Approval of Light Rail Concerns Neighbors

In a packed meeting at the Palms Park Recreational Center on Feb. 20, local residents assembled to discuss an intended legal challenge to the Expo Authority to get a portion of the Expo Light Rail Line built below ground level. 

Neighborhoods For Smart Rail, a coalition of homeowner organizations from the Rancho Park and Cheviot Hills areas, arranged the meeting to inform local residents of their intention to take their case to the Los Angeles County Superior Court, using a Final Environmental Impact Report they regard as being fundamentally and fatally flawed, as the basis of their argument.

The FEIR was submitted at an Expo Authority board meeting on Feb. 4, and its approval green-lighted construction to begin on phase 2 of the Expo Line project. Originally scheduled to begin later this year, phase 2 will link Culver City, where phase 1 finishes at Venice and Robertson, with Santa Monica.

However, having spent a number of years pushing to get the portion of the Expo Line between Overland and Sepulveda constructed below-grade (below ground), NFSR believe that the FEIR fails to address a number of fundamental issues which should have formed part of the report, and therefore makes its legality questionable.

"This is the worst EIR I have ever seen," said Mike Eveloff, President of the Track 7260 Homeowners Association. "The report was supposed to take everything into account before any mitigating measures were made, but they've deliberately fudged the baseline to avoid taking [below-grade] into account."

Other than taking pre-emptive measures to satisfy certain requirements of the report, something Eveloff said is a violation of protocol, he said that the Expo Authority also failed to take into account the effect the rail line would have on traffic at a number of important and heavily congested intersections, and failed to adequately address the effect it would have on emergency services already stretched thin.

"The [Metropolitan Transit Authority] said that the rail crossing is just like any other light," said Eveloff, "but that's not true. An ambulance can't go through a rail-crossing when the rails down, and those few extra minutes could be the matter between life and death."

Health and safety is a major worry for local residents, and among some of their concerns are the proximity of the proposed line to the Overland Elementary School, roughly 70 feet, and the overall safety record of the MTA. According to NFSR, the Blue line recorded its 99th fatality as of last week, and approximately its 860th accident overall.

"The MTA took a number of concerned parents to see their Gold Line and show them a stretch that runs right beside another school, just to allay any fears they might have," said Terri Tippit, President of the NFSR, "and within two hours of them leaving, there was an accident right in front of the school."

In response to NFSR's intention of legal action, Monica Boin, project director of phase 2 for the Expo Construction Authority, said that they had worked in conjunction with the City of LA to decide upon which intersections should be examined and included in the FEIR. She also said that any claims on behalf of the NFSR that the Expo Authority did not examine possible alternatives to an at-grade rail-line were "totally incorrect on their part," and added that the Expo Authority are not obligated to examine every concern raised by the public.

Regarding the general safety record of the MTA, Boin said that they are doing "everything they possibly can" to improve safety features throughout the whole operation. She also said that while the aforementioned accident was unfortunate, it was "driver error, and not mechanical error" that caused the incident.

One other issue that arose from the Expo Board meeting that ratified the FEIR, was a concern by the NFSR that SMC students were being used as political lobbyists. They said that two bus-loads of students, some of whom they claim had only a limited knowledge of the full ramifications of the line, were taken to the meeting where their presence not only painted a rather skewed picture of public opinion, but prevented many NFSR members from stating publicly their case.

However, Genevieve Bertone, project manager of Sustainability Coordination, and an integral figure in the student representation that day, said that far from using the students as political pawns, they were merely voicing the concerns of a wider group of people.

"We're not using students for political lobbying, we were allowing stakeholders the opportunity to have an input on a project that directly affects them.

A lot of people from low-income households don't have access to events like that. I think everybody who's affected by the light-rail should have the opportunity to have their say."

The 30-day deadline for a law-suit to be filed will be March 4.