Last Friday, in a quickly assembled celebration at Leimert Park, activists, politicians and community stakeholders exulted over a decision by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board to fund the Leimert Park Village Station on the Crenshaw/LAX light rail line. The decision had been made on Thursday, the day before.
In the eyes of many, the years-long battle for the station had been won when the MTA agreed to commit an additional $80 million to fund the underground station. The Los Angeles City Council had already decided to spring for $40 million for design and construction of the station. With $120 million now committed to the project, there was no hindrance to moving forward with the station.
The lack of a commitment from the MTA board beforehand had been a point of contention between the community and the MTA board, but on Friday it was hailed as a major victory for the community.
“There’s good news in the village today,” proclaimed Second District County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, one of the board members, who then paraphrased an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child. “It takes a village to a raise a station at Leimert Park. We did it together.”
“This is a celebration of you. This is a celebration of a community that is vibrant, that has always been a big part of this town from the very beginning,” Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa extolled the gathering. “Need I remind you that 26 of the 44 settlers that founded this town came from Africa.”
However, Villaraigosa initially held back his four votes on the MTA board.
“All I want to do is give some thank-yous,” said City Council President Herb Wesson. “The most important group that made this possible—that’s you,” Wesson said. He went on to acknowledge a group from Westchester that supported the Leimert Park station; Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition; City Councilmember Bernard C. Parks; Councilwoman Jan Perry and, of course, Ridley-Thomas.
Councilwoman Jan Perry told the gathering that all the hard work had finally paid off, but “now we can’t relax. This is just the beginning,” she noted. “We did it together.”
And there were written kudos from Congresswoman Karen Bass, state Senator Curren Price and Los Angeles County Supervisor and MTA Board Chairman Michael D. Antonovich.
“We’re excited about it,” said Mae Shaw, owner of A Kut Above Barber and Beauty Shop at 3631 Crenshaw Blvd. “It never bothered me that the line would be coming down Crenshaw. The thing we wanted was a stop at Leimert Park. I’m glad it’s coming because it’s (the Crenshaw line) connecting with the Expo Line (which intersects right beside the mall where her business is). I’m thinking it’s going to be bringing more business into this area.”
But not everyone is satisfied—for varying reasons.
“By no stretch of the imagination are we satisfied,” said the Subway Coalition’s Damien Goodmon on Friday. “We’re grateful. We’re taking this moment to celebrate a tremendous victory, but . . . . we [have to] get back to work. The speed with which this occurred indicates what we’ve been saying all along. It’s just a matter of political will. The money is there. It’s been there all along. By having the community remain focused and by demanding that the politicians comply with the will of the people we got it done.”
But Goodmon made it clear that the Coalition would continue to fight for an additional 11 blocks of the line to go underground to join the station—from 43rd Place to 54th Street. “We’ve got to get those other 11 blocks. “This is not an end. It’s a critical moment. We celebrate this weekend, but we wake up on Tuesday and continue the struggle.”
On the other hand, real estate broker Wesley Smith Jr. of Smith-Moore Estates at 5349 Crenshaw Blvd., says his personal preference was that the line be underground or elevated all the way—one or the other—and no part at street level. His fear, like those of many others, is that at street level it will ruin business along the boulevard.
He claims “constructive fraud was perpetuated by the MTA and many of its puppets” by having the line partly underground.
“Nobody in our immediate community of Park Mesa Heights is going to benefit at all,” said Smith.
Ted Thomas, president of the Neighborhood Council of Park Mesa Heights, was happy about the Leimert station but agreed with Smith. “It needs to go underground all the way up Crenshaw, all the way to Aviation. They’re going to kill business all the way down Crenshaw. What they have done is a Band-Aid approach,” he said.
“If it hadn’t been for Councilman Parks, they wouldn’t have done what they did.”
Lucretia Clark, owner of Regenaissance Hair Treatment Center at 3409 W. 54th St. said she originally wanted the line to go underground, but now she’s 50-50 either way. If they go underground, “they could beautify the top,” she said. But whether the line is at-grade or below-grade doesn’t matter so much as whether or not the work closes off 54th Street.
“Well, I was hoping that it went underground, but if it goes on top I hope they don’t close off 54th Street, because that’s the main thoroughfare for our business. There’s lots of traffic up and down that street. We get 80 percent of our customers from drive-by.” (The present plan would apparently close 54th Street.)
According to Jose Ubaldo, MTA communications manager, parts of the line will be underground, parts at street level and parts (in Inglewood) aerial, or above ground. The undergrounding, as presently conceived, will apparently end at the Leimert Park Village Station. The entrance to the Leimert Park station will be at 43rd Place and will extend to Vernon Avenue.