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Light Rail Makes Stop in Santa Monica

By Olin Ericksen
Staff Writer

March 9 -- With the deadline for input fast approaching on April 2, Santa Monica residents this week took their first close look at a life-changing light rail line scheduled to pull into their neighborhoods from Downtown Los Angeles by 2015.

More than 150 people turned out at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium Tuesday evening to hunch over 20-foot-long aerial photographs of the city and offer their input during the third of four Westside stops made by transit officials before they begin an environmental review of the $800 million project next month.

With a yellow line running a few blocks north of the Freeway depicting the proposed rail route and four red dots marking possible transit hubs, the maps gave residents a realistic view of what life may be like with a railway running in their backyards.

Residents ponder proposed light rail line. (Photos by Olin Ericksen)

"I'm pleased with the turnout because the idea of the scoping meetings is to get the public out to make them aware of the projects that we are undergoing and the transit alternatives in the area," said Joel Sandberg, director of engineering and construction for the Exposition Construction Authority.

It will be Sandberg's job to oversee the extension of the proposed rail line from Culver City to Santa Monica, the second leg of a light rail line that will link the beachside city to Downtown Los Angeles.

Ringing in at $680 million, the first leg from the Los Angeles core to Culver City is already under construction and should be completed in 2010.

"We think based on the experience of other lines already built, that it will be a significant change for the community to have an alternative to driving for the first time in about 50 years," said Sandberg.

Yet not all in the area welcome the change.

Some residents in the nearby Cheviot Hills area have already voiced their opposition loud enough that two routes are currently being considered to bring the project into Santa Monica.

"We are certainly getting a lot of strong opinions both ways," said Sandberg.

The upcoming March 15 meeting could see a showdown between those who want the rail to head straight into Santa Monica and those who want it to bypass Cheviot Hills on a longer, more expensive route down Sepulveda and Venice boulevards.

Tuesday’s meeting in Santa Monica in Santa Monica, while well-attended, was low-key.

Scores of local residents praised the work and said they were eager to see the transit line offer Santa Monicans an escape from Los Angeles' legendary crushing freeway traffic and clogged surface streets.

A handful, however, worried that the line would impact their quality of life.

"Look at it, I'd be completely boxed in," said 30-year resident Gary Drun, pointing to the map as he spoke with one of scores of planners stationed at tables to answer questions. "I'd have the freeway on one side and the light rail on the other."

Drun is concerned that the light rail could be a noisy addition to the constant hum of freeway and draw traffic to the proposed station near his home at Cloverfield Boulevard, just south of Olympic Boulevard.

"I can only imagine the traffic that it's going to suck into the neighborhood," he said.

Consultant and urban planner, Lisa Padilla, answers questions.

In addition to the proposed Cloverfield station, MTA officials are considering placing stations at Exposition Boulevard and Bundy Drive and Exposition Boulevard just adjacent to the 405 freeway.

The final stop on the rail line in Santa Monica would be at Fourth Street and Colorado Avenue at the Sears building the City bought last year just four blocks east of the pier entrance.

"These are possible locations out of those previous studies done six years ago, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will be the station location after these studies are conducted," Sandberg said.

Transportation officials also are considering a station outside the City's borders just east of the 405 Freeway on Sepulveda.

Among those who attended the meeting were representatives of the Pico Neighborhood, which saw many of its black and Latino residents and businesses uprooted when the I-10 Freeway was built four decades ago.

"One reason we have (LA Voices) here early on is because we want the community to feel they do have a say in what's happening," Father Mike Gutierrez, the pastor of St. Anne's Church, said of the interfaith group that attended the meeting.

While Gutierrez is encouraging Pico residents to get involved and help shape the process, he believes times have changed since City officials tore apart the neighborhood over the strong protests of longtime residents.

"What happened 40 years ago, that mechanism just worked that way 40 years ago," he said.

The area, Gutierrez said, could actually benefit from light rail if planners are sensitive to the community’s needs.

"In the end, it's going to make traffic better in the Pico Neighborhood," he said.

Project timeline.

Construction of the light rail line likely won’t have a major impact on the neighborhood, transportation officials said. That’s because the line would run parallel to the freeway, largely along the same public right of way through Santa Monica's light manufacturing district used by the old rail line.

Already, developers are gearing up for arrival of the new trains, officials said.

"We found that in the last four or five years that developers are very interested in building what's called transit-oriented development," Sandberg said.

In addition to weighing in on where to place the rail line and its stations, local residents expressed interest in moving the final station closer to the beach and establishing rapid trains.

They also prefer raised platforms, parking near the stations and connecting the line to existing transit systems, such as the Big Blue Bus.

Some also said they would like to see an economic impact report prepared to gauge the rail line’s effect on local residents.

Council member Pam O'Connor, who was recently elected as the MTA board’s first vice chair, said the proposed project – which officials are seeking Federal and State monies to fund – has come a long way.

"It's been fun seeing it come from a twinkle in the eye of people to where it is today and where it will be when the shovel hits the dirt," O’Connor said.



"It's been fun seeing it come from a twinkle in the eye of people to where it is today and where it will be when the shovel hits the dirt." Pam O’Connor


"I can only imagine the traffic that it's going to suck into the neighborhood." Gary Drun



"In the end, it's going to make traffic better in the Pico Neighborhood." Father Mike Gutierrez


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