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City Council Greenlights Alternate Plan for Rail Yard

By Jorge Casuso

July 17, 2009 – The City Council Tuesday voted to move ahead with a plan that would relocate parts of a proposed light rail maintenance yard despite opposition for neighboring residents and some businesses.

The plan includes using a city-owned parcel at 1800 Stewart Street and a Santa Monica College-owned parcel, as well as the originally proposed site currently owned by Verizon near Olympic and Stewart streets.

The council voted 4 to 2 -- with the four Santa Monicans for Renters’ Rights (SMRR) council members present backing the plan and Bob Hollbrook and Bobby Shriver opposing it -- to pursue the alternative and to continue to explore other possible sites and ensure community involvement.

The move to relocate the noisier functions of the Exposition Light Rail Maintenance facility further away from homes in the Pico Neighborhood came after SMRR opposed the proposed Verizon site on Exposition Boulevard earlier this year.

In a letter to the council, the powerful tenants groups called placing the facility across from an apartment building a case of “environmental injustice,” and warned that the facility would have “many intolerable impacts” on the city’s poorest and most ethnically diverse neighborhood.

The council vote came after a consultant hired by the City to explore alternative sites “confirmed that there were no other sites. . . that met the criteria, particularly with respect to size and ownership,” according to staff.

But the alternative plan failed to please the two dozen residents who testified that it did not adequately address health and safety issues – one neighborhood leader said it created a “toxic triangle" – and that it would snarl traffic on Stewart Street.

Mayor Ken Genser noted that the yard, which would service trains that run on the second phase of the line from Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica, would have little or no impact on health, since the cars are electric and do not pollute.

The plan also was opposed by officials at the Lionstone Group, a real estate investment firm that has a ground lease with the City until 2030 for the land at 1800 Stewart.

"Our ground lease is not for sale and we will actively oppose any effort to take our lawful right to use that for the next 21 years," said Daniel Dubrowski, a founding partner of Lionstone.

College officials, on the other hand, said they are willing to give up the adjacent college-owned student parking lot if the City helped them find an alternative site. The council directed staff to help the college relocate the parking lot.

Shriver, who cast one of the two opposing votes, said the City should continue to look for an alternate site, which should not be difficult to find in today’s economic climate.




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