Bill Boyarsky
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Real estate developers: all aboard Expo

bill-300.jpgAt last! After several years of watching and waiting, I joined the many confused but fascinated Angelenos who boarded our newest toy, the Expo Line train to the beach. Metro helpers were in abundance, guiding us through crowds at the stations, especially at downtown Santa Monica, where airport-like lines of people waited to get on the train.

This was all new for people whose Los Angeles transportation experience has been limited to driving and finding a parking place. Free rides Friday and Saturday brought them there, plus curiosity and the search for a new experience. Personally, I’m a veteran Expo fan, often taking it to downtown Los Angeles. But I’ve had to drive to the nearest station and park my car. The weekend brought the opening of new stations, including one at Sepulveda and Exposition, within walking distance of my house.

It’s exciting for a public transportation geek like me. Friday, I rode to Santa Monica, stopped on way my home to explore Bergamot Station, where I had a beer at the cafĂ© then continued on my ride home. Saturday, the train took me to Palms station, where there was a community celebration. My granddaughter, Lila Doliner, performed with her dance troupe there.

It’s tempting to be awe-struck about a rail line that reaches the beach for the first time in 63 years. But it’s more enlightening to look at it as if I were a real estate developer, a class of businessperson who dominates city government when it comes to planning, zoning and other measures that shape LA.

We rode through miles of low-rise industrial developments, and, as we crossed into Santa Monica, new apartments and condos near the tracks, projects spurred by Expo. In West Los Angeles, there were small businesses, apartment houses and, a few blocks from the tracks, the single family homes that made the area one of the centers of middle class LA.

The Los Angeles city planning department has outlined a somewhat different future for the area in a series of planning documents. The department proposes increased density near transit stations. New buildings in the area would have to be “pedestrian oriented.” Presumably, that means fewer parking spaces. And city planners envision wider sidewalks, a reduction in vehicle lanes and more room for bicycles. In addition, the planning department sees more residents and jobs around the new Expo stations in LA--Palms, Westwood-Rancho Park, Sepulveda and Bundy. There would be housing for 4,000 to 6,000 more residents by 2035 and 12,000 to 17,000 more jobs.

This will provoke intense debate on the Westside, just as it is doing in Koreatown, Hollywood, East Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley, all areas where developers are seeking opportunity as Metro expands.

Critics are decrying the Manhattanization of LA. Others say Manhattan isn’t too bad of a place. I could see the debate developing as I rode Expo to the beach.

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