LTCC Struggles with Regional Connector

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Ray Sosa of Metro explains the model of an aboveground option for the proposed Regional Connector during a meeting of the Little Tokyo Community Council on Tuesday. The model depicts Alameda Street heading northbound with the at-grade rail line and an underpass for automobile traffic. (Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

Ray Sosa of Metro explains the model of an aboveground option for the proposed Regional Connector during a meeting of the Little Tokyo Community Council on Tuesday. The model depicts Alameda Street heading northbound with the at-grade rail line and an underpass for automobile traffic. (Photos by GWEN MURANAKA/Rafu Shimpo)

By GWEN MURANAKA

RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF

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The Little Tokyo Community Council on Tuesday voted down a motion to take a position at its next meeting on a proposal to build an underground Regional Connector below Little Tokyo. The vote — 8 yes, 15 no, and 2 abstentions — reflected the level of concern and the sense of urgency that the proposal has garnered within Little Tokyo, but also a desire to gather more information before taking a final position.

Metro has put forward four proposals to build a $1.3 billion Regional Connector that would connect the Gold and Blue Line light rail systems in downtown Los Angeles. Of the four, the most controversial proposal is to build a subway below Second Street that would connect with the Gold Line station at First and Alameda. The other options are an aboveground light rail connector that would run along Temple Street, a bus line and a no-build option. Only the at-grade and below grade plans are eligible for federal funding.

Sats Uyeda, owner of Uyeda Department Store, made the motion, which was seconded by Daryl Garibay, owner of Advance Parking Systems.

Sats Uyeda makes a motion for the board to vote on the underground Regional Connector proposal as Brian Kito and Evelyn Yoshimura listen.

Sats Uyeda makes a motion for the board to vote on the underground Regional Connector proposal as Brian Kito and Evelyn Yoshimura listen.

“We should be united behind one opinion as to whether we would like to see the Regional Connector impact our community or not,” Uyeda said.

Representatives from Metro were at the meeting and presented models for both the aboveground and underground options. In response to the community concerns, a Little Tokyo Working Group has been holding a series of public meetings at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. The next meeting is Thursday, Oct. 1 and the at-grade option will be discussed.

Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, Metro project manager, noted that the transportation authority had made changes to the underground proposal to respond to concerns presented at the last community meeting.

“In regards to the underground model, when we first showed the model we said we needed to acquire the entire block that is across the street … At the Aug. 5 meeting, loud and clear, we heard that is too much to give for this particular project. So the team went back and minimized the acquisition.”

The current plan would maintain the businesses on the east side of Central Ave. between Second and First Street, with the exception of Office Depot and Señor Fish on First Street.

The Metro team is currently in the environmental impact study phase which is to be completed next summer. A final decision by the Metro board on a preferred alternative is expected late next year. This week the Metro Board of Directors voted to pursue federal funding for the connector and the Westside Subway Extension through the Department of Transportation. Both projects are considered by Metro to be competitive for federal funding. There is currently $160 million for the Regional Connector through escalated Measure R funds.

“These two projects will not only result in significantly greater connectivity in the Metro subway and light rail systems, but also will result in a dramatic increase in overall system ridership and user benefits,” said Ara Najarian, Glendale City Council Member and MTA Board Chair.

On Friday, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa issued a statement prais­ing both projects.

“These two projects will carry tens of thousands of passengers each day, while cleaning up our air and reducing traffic congestion for everyone,” said Villaraigosa. “They also will create thousands of good jobs, and with 13.7 percent unemployment in the city my priority is to break ground and get people to work as soon as possible.”

During the discussion on Tuesday, Jon Kaji of Kaji and Associates, submitted a letter written to Najarian by Sen. Daniel Inouye, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a member of the Japanese American National Museum board of governors.

“The purpose of this letter is to state my strong interest in this environmental process being conducted by Metro, and its direct relationship to the integrity of the Little Tokyo community and the operational future of the Museum,” Inouye stated. “As Metro moves forward with the environmental process for the Regional Connector, I strongly urge the Authority to be responsive to the concerns and ideas of both residents and businesses located in Little Tokyo. At the same time, please consider the unique characteristics and compelling significance of the Japanese American National Museum.”

Kaji suggested that Little Tokyo consider a “Little Tokyo option,” that might involve contacts within the Japanese railway industry.

