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CALIFORNIA

MTA vote seals the deal for Leimert Park light-rail stop

May 24, 2013|Laura J. Nelson
  • Ankh Sa Roots talks with his son Ajahni, 3, in Leimert Park. When the South L.A. neighborhood was developed in the 1920s, it was a white-only area known for lush golf courses. After the 1965 Watts riots, black musicians, writers and artists began to move in.
Ankh Sa Roots talks with his son Ajahni, 3, in Leimert Park. When the South… (Gary Friedman, Los Angeles…)

After years spent fighting for a light-rail station in Leimert Park, South Los Angeles community members got their wish Thursday with the approval of full funding for a stop in the heart of L.A.'s African American community.

To cheering and applause from dozens of supporters, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved $80 million for an underground station in Leimert Park Village along the planned north-south route of the Crenshaw Line.

"The line goes through a very significant community, one with historic context," said Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, a director on the Metro board. "I am proud to say that both the city of Los Angeles and Metro have stepped up to the plate."

A Leimert Park station is the Crenshaw Line's answer to Gold Line stations in Chinatown, Little Tokyo and Mariachi Plaza, said L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who sponsored the motion. He said the light-rail station, at the intersection of Vernon Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard, would encourage foot traffic and tourism in the area, which took a hit during the recession.

"This is a village with a national presence," Ridley-Thomas said, adding that the area had wide economic and cultural influence. "This will be a huge shot in the arm."

When Leimert Park was developed in the 1920s, it was a white-only neighborhood known for lush golf courses. After the 1965 Watts riots, black musicians, writers and artists began to move in.

Today, jazz still filters through the area's main street, lined with shops, art galleries and the last black-centric bookstore in the region. Leimert Park is largely considered the last African American business corridor in Southern California.

"This will stimulate local economic development -- not only for today, but for years to come," said Gene Hale, the chairman of the Greater Los Angeles African American Chamber of Commerce.

The 8.5-mile Crenshaw Line would run south from the Expo Line at Exposition Boulevard along Crenshaw Boulevard through Inglewood, terminating at the Green Line near Los Angeles International Airport. The project is scheduled to open in 2018.

Planners included a station at the Crenshaw-Baldwin Hills mall but said a Leimert Park station half a mile south would be too expensive and violate a longtime practice of keeping stations at least one mile apart.

In 2011, at the urging of Ridley-Thomas, the Metro board voted to support the Leimert Park station -- but only if contractors could build it without exceeding the overall project's $1.7-billion budget.

Advocates called it unlikely at best. For two years, little changed.

Then, this week, the Los Angeles City Council gave $40 million for the Leimert Park Village station, financed through local returns for Measure R, the half-cent sales tax for transportation projects in Los Angeles County.

Although $40 million was only a third of the station's estimated cost, the money was a show of support for Leimert Park and a gentle prod in the right direction for the Metro board, Councilwoman Jan Perry said.

Some 24 hours later, the Metro board approved the $80 million. The newfound support from the board's county supervisors and regional leaders involved "some cajoling, some praying, some pushing," Ridley-Thomas said.

Metro will vote on a Crenshaw Line contractor at the June meeting, Villaraigosa's last before leaving office. Mayor-elect Eric Garcetti will become a Metro director July 1.

Lakewood City Councilwoman Diane DuBois was the only board member to vote against the proposal. She questioned the wisdom of spending $80 million of Metro's general fund on one station when other projects in the region also needed attention.

"This is fiscally prudent," Ridley-Thomas said. "If it were not, we would not have voted to do so."

"It's one of the best things to happen to the area in a while," said Barbara Morrison, who owns the nonprofit Barbara Morrison Performing Arts Center on Degnan Boulevard. "It's a beautifully diverse park and it needs more exposure."

South Los Angeles residents also asked Metro to reconsider burying one mile of the rail line in the Park Mesa Heights neighborhood.

The station's proximity to Crenshaw High School would put children in danger, they said.

The board rejected that idea two years ago. Ridley-Thomas declined to comment, citing a pending litigation: a lawsuit filed by the Crenshaw Subway Coalition says Metro broke environmental and civil rights laws by approving the project without putting the rail line underground.

The City Council also approved $15 million for a station in Westchester, near LAX, which Metro included in its amended budget Thursday.

--

laura.nelson@latimes.com

Times staff photographer Gary Friedman contributed to this report.

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