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Debate on Light Rail Maintenance Facility Continues

By Jonathan Friedman
Lookout Staff

November 26, 2009 -- City officials could be close to agreements with various agencies on the light rail maintenance facility proposed for the Pico Neighborhood. But not everybody is happy.

The City Council had another of its many discussions on Tuesday about the proposed facility needed for Phase II of the Exposition Light Rail. The Exposition Construction Authority (Expo) has agreed to remove the paint and body shop from the proposal, although there still will be a “light duty repair” center.

Council members instructed the City manager to negotiate an agreement with Expo that would locate the maintenance facility on an area covering the Verizon-owned site on Exposition Boulevard off Stewart Street and a Santa Monica College (SMC) parking lot.

City staff will continue talks with SMC about a land swap in which the City would give Airport “residual land” to the college in exchange for the parking lot.

Also, City staff must speak with officials from the California Public Utilities Commission and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro), which will operate the rail line connecting Culver City to Santa Monica.

The City Council has no official say regarding the light rail or the maintenance facility. Only the Expo Board of Directors have the authority to make those decisions. The board is expected to vote on them in January.

Some consider the current proposed location for the facility, dubbed the “hybrid concept,” better than a previous plan in which it would only be located at the Verizon site.

With the parking lot included, it would allow for a buffer zone of up to 110 feet that would separate the facility from residents.

A park could be built at the buffer location, city officials suggested.

But even with the “hybrid concept,” many Pico Neighborhood residents say they are frustrated by a facility they say poses a health and noise threat. The residents say they have been ignored throughout the process.

“We feel bulldozed by this process,” Pico Neighborhood Association co-Chair Maria Loya told the council. Although Loya did not mention her by name, she also spoke against Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor, who sits on the Expo and Metro boards.

“As our representative, she has failed to protect the health and well being of her constituents and the community will not forget that,” Loya said.

Several other Pico Neighborhood residents criticized council members, saying they had not done all they could to help.

Council member Robert Holbrook said this was not true, and noted that City officials had researched other possible locations for the maintenance facility. Expo rejected all proposals because they were too costly or unfeasible.

“I guess my skin is getting thin,” Holbrook said. “Because after devoting so much time and thought and energy to this--as many of us have--to say that we’re uncaring just hurts.”

The neighborhood received the most sympathy from Council member Kevin McKeown.

The City Council has no official say regarding the light rail or the maintenance facility.

“We feel bulldozed by this process,”

"--to say that we’re uncaring just hurts.”

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