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City, Expo to Explore Alternatives for Rail Maintenance Facility

By Jorge Casuso

August 12, 2009 -- City and Expo Light Rail officials agreed to continue exploring alternatives for a maintenance facility in Santa Monica, including relocating two dozen businesses on Colorado Avenue near the Downtown.

The City Council Tuesday night also voted to move ahead with a "hybrid option" that would spread the facility on the Verizon property at Olympic Boulevard and Stewart Street, the Santa Monica College (SMC) parking lot across the street and a portion of the City Yard next door.

The option includes a City-controlled 120-foot buffer zone that would minimize the impact on neighboring residents in the city's poorest and most ethnically diverse neighborhood. The buffer zone would also be among the "mitigation measures" implemented if the entire facility is placed on the Verizon site opposed by neighboring residents.

"I really in my heart don't believe this belongs next to a residential neighborhood," said Council member Kevin McKeown. But he added, "We're committed to continuing the dialogue."

At the start of the council deliberations, Mayor Ken Genser noted that the final decision rested with the Expo Construction Authority and, ultimately, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

"This is essentially not our project," Genser said. "Metro can pick any site. . . and do the line the best way they think is appropriate."

Council members urged Expo officials to explore a site south of Colorado between 9th and 11th streets that is adjacent to the tracks.

While consultants said the site is "well-sized," they warned that access to the site could "create significant safety concerns" because the trains would have to turn into eastbound traffic and businesses would be dislocated.

"There's a lot of businesses there, and it's going to be very costly to relocate businesses, but there could be savings in mitigation and it's not close to residences," Genser said. "We should request that that really get analyzed."

"The choice between 27 businesses and 270 families is a pretty easy one," said Council member Kevin McKeown, referring to the residences impacted by the Verizon site abutting the Pico neighborhood.

Expo officials said they were willing to explore the alternatives, but warned that there is "no perfect location for a maintenance facility.

"We have absolutely no objection continuing to look at other sites," said Rick Thorpe, the Expo Construction Authority's CEO. "I think we can look at both alternatives simultaneously," he said, referring to the two Verizon alternatives and the Colorado Avenue site.

But Thorpe warned that buying up the properties along a two-block stretch of Colorado likely was prohibitive and could delay the project.

"Yes, we have the right to eminent domain, but in some cases there is dispute for years and years and years," Thorpe said.

He said that while Santa Monica College was being cooperative, the hybrid plan hinged on finding an alternative parking site for the college.

Council member Bob Holbrook agreed the Colorado site likely wouldn't work.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to what is affordable," Holbrook said. "I think, ladies and gentlemen, that site is not going to make it."

Council member Davis urged the community to keep an open mind, noting that the Verizon site is currently being used as a maintenance yard.

"There are things going on there now that are probably impacting the neighborhood," Davis said. "So we're taking one maintenance yard and putting in another.

"We sort of have to ground ourselves in reality," she said. "If everyone goes into this with feet in cement, it's not good for the community."

Thorpe offered to take opponents of the Verizon site, including nearby post-production studios who testified the maintenance facility would disrupt their work, on a tour of other maintenance facilities that are next to residences and businesses.

"It's a fear of the unknown," Thorpe said. "We have sound studios within ten feet of the site in Pasadena."

Some of the three dozen who testified against the Verizon site agreed to take the tour.

A diffrernt version of the hybrid proposal was approved by the council last month in an effort to relocate the noisier functions of the Expo maintenance facility further away from homes.

Opponents of the Verizon site have called the proposed facility a "toxic triangle" and accused the City of engaging in “environmental racism,” warning the facility would have “many intolerable impacts” on the Pico Neighborhood.

"I really in my heart don't believe this belongs next to a residential neighborhood." Kevin McKeown

"We have absolutely no objection continuing to look at other sites." Rick Thorpe

"At the end of the day, it comes down to what is affordable." Bob Holbrook

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