Bill Boyarsky
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Mayoral candidates miss the train

Thumbnail image for expo-line-work-expo.jpgOf the many items that haven’t made it to the mayoral campaign agenda, one of the most important is how the growing number of rail transit lines will reshape Los Angeles.

The candidates, City Councilman Eric Garcetti and Wendy Greuel, each have advocated more light rail and subways. Garcetti has been more specific, calling for the start or completion of 10 new rail lines, including a tunnel under Sepulveda Pass connecting the Valley to West L.A.

But as is the case with much that happens in the city, none of this seems to have dented the consciousness of a populace that doesn’t pay attention to civic affairs or projects until the earthmovers and dump trucks show up. Understanding this, Garcetti and Greuel focus on hotter subjects.

Some residents, however, are good at pre-emptive action, such as those fighting a proposed new runway at LAX or people in my neighborhood opposing a huge apartment-retail-restaurant complex at the Expo line rail station to be built at Sepulveda Avenue and Pico Boulevard.

The project, by developer Alan Casden, is a perfect example of how train lines will change Los Angeles from a sprawling flat city to a denser, high-rise one. To find out what the city is going to do about it, I dropped into a meeting April 2 of the Westwood South of Santa Monica Boulevard Homeowners Association at St. Timothy’s Church.

Instead of a mayoral candidate, the homeowners got a couple of city planning department officials who spoke in the impenetrable bureaucratic language favored by so many city planners. The officials wanted to talk about process. The homeowners wanted to talk about the 638 apartments; five buildings, one 15 stories high; the 1,566 residents; and the congestion expected at 27 area intersections. The latter figure was in a draft environmental impact report.

Rather than listen to a tedious discussion of how the city will plan for future development, the homeowners were interested in the here and now, specifically Casden’s political clout, as seen in city approval of his big developments in Westwood and elsewhere. “Casden has been able to steamroller everything with money and power,” said one of his critics.

What was missing here and in other city policy discussions was an examination of what these train lines would do for—and to—the city. In the Valley, there is talk of converting the popular Orange Line express bus to light rail, better able to handle the growing patronage. A Crenshaw rail line will be built and light rail is changing East L.A. The subway extension will remake the neighborhoods in the Wilshire corridor.

It’s definitely something for Greuel and Garcetti to discuss. But the subject deals too much with Los Angeles’ future to attract attention in a campaign where both candidates are worried about a short-term gain of votes in an election less than two months away.

LA Observed photo: Expo Line construction near Pico and Sepulveda.

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