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County Agency Admits It Should Have Told of Plan to Buy Glassell Park Land

July 25, 1991|PHIL SNEIDERMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A county transportation agency acknowledged last week that it should have alerted the community before it snapped up 67 acres of prime land in Glassell Park, undermining a neighborhood planning panel that had envisioned new jobs, parks and housing on the site.

Representatives of the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission also admitted that the purchase of a portion of Southern Pacific Transportation Co.'s former Taylor Yard switching center will bring only two dozen or three dozen new jobs to the depressed neighborhood.

Commission staff members said they had committed an oversight but did not offer an outright apology during the July 17 meeting of the Northeast Los Angeles Community Plan Advisory Committee. The panel, appointed by three City Council members, had hoped to encourage the construction of new commercial centers, affordable housing and recreation areas at Taylor Yard.

The community committee did not learn until last month that the Transportation Commission had purchased part of Taylor Yard in October for a train maintenance center.

"We did not go out to the community prior to the acquisition, I'm going to grant that up front," Ralph De La Cruz, the agency's central area manager, told the advisory panel. "Most of us feel we should have been out to the community way back when."

He said the commission, funded by recent bond measures and sales tax increases and under pressure from voters weary of traffic jams, has been rushing to build new rail transportation systems. "We're accelerating a lot of projects and programs," he said.

The maintenance center will employ relatively few people--by design, said Richard Stanger, the commission's director of rail development. "It's not labor-intensive," he said. "That's to help keep the fares down."

Members of the northeast advisory committee, meeting before a small audience at the Lincoln Heights Recreation Center, listened quietly while commission staff members offered enthusiastic descriptions of the five-county commuter rail project and electric light-rail system they are developing.

The neighborhood advisory committee members expressed frustration and a sense of resignation that they had been left out of the transportation agency's plans involving Taylor Yard.

"I think you can get a sense that we're upset to have this occur," committee Chairman John Hisserich told the Transportation Commission staff members.

Panel members voted to convey their concerns in a letter to city officials. They said the advisory panel has no power to stop the new rail yard project.

The 18-month-old northeast committee will suggest land-use rule changes to the city, hoping to ignite an economic revival in that section of the city. The panel has devoted much attention to the 243-acre Taylor Yard site because it is one of the few large vacant parcels in the area. The committee continued to talk about development of Taylor Yard earlier this year, unaware that part of the land had been purchased.

The committee appears to have few opportunities left to influence the new rail yard project.

The county transportation agency has been designing the maintenance center and expects to award a $35-million construction contract in September. The new commuter rail yard is slated to open in October, 1992. A light-rail yard is also planned at the site.

Stanger told the neighborhood committee that his agency had no plans to acquire more acreage at Taylor Yard. He said his agency's purchase includes a narrow "tail" of land where rail tracks will run through the northern portion of Taylor Yard.

He said the transportation agency can move the tracks to make way for development on the remaining Taylor Yard acreage.

Southern Pacific still has 100 acres for sale at Taylor Yard. Stanger assured the neighborhood panel that there is still plenty of room for development and said he had heard that Southern Pacific also plans to sell its 74-acre locomotive maintenance center at Taylor Yard.

But on Wednesday, Southern Pacific spokesman Mike Furtney said, "There is no for-sale sign on the maintenance facility at this time."

Members of the neighborhood committee said they hoped the new rail yard will include screening or landscaping so that its appearance does not mar the neighborhood or discourage adjacent building projects.

The transportation agency staff members pledged to consult the neighborhood panel during the final design stages of the yard. "If I could leave this meeting with any message, it's that we want to work with you," De La Cruz said.

After the meeting, Hisserich said he was not entirely satisfied with the commission staff's explanation for its purchase of the Taylor Yard land. "I think the message they were conveying is that they had the opportunity to move quickly, and they did so," he said.

He and other committee members said they are worried that public agencies will quickly acquire most of the former freight yard for projects that will not provide an economic boost to the community.

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