By Gene Williams
February 17 -- After years of planning and budget set backs, a long talked-about commuter train between Downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica is moving closer toward reality, and when if finally arrives, it should take Colorado Avenue into the Downtown.
At least that's what an overwhelming majority of City officials and residents were saying at a City Council meeting last week to provide comments on a Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) released by the Expo Light Rail Authority last month. (A community workshop will be held tonight at the Civic Auditorium.)
All four options explored in the report have the train entering Santa Monica through an existing right of way near Olympic Boulevard and stopping at Bergamot Station before continuing west. The question is -- should it keep going down Olympic or jog over to Colorado Avenue?
"I haven't found anybody who thinks Olympic is a better idea," said Council member Kevin McKeown. "So I think it's a pretty good guess that the City's decision will be we prefer the light rail go down Colorado."
Those who spoke Tuesday gave a number of reasons why Colorado is better – it would run at grade and save the iconic coral trees along Olympic.
One objection to the Olympic route is that it would require a 50-foot-high elevated rail structure that swoops into Downtown Santa Monica – something critics call a disconnected eyesore.
"You really negate what we're trying to do in our city, which is to create an open, productive, friendly environment," Planning Commissioner Gleam Davis said about the proposed overpass.
The Colorado option would eliminate the overpass by coming directly into Downtown at ground level. Proponents say this would serve Downtown better by making the train an integral part of the district.
Other objections to the Olympic route are that it would pose a threat to school children, and that it would uproot more than 40 well-established coral trees which many regard as a City symbol and treasure.
Taking the train down Colorado would eliminate these concerns. In addition, the Colorado route would enliven to the Mid-city neighborhood and put the train closer to hospitals and businesses, proponents said.
Those who have been following Phase Two of the Expo Light Rail project -- Phase One, which takes the rail from Downtown LA into Culver City is already under construction -- aren't surprised that the City is headed in this direction.
The City requested and funded a feasibility study of the Colorado Avenue route two years ago after concerns were raised about initial plans from the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA).
The City Council is expected to recommend the Colorado option later this month. But that won't mean it's a done deal. Although the City has political influence, the final decision rests with the MTA.
Near the end of Tuesday's comments, Council member Pam O'Connor, who also serves on the MTA Board, promised to advocate for the City.
"We do have at least one-thirteenth vote on the Metro Board," O'Connor said, "and I will work hard always to represent you guys on that."
Other elements in the DEIR that raised concerns Tuesday include a proposed maintenance yard on Stewart Street, lack of parking at Bergamot station, and a proposed bike path missing from the DEIR because it is funded separately.
Also in question is which of two alternatives will move the train from Culver City through West Los Angeles.
One alternative – generally favored by Santa Monica and Transit Authorities because it is more direct and less costly -- would use an existing right of way that runs west along the Santa Monica freeway, cuts north before Overland Avenue, then west again between Pico and National Boulevards.
Another alternative -- generally favored by Cheviot Hills residents because it would divert the train from their neighborhood -- would send the rail line west down Venice Boulevard then north on Sepulveda Boulevard before joining the traditional right of way near the junction of the Santa Monica and San Diego freeways.
Upcoming meetings and hearings relating to the Expo line will be held:
Tues., Feb. 17, Community Workshop, presented by the City of Santa Monica's planning department, 7:00 p.m., at the Civic Auditorium, East Wing.
Weds. Feb. 18, Expo Authority public hearing to gather comments to EIR, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m., at Santa Monica High School.
Mon.,_Feb. 23, Expo Authority public hearing to gather comments to EIR, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m., Vista Del Mar Child and Family Services, Gymnasium_3200 Motor Avenue, Los Angeles 90034
Weds.,_Feb. 25, Expo Authority public hearing to gather comments to EIR, 5:00 - 8:00 p.m., Webster Middle School, "Daniel's Den" _11330 W. Graham Place, Los Angeles 90064
Tues., Mar. 3, City Council meeting to recommend a route preference and make other comments to the EIR.
Members of the public may also submit comments to the EIR at this webpage: http://www.buildexpo.org/submit_comment.phpPublic hearings on Phase 2 of the Expo Light Rail will be held on at the following dates and locations:
A final EIR for Phase 2 is expected to come out in fall. Construction is set to start in 2010 with train service beginning 2015.