I was most disappointed in Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’ op-ed (“Heavy Impact of Light Rail”) in the Feb. 15 issue about the Expo light-rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Santa Monica. There were certain key words in his piece that set up the rich Westside people as the “bad” guys and the people in the less affluent neighborhoods as the victims.
For example, he said, “… those set to get grade-separated crossings – tend to be in more well-off neighborhoods.” Yet the fact is that several primary Westside crossing are being built at grade, so how is it we “rich” Westside people are going to have the same at-grade crossings as those in the less affluent neighborhoods? We have enough problems in this country; we don’t need that pot put back on the fire.
I suggest the supervisor, for whom I have a great deal of respect, focus on solving the financial problems faced by the county in paying its bills. And if he has some spare time, he might focus on solving the city of L.A.’s financial woes and the state of California’s impossible financial position.
Personally, I argued for grade separations on the Westside north-south streets due to the amount of traffic these very few streets carry. There are more than 40,000 jobs in Century City; 75,000 jobs and students at UCLA; there are Westwood high-rises and Santa Monica’s job base. A significant number of these people travel south to get home or north to get to work. But I was educated to the point that it is a matter of money: It was to be at-grade crossings or no rail. I was unwilling to sacrifice the rail for what I thought should be done, so I gave up the battle.
At a transportation meeting several years ago, Councilwoman Pam O’Connor of Santa Monica told us that the Westside was only 60,000 jobs behind downtown Los Angeles, yet every rail line feeds into downtown. The Westside has no rail lines except for Expo. Remember that Los Angeles County is the 18th largest economy in the world and the Westside of Los Angeles County has, or had before the economy cracked, a great many of those jobs. Why? Because the people who create jobs like to live on the Westside. These “bad” people on the Westside create the jobs that those in less affluent neighborhoods fill. I bet those people in the less affluent neighborhoods who are unemployed would love to see more jobs on the Westside. In fact, those unemployed people who live on the Westside would also like to see more jobs.
Are there people on the Westside fighting for grade separations? Yes, there are. But many of them simply don’t want a train running anywhere near their homes, or they fear cut-through traffic as people go south to board the trains or north to go to work, and they couldn’t care less about the grade separation. Their goal is to move the rail line south, which would kill the project and severely hurt the Westside’s ability to create jobs. And it would severely hurt those people from all over Los Angeles County who work or want to work on the Westside.
This rail line is not just being built for what exists today; it is being built for what will be here 20 and 40 years from now. Some time in the future when economic things are better, they will go back and separate the crossings that require grade separations, but for now, let’s just get Expo Phase II built.