By GWEN MURANAKA
Rafu English Editor in Chief
The concerns of Little Tokyo over the impact of the Metro Regional Connector transit project were publicly acknowledged by Metro second vice chair Diane DuBois on Wednesday at a meeting of the Planning and Programming Committee.
The committee voted to send the final Environmental Impact Report/Statement for the Regional Connector without a recommendation to the full Board of Directors for final approval, but not before DuBois read a statement indicating that the Metro Board has heard and supports preserving Little Tokyo. The full board will consider the final EIR/S at their meeting on Feb. 23.
“Several members of the Metro Board including directors (Don) Knabe, (Jose) Huizar, (Gloria) Molina, (Mark) Ridley Thomas, have sought to protect and empower the Little Tokyo community, particularly during the construction process,” said Dubois. “This historic and cultural sensitive area is unique with many family-owned businesses that have called Little Tokyo home for generations. Creative solutions are needed to ensure that the Little Tokyo community’s unique cultural significance and historic character are protected and enhanced throughout Metro’s construction process.
“Metro must take proactive and preventive measures to minimize disruptions caused by construction activities and directly engage with community-based groups to ensure that Little Tokyo is accessible during construction. It is appropriate for Metro to form partnerships with community-based groups that have a substantive and clear role in shaping their community’s destiny. And that local community resources are given first opportunity to receive Metro’s support in order to add their value directly instead of Metro reinventing the wheel or duplicating local efforts.”
This week President Obama proposed $31 million in federal funding for the Regional Connector project, a two-mile underground rail system, which will connect the Gold, Blue, and Expo rail lines. During the staff presentation, Diego Cardoso, Metro executive officer, highlighted the benefits the system will have to transit riders.
“It is one of the cost effective, in fact last night a report came out from the FTA (Federal Transit Administration) that it is the most cost effective light rail project in the nation,” Cardoso observed.
During public comment, several attorneys representing business interests along Flower Street in the Financial District expressed opposition to Metro’s plans to cut-and-cover to dig tunnels under Flower.
“We support the Regional Connector but we do not support the cut-and-cover construction. There are feasible measures that can reduce the significant impacts. Under SEPA, Metro is required to adopt or change the project to have the tunnel boring machine and not the cut and cover,” said attorney Ryan Leiderman, representing the owners of the Citigroup Center Tower, located at Fourth and Flower streets.
The owner of Japanese Village Plaza also expressed concern and asked that the vote on the final EIR/S be postponed. Under