J-Town Airs Regional Connector Concerns

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Metro Project Manager Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, left, speaks to the audience at the Metro Regional Connector working group meeting held Wednesday night at The Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. (Photo by NAO GUNJI)

Metro Project Manager Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, left, speaks to the audience at the Metro Regional Connector working group meeting held Wednesday night at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. (Photo by NAO GUNJI)

By NAO GUNJI

Rafu English Assistant Editor

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Emotions rose high Wednesday night at the working group meeting held by Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Little Tokyo to discuss Metro’s Regional Connector project and relating issues specific to the Little Tokyo area.

“It’s quite devastating what could happen over four years (of the construction),” said Akemi Kikumura Yano, CEO of the Japanese American National Museum, which hosted the event.

“Possible massive disruption, in terms of access, not only to the Japanese American National Museum, but to Little Tokyo in general, I think that is a major concern for us… How are we going to survive?” she said, during the Q&A portion of the meeting.

The Regional Connector seeks to create an almost two-mile transit link between the Gold and Blue Line light rail systems through downtown Los Angeles.

Currently, four options, including an underground corridor below Second Street through Little Tokyo, an at grade alternative, which would be built above ground and follow along Second to Temple streets, a bus line or a no-build option, have been approved by the Metro Board of Directors and evaluated by the Regional Connector Light Rail Transit Team. Metro estimates it would take four years or less to complete the construction either for the at grade or underground option.

Ted Tanaka shows the 3-D model of the Regional Connector underground alternative around Alameda and First streets at Wednesday’s meeting. (Photo by MARIO G. REYES)

Ted Tanaka shows the 3-D model of the Regional Connector underground alternative around Alameda and First streets at Wednesday’s meeting. (Photo by MARIO G. REYES)

Wednesday, the Metro team presented 3-D models of the intersection of First and Alameda, and also Temple and Alameda under the subway alternative, which was prepared by architect Ted Tanaka.

After a 90-minute presentation by Metro, which seemingly focused on the underground option, participants were given an opportunity to ask questions and express their concerns to Metro Project Manager Dolores Roybal Saltarelli and Principal Consultant Ray Sosa.

“This is the beginning of the working group. As we mentioned in the presentation, we would like to meet stakeholders individually,” said Roybal Saltarelli, responding to Kikumura Yano’s concerns. “There are a lot of issues we need to identify and we need to do that with you.”

Many of the participants shared the sentiment that Metro prefers the underground alternative over the other options and has already made up their mind to move forward with it.

“The steamroller is already under its way,” one participant commented. “Does this meeting have any pull? Any value? How willing are you to accept that there isn’t a lot of support from the community?”

Roybal Saltarelli explained the sentiment was a misconception largely due to the fact that the underground alternative does require more attention from Little Tokyo.

A couple Savoy condominium residents, who already have Metro Gold Line running next to them on First Street, complained that the possibility of having the rail lines going two sides of their property would affect the quality of their life greatly.

Kathy Masaoka suggested that terminating the transfer fee would be the easiest option to connect the rail lines. “I don’t understand the necessity of this link, only a mile plus, from Little Tokyo to 7th Metro, Union Station is one stop over. I’m willing to transfer if I don’t have to pay the transfer fee,” she said.

Mark Masaoka said having the Regional Connector run through Little Tokyo would change its economy to be more attractive to national chains and franchises. “Those are the places which succeed in (heavy traffic) locations, not the places you have to wait 30 minutes for a nice Asian meal. So, the economy is going to change. How is that aspect going to be mitigated?” he said.

With nearly 100 in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, it was the biggest turnout in a series of community meetings that have been held in Little Tokyo for the project’s environmental impact study process.

In the past meetings, many of the community members expressed that the underground alternative would be safer, quieter, and more pedestrian friendly. However, the atmosphere changed drastically for this time around. Several people showed their growing interest in the at grade alternative.

Throughout the 3-hour meeting, the Metro team welcomed the input and emphasized the importance of preserving the Little Tokyo identity as “one of the three remaining Japan Towns in the nation.”

Diego Cardoso, Metro executive officer, attempted to inspire the audience, but his effort somehow fell flat on the concerned community.  “Give us a chance to explain,” Cardoso spoke with passion. “We’re basically laying the foundation for the transportation infrastructure for the 21st century… We are part of this greater community. The viability of this community depends on how it is connected.”

Metro will continue to explore the existing four alternatives, but they won’t be reexamining the initial 29 other alternatives or considering new ones. The Board will eventually pick one option by the summer (or the early fall) of 2010.

Mike Okamoto, senior vice president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, told the Rafu Shimpo after the meeting that Metro seems to be giving out the pieces of information one by one, and that the community would run out of time before being ready to make a decision.

“We are just so afraid that sooner or later, the time will come and they’d say, ‘too bad, time is up,’” he said.

Okamoto also stated that Metro needs to understand the vulnerability of the neighborhood.

“It is like fitting a big foot in a smaller shoe,” he continued. “Little Tokyo is not so big, it can’t take all the impacts or consequences. If something goes wrong, a whole street, a whole block would suffer.”

Comments on the Regional Connector can be made to Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, project manager, at One Gateway Plaza, MS 99-22-2, Los Angeles, CA 90012 or e-mail at [email protected] For more information, log on to www.metro.net/regionalconnector

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9 Comments

  1. James Fujita on

    Please don’t let the NIMBYs win.

    Underground is the only alternative which makes sense. Little Tokyo will be a better community for it. Trains will move faster if they can move underground. Construction can be less disruptive if it is underground.

