By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
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.
“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.”