“Perhaps it may be in the interests of Little Tokyo, as part of taking in other alternatives, to consider reaching out through some of our contacts in Japan as to what other alternatives there might be. Perhaps there are ways to minimize construction, to minimize impacts on businesses and residents of Little Tokyo and to embrace an option that addresses all the concerns raised by the museum and Nikkei Center,” said Kaji, whose firm is developing Nikkei Center.

While Uyeda’s motion was voted down, many expressed con­cern that the LTCC take a position in a timely manner.

“We want to come together and have a unified stance,” said Akemi Kikumura Yano, JANM CEO, who voted against the motion. “Perhaps we’re not ready to do this now, but too long may be too late.”

The Little Tokyo Working Group will meet at the JACCC on Oct. 1 from 6 to 8 p.m. and on Oct. 15 from 6 to 8 p.m. For more information, e-mail June Berk at ltccjb@ aol.com.

More development news

JVP Update — Max Williams and George Takayama of RSA explained some of the planned upgrades to Japanese Village Plaza. Among them, the wooden yagura (fire tower) will be dismantled and replaced with a tower made of steel. The old yagura is being replaced due to structural concerns. The architects also announced that the fountain next to Nijiya Market will be replaced with a smaller fountain and an elevated platform will be built as a permanent performing space. The stage area will be shaded with large umbrellas.

Aiso Parking Structure — Work will begin in two weeks on a 300-space underground parking structure at First and John Aiso Street, currently the site of the old LAPD motor pool. The structure is due to be completed by December 2010 and will be run by the L.A. Department of Transportation. Above the structure there will be a plaza for community events.

Block 8 — Rick Westberg of Related Cos. announced changes to plans to develop the corner of Second and San Pedro Streets, currently the site of an open air parking lot. Related, which also developed Sakura Crossing, had planned to build a 22-story high rise with condominums and retail spaces, but due to the bad economy the plan has been reduced to a six to seven story high rise. Westberg also told the council that plans to build 600 parking spaces have been scaled down to 50, which drew the ire of LTCC members.

“This is totally unacceptable,” said Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsudo Confectionary. “As a retailer, we’ve been banking on this parking to show up.”

“Going from 600 to 50 is a pretty big drop. Let’s try to work through this and find a more reasonable number,” said Bill Watanabe, LTCC president. “Maybe there is a number you can live with that the community can live with a little better.”

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3 Comments

  1. Go with the Underground alignment.

    The underground alignment will make it easier for Japanese Americans living outside of Little Tokyo to visit the area. Parking and traffic are horrible downtown, especially during the summer months.

    The underground option will include an underground station near the Budokan, the Little Tokyo Library and the Kyoto Grand hotel. The at-grade option will not include this.

    The Regional Connector will have an impact on the community, no matter what gets built. But the underground option will make sure that the impact is positive over the long run.

    I’m glad that the MTA is reaching out to the community and I’m glad that they are adapting their plans. However, in the end, the best solution should be underground, not down the middle of the street.

  2. The community leaders of Little Tokyo have to let go the suburban mentality of ‘we need more parking’. I live in downtown and visit LT frequently using different modes of transportation. DASH, Metro, driving, and walking. I have not run into any parking problems other than paying to park, which can be avoid by using any of the other three more affordable and often more convenient methods.

    LT is no longer a collection of strip malls with fields of surface parking. And it should not be as it is becoming a vibrant urban neighborhood. We need leaders of the community to understand what the future holds for LT and not be stuck in the issues of the present (such as traffic and parking which can be avoided by not bringing cars to the city) that hinder the growth of an infant city.

    Many people are coming to LT and more are to come – to live and to visit. The priority for urban planning has to be geared towards pedestrians. We need to reserve precious real estate for great sidewalks, plazas, green space, housing, and amenities, not easy free parking.

  3. Cities and communities across the region have shown that you can balance the parking and pedestrian needs. It’s not an either or. Little Tokyo is a regional attraction, and people come from far away places within the Southland, which are not accessible or easily accessible to public transit.

    The choice between the current underground option and the at-grade options is a choice between bad and worse.

    The “underground option” has a street-level crossing at 1st/Alameda, which will require the construction of a 3-block long, over 100 foot wide vehicular trench on Alameda, and at the end of the day major restrictions on access to 1st. It’s a ridiculous contraption and it’s as ridiculous today as it was when MTA first proposed it over a year ago. MTA has refused to listen to this community’s concerns, just as they have refused to listen to the South LA community’s concerns on the Expo Line.

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