By CRAIG ISHII
A meeting was held recently to explain where things are with a proposed train route planned to go right through the heart of Little Tokyo. The Metro’s “Regional Connector” will connect the Little Tokyo Gold Line station on First and Alameda with train lines built through Southern California.
Sponsored by the 100-member strong Little Tokyo Community Council, the meeting was aimed at local businesses and others who would be greatly impacted by construction. This meeting was just one of many ongoing meetings that the LTCC has had with residents, businesses, nonprofit organizations and other concerned community members.
This meeting in particular was supposed to address the possibility of a compensation plan for Little Tokyo businesses should the Metro Regional Connector be routed through Little Tokyo. During the meeting facilitators explained that, although there is no precedent for direct business compensation, the Community Council was committed to exploring and ultimately advocating for a detailed plan to support community businesses.
Rightfully so, business owners showed great concern over the looming disruption that would be inevitably created with the construction of the connector. One the major questions, however, remained: Was there a commitment by individuals and organizations to work with the council to ensure that 1) a robust and supportive business mitigation is created and 2) proper advocacy is done in order for Metro to seriously consider and eventually implement the plan?
Ultimately, the vitality of Little Tokyo’s businesses, residents and nonprofits rests in the hands of those entities themselves… Little Tokyo community preservation is a team effort.
At the end of the community forum, Transit Committee Chair Chris Aihara made a quick comment about the Community Council only being as strong as the volunteers and people who are active with it. She stated that those business owners at the meeting are now part of the LTCC’s effort to make sure that Metro does our community right.
The road ahead, which requires working with the Metro Transit Authority, will not be easy nor will it be simple. The community can expect many meetings and many forums, all filled with complicated rhetoric and long discussions. We can also expect to have to consistently articulate and advocate for the needs of our community to MTA staff and board.
But difficult does not mean impossible.
In spring of 2008, MTA approached the LTCC, stating its intent to build a Regional Connector through the heart of Downtown Los Angeles. After several months, it became apparent that the two major build options presented by MTA would severely damage the community integrity of Little Tokyo. Metro then stated that these two options were all that was left after a long process of reduction by their staff. The situation at the time seemed extremely tenuous and many questioned the future of our community.
However, after multiple forums and working group meetings, Metro presented Little Tokyo with a third option: a fully underground configuration, one that was based on the input of community members. Many people began to comment, “… maybe Metro is listening.”
Then, in an unprecedented move, Metro agreed to provide funding to the LTCC to hire a consultant to help the community understand the technicalities of the different rail options and articulate concerns in a language Metro would understand. Again, this offer was indicative that, with participation and communication from the LTCC, Metro was willing and open to work with the community on a mutually beneficial approach to the connector.
Of course, the advent of the fully underground alternative and the consultant is not the end of the story, only the end of the chapter. With the introduction of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, it is now more important than ever to build our business compensation plan and to communicate its necessity to the MTA; but this will only be a reality with the participation of our Little Tokyo businesses.
Little Tokyo businesses have made their message loud and clear. Metro needs to provide direct compensation for loss of business that is sure to happen during the four to five years of construction of the regional connector. However, business owners should take the next step and help to create the details of that plan and engage in the advocacy that is necessary for Metro to listen.
The LTCC is a voluntary nonprofit organization. Our advocacy, our message and, ultimately, our issues come from the active leaders and volunteers that comprise us.
General Meetings for the LTCC occur on the third Tuesday of the Month at 11:30 a.m. at the Japanese American National Museum. The LTCC has two major standing committees including the Preservation and Cultural Planning Committee and Marketing Committee which both meet the second Wednesday of the month at 11:30 and 2:00 p.m. respectively in the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center.