyone’s really excited,” says Patrice Anderson, who serves as a board member on the Empowerment Congress West Neighborhood Development Council. “A lot of people are already taking the Expo Line, and so this would make it even easier for them.”
But she acknowledges some trepidation among renters and retirees living on a fixed income, pointing to a UCLA study that found rising property values and gentrification to be more likely around transit stops.
Longtime Inglewood resident and community advocate Diane Sambrano says she’s already seen residents and businesses displaced as real estate developers snap up properties close to the rail line.
“It hurts my heart,” she says. “They’ve been here for years and years.”
Kahllid Al-Alim, president of the Park Mesa Heights Community Council, says his neighbor is selling a home for $575,000. “The median income for this community is a little less than $35,000, so who can afford that home?” he asks. “It’s very alarming.”
But Al-Alim says the rail could also be an economic opportunity for the area if residents are given the chance to benefit from it. He’d like to see programs in place guaranteeing local hire policies on new construction projects and providing assistance to small business owners before and after the train arrives.
Gina Fields, president of the McClung Bronson Block Club in Leimert Park, is optimistic about the line’s potential to draw in visitors to the neighborhood, giving an economic boost to businesses and homeowners. But she’s worried about Metro’s willingness and ability to ensure the project succeeds.
“That’s our biggest concern,” she says. “That, when it comes in, they continue to maintain it and keep it nice. It would be really hurtful ... if you’re up at Wilshire and that station’s nice and pretty and then you get to the Crenshaw station and it’s dirty or smelly.”
In Leimert Park, this kind of ambivalence toward the project is not new. When Metro first revealed plans for the transit line nearly a decade ago, residents of the neighborhood demanded that the train proceed underground for its initial stops along Crenshaw Boulevard, and that a station be added at Leimert Park Village, which has long been an important cultural center for black residents of Los Angeles.
“Leimert Park Village is such an iconic place,” Fields says. “If there wasn’t a stop there, it just felt like they were like they were just brushing past us to go to LAX ... with no care or no concern for trying to incorporate our neighborhood.”
Residents won the battle for a station at Leimert Park Village—and for the train to run underground for its first three stops. But Fields says that new problems with the project have emerged.
“Once they started digging underground ... it was shaking everyone’s houses,” says Fields, who lives just off Crenshaw Boulevard, where tunneling for the project took place. She says that the shaking caused cracks in her home’s ceiling and foundation, and that a gate was pushed out of place.
Anderson says she’s heard of other residents with similar complaints.
Fields says she filed a claim with Metro for reimbursement of damages to her home, but that the claim was denied and that the agency was reluctant to acknowledge the shaking at all. “We felt like we were being gaslighted,” she says.
A spokesperson for Metro tells Curbed that the agency does not directly process damage claims related to work on the Crenshaw/LAX Line, but that contractor Walsh Shea Corridor Constructors has received 166 such claims since heavy construction began on the line in 2014.
In Inglewood, where the train will travel at street level before moving up to a segment of aerial track, Sambrano hasn’t had the same issues with construction. But she has similar concerns about the need for more community engagement.
“Consultants come with a plan,” she says. “And they will push their plan whether or not it’s what the community says will work better.”
For Al-Alim, a major frustration is the feeling that local leaders don’t want to listen to members of the community when planning projects like the Crenshaw/LAX Line and future developments in the area.
“We’ve been asked enough,” he says, “it’s just that our voices have not been incorporated into the plan.”
Still, Anderson says there’s genuine excitement in Leimert Park for the train’s arrival. “For a lot of people, it couldn’t get here fast enough,” she says, pointing out that the community is presently in an odd transitional phase in which many storefronts sit vacant as rents rise and property owners wait for work on the rail line to finish.
“We are excited about it,” says Fields. “It would be great if this becomes direct transportation to LAX and to Wilshire or the Expo Line. We are really positive about it ... it just feels like none of our concerns are ever really being addressed.”