Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas in deep thought in May… (Los Angeles Times )
When the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board took up L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' proposal Thursday to add two stations to the new Crenshaw light-rail line, Lakewood City Councilwoman Diane DuBois asked the right question. Then she gave the wrong answer.
At issue were stations at Leimert Park Village -- a historic center of African American life in Los Angeles -- and at Hindry and Florence avenues in Westchester. The latter would be above ground and relatively inexpensive, but the stop at Leimert Park was projected to cost $120 million. The Metro board agreed in 2011 to build that station only if the total 8.5-mile project stayed within its budget of just under $1.8 billion.
On Wednesday, the City Council voted to pony up $55 million for the two stations, leaving a gap of about $80 million. Ridley-Thomas' motion called for both stations to be added to the project, funded by the $55 million from the city and $80 million from the board's reserves.
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According to my colleague Laura J. Nelson, board member DuBois asked whether it was wise to spend more than one-sixth of the board's reserves to build the Leimert Park station. Her answer, evidently, was no; she was the lone dissenter in the board's 10-1 vote.
It's certainly true that Metro has more needs than dollars to fulfill them. But what's at issue here is what the board does with the projects funded by Measure R, the half-cent sales-tax increase voters approved in 2008. It makes no sense to build a rail line down Crenshaw and bypass a neighborhood as economically and culturally significant as Leimert Park Village. It's akin to building the Red Line without a stop at Hollywood and Vine.
The board hasn't given Ridley-Thomas everything he's asked for on the Crenshaw line. Notably, it resisted his push to put the section from 48th Street to 59th Street underground, instead of runing it down the middle of Crenshaw Avenue. That change would have cost more than $200 million. (A community group called the Crenshaw Subway Coalition is suing Metro on that issue.)
Redirecting some of the uncommitted Measure R dollars to the Leimert Park station means there will be less money left to cover cost overruns on other projects. That's not an argument to bypass Leimert Park Village, however; it's an argument for Metro to pay closer attention to its contractors. A good use of the uncommitted dollars is to let the board fix errors of omission within the Measure R projects, and there's no better example of that than the missing Leimert Park stop.
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