By Frank Gruber
November 2, 2009 -- Watching last Tuesday evening's
City Council hearing on the latest developments in the case of
the Expo line's maintenance yard (City
Council Wants Larger Role in Rail Facility," October 30,
2009), I didn't know what to fear more, the methane gas
that the Pico Neighborhood Association says could seep from the
ground and cause explosions if Expo builds the yard on the north
side of Exposition Boulevard, or the gas that seeped from the
mouths of several members of the City Council endeavoring to show
how concerned they are about something that suddenly has become
not a problem.
The meeting reminded me of how the Treesavers people, after they'd
saved 100 trees Downtown from an overly-ambitious replanting included
in the initial iteration of the Downtown streetscape plan, went
crazy because a remaining 50 unhealthy trees were still going
to be removed to allow for the planting of 100 new trees. They
just couldn't accept victory, and the whole thing ended up with
Jerry Rubin chaining himself to a tree and going to jail.
Last Tuesday night should have been the occasion for the Exposition
Boulevard neighbors and for the City Council to declare victory.
All the attention they caused to be applied to the maintenance
yard has resulted in the possibility -- okay, it's not yet a deal,
but it's becoming a deal -- for a facility and related development
that will bring stunning improvement to Exposition Boulevard and
the nearby neighborhood.
Yet listen to Council Member Kevin McKeown lecture the representatives
of Expo -- the good guys, mind you, bringing us the rail we so
desperately want -- on how they need to mind their environmental
Ps & Qs: "I am so discomfited by this process."
Oh, be discomfited, Council member McKeown.
What I'm looking forward to is for Mr. McKeown to chain himself
to some piece of the Verizon van parking lot on the day of the
maintenance yard's groundbreaking and get himself arrested. But
of course that won't happen -- he'll be there cutting the ribbon.
So what's going on? The first thing to realize is that there
will be no environmental impact from a maintenance yard. As someone
who toured the Green Line maintenance yard in Hawthorne, I can
tell you that the neighbors there said that there is no significant
The second thing to realize is that in response to the concerns
expressed by the neighbors and the City Council, City staff and
Expo staff, working with Santa Monica College, have come up with
a "hybrid plan" that spreads the maintenance facilities
across the northern half of the Verizon site and the College's
Stewart Street parking lot, liberating a "buffer" zone
100-120 feet wide along the north side of Exposition Boulevard.
All you need to know about the "impact" of a maintenance
yard is that according to the City's staff report, this buffer
would be a good place to locate housing. Chew on that for a moment:
the yard will be so benign you could put housing in the buffer.
(The only other evidence you need to know about the yard is that
its critics are now reduced to making silly claims about methane
gas -- there's nothing else to go on.)
The hybrid plan would do at least two
great things for the neighborhood:
-- Turn the north side of Exposition, currently one of the uglier
blocks in the city, into a mixed-use, walkable addition to the neighborhood
to the south, giving the currently aggrieved neighbors there a congenial
connection to the Expo station at Bergamot.
-- Remove the College's parking lot, which is currently a car-attracting
Presented with this great plan, the council members showed no imagination.
Bobby Shriver could only carp about how the City was "paying
for" the deal by giving up land to replace the College's parking,
ignoring the fact that the City would get to own and decide what
to do with the buffer along Exposition.
Now, at the core of the council's concerns was one kernel of substance,
a point that Mayor Genser could have made in less than two minutes
but which became the focus for agonizing emissions of gas from him
and from Messrs. McKeown and Shriver.
The point was that while Expo and its parent Metro could make the
decision to use only the Verizon site on their own, the hybrid plan
would require the City's approval (and that of the College), because
of the land swap.
Mayor Genser's point was that because Expo has taken advantage
of the additional land available in the hybrid plan to add some
facilities -- a fully-enclosed paint and body shop and storage for
about ten additional rail cars -- and those new facilities were
not analyzed in the original draft environmental impact report issued
in January, those facilities need to be analyzed before the City
or the other agencies can make a decision.
Good point, Mayor Genser. Of course Expo had already promised to
deal with those potential impacts in the final EIR, but, sure, hold
them to it. But did you and your colleagues have to lecture the
Expo representatives on this? Did you have to refer the matter to
the City Attorney? Don't you think it's in Expo's interest to make
sure you and the discomfited Mr. McKeown have all the environmental
data you need to make a decision that's good for Expo (even as it's
also good for Santa Monica)?
The only council member who spoke who seemed to understand any
of this was Gleam Davis (on the honor roll for discretion were Robert
Holbrook who said little, Pam O'Connor who said next to nothing,
and Richard Bloom who said nothing), who pointed out that street
car systems exist all over the world and the people live with them,
that not everyone was going to be happy regardless what the yard
finally looks like, and that the job now was to negotiate the best
Other than that, it's now time to for the council to thank its
staff, to thank Expo staff, and to get on with building this Expo