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West Hollywood still pushing hard to get light rail ASAP

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One councilmember suggests revenue from a marijuana tax could pay for the project

The West Hollywood City Council voted 3-1 on Tuesday to double down on its commitment to bring a train to the city sooner rather than later.

Metro, the region’s transportation agency, plans to extend the under-construction Crenshaw Line north to the Hollywood and Highland Red Line station, possibly through WeHo, but not until the late 2040s. A motion passed by the West Hollywood City Council calls on city staffers to explore options for financing the construction of that light rail line much sooner.

The motion also asks the city of Los Angeles to commit to expediting permits and environmental review—to within three years.

“Unlike Beverly Hills, which has had lots of arguments over the Purple Line extension, the popularity of this line extension isn’t disputed,” says Dan Wentzel, a West Hollywood resident who chairs the city’s transportation commission. “People are pleading to have this line built here.”

There are many, many potential route options for the Crenshaw north extension to take on its journey from LAX to Hollywood/Highland.

With the motion, West Hollywood officials are trying to hold Metro to a promise made by the agency’s CEO, Phil Washington, in the months before voters passed Measure M that the project would be “shovel ready” by 2020.

It’s possible the northern extension would pass through WeHo, but the route from the future junction of the Expo and Crenshaw lines in Exposition Park to the Red Line’s Hollywood and Highland station in Hollywood hasn’t yet been decided.

Previous studies have indicated the line could be routed along Crenshaw Boulevard to San Vicente Boulevard, then along San Vicente to Santa Monica Boulevard. Other potential options include routings along La Brea Avenue, Fairfax Avenue, or La Cienega Boulevard. The last leg of the extension, running towards Hollywood and Highland, would likely be routed along Santa Monica or Sunset Boulevard.

West Hollywood stands to gain more from some alignments than others, and again and again, local lawmakers have taken every opportunity to remind Metro that the light rail should be built through the heart of their city.

A train running along San Vicente to Santa Monica hits a lot more of WeHo than a train routed along La Brea, for example.

Metro staffers aim to complete the extension’s initial feasibility studies this summer. West Hollywood officials anticipate that study “will include ridership projections of 90,000 daily riders.” That would be more than the Blue Line, Metro’s busiest light rail line, which carries about 70,000 riders daily.

The alignment most wanted by West Hollywood rail advocates is along San Vicente Boulevard all the way to Santa Monica.
Courtesy West Hollywood Advocates For Metro Rail

Another unanswered question is how to pay for the extension.

Measure M will generate roughly $1.7 billion for the project, but West Hollywood Advocates for Metro Rail predicts Metro’s feasibility study will include cost estimates as high as $6 billion.

City Councilmember Lauren Meister, who cast the dissenting vote Tuesday night, said she worries West Hollywood might be on the hook for the extension’s cost, above what Metro can provide.

“I don’t think this is really what our constituents bargained for when they voted for [Measure M],” she said. “I think, yes, we’d all like to see it accelerated, but… we need to have a point where we say we’ve [already] done a lot.”

City Councilmember John Duran suggested one of the funding sources could be a citywide tax on cannabis. A cannabis tax, he said, would be a “great use... to help support our work on the northern extension.”