    Little Tokyo will be easier to get to if this gets built. Parking in the neighborhood is horrible and streets are hard to navigate. Look at how widespread the Japanese American community is. The Regional Connector will make it easier for Japanese Americans throughout Southern California to reach Little Tokyo.

    Little Tokyo will survive and thrive, just as Hollywood has done well since the subway arrived; just as communities throughout Los Angeles have benefitted from Metro Rail.

    Don’t let NIMBY fearmongering prevent Little Tokyo from improving itself.

  2. Little Tokyo, one of my favorite areas of Los Angeles, will be enhanced greatly by the regional connector in terms of foot traffic in the fantastic and beautiful area, and the fact that so many rail line converge at this one point. I see this as an opportunity for Little Tokyo to become the new core of downtown. I understand that it won’t be easy initially, and that small business will suffer during construction, but the new Little Tokyo will arise stronger as the crossroads of Los Angeles the way Culver City used to be in the age of the Red Cars – all lines meet in Little Tokyo. My partners business was greatly affected during the Red Line construction (mostly because the sinkhole was down the street from his store) but now our area, Los Feliz, has a more urban vibe, better walkability, and a unique destination in the City of Los Angeles.

  3. Little Tokyo is a real community with real concerns. We have a right to question the details of a plan that was pretty much selected by everyone else. I feel that a LOT of people who don’t live in Little Tokyo take for granted the value of this community and the risk involved in running a massive construction site through it for 4-6 years and changing 1st and Alameda into one of the densest traffic corridors in Los Angeles. Underground is great, but the MTA plan has the train SURFACING in Little Tokyo and approaching the Goldline at a diagonal- definitely making the engineering and the complexity of the project trickier than anything MTA has attempted.

    I’m very much pro-public transit- but MTA’s planning in this matter have been less than ideal.
    Let’s face the fact that if underground were better, why wasn’t the Goldline Extension built primarily underground in the first place? We wouldn’t be having these concerns now if MTA had simply planned better for expansion and kept everything underground. Now, Little Tokyo has to pay for MTA mistakes.

  4. I wonder how many meetings have taken place in Little Tokyo for this project, at least 3-4 for the AA/EIR on top of 3 others that were talking directly to stakeholders at large. Was it because 5-6pm in the evening is a bad time for folks to show up? Doesn’t seem like based on the last meeting.

    But to assume that folks outside doesn’t value Little Tokyo and because it was selected “by everyone else” when I do recall members from the local buddhist temples speaking for the project and residents who work and live in the nearby new condos supporting the project in it’s form.

    Even if this was an underground station at 1st/Alameda or if the entire Gold Line was a subway the impacts and concern will still happen.

  5. Did it ever occur to you, Darren, that people are not anti-public transit in Little Tokyo and wanted to get all the information from the MTA over the past year and took the time to discuss concerns before deciding that it might not be that great of a plan?

  6. Building underground is a more expensive option than at-grade; otherwise the whole Metro Rail system would be underground.

    It makes sense that the Eastside Line was built at-grade on Alameda. There is a lot of available space on Alameda and there are no shops which face out onto Alameda. Frankly, it is a blank, dead space between Union Station and Little Tokyo.

    There is less available space on Second Street, therefore it makes more sense to build underground on Second. They built the Eastside Line underground in Boyle Heights for the same reasons. Building underground will limit the disruption to the neighborhood.

    There’s nothing fundamentally confusing or complicated about the First and Alameda wye design.

    Little Tokyo will lose one block when the Regional Connector is built. This is the Office Depot block. However, Little Tokyo will GAIN one full block when the Nikkei Center is built, and the Nikkei Center will benefit from having a light rail station.

    Nobody knows what, if anything, will be built to replace the Office Depot. Maybe it will be a park. Maybe it will be another Office Depot. Maybe it will be Nikkei Center Phase II.

    If the Regional Connector is built underground, a new station will be built near the Kyoto Grand. If it is at-grade, trains will avoid Little Tokyo completely. Little Tokyo will lose out on a chance to be better connected with the rest of Southern California.

    When I look at the Regional Connector, I see an opportunity to avoid the traffic and parking problems in the neighborhood. I see a chance to come to Little Tokyo more often and spend money in Little Tokyo more often. I see a chance to convince my “transit otaku” friends to come visit Little Tokyo and help the ongoing revitalization and rebirth of this vital Japanese American neighborhood.

  7. Did it ever occured to you Paul, that the concerns/sentinments will continue to be addressed as the project moves forward? Did it ever occur to you that Metro is listening and will continue to adjust the plans for the project as it moves forward to address those concerns and find solutions to mitigate them? Did it also occur to you that there have been more outreach in the Little Tokyo area that has been reported in other blogs and websites, I posted it not to make blame (as it is currenty being implied) but show that it seems Metro has made it a point to keep a continual dialogue with Little Tokyo. And did it also occur to you that no one here has blammed Little Tokyo for not bring concerns forward.

    All posters here have made their opinion seeing that they believe in the long run that what is being proposed is a very good thing that would open Little Tokyo to the rest of Los Angeles in its current design.

  8. Darren, you certainly implied blame to people for not bringing concerns forward.

    Metro is only now finally contacting residential building in the area where the construction would take place. Obviously, there are still more people that have to learn about the project. MTA has certainly done its best in getting information out there. But that is not where I find a problem with this project.

    So no, not all posters think it’s a very good thing in its current design.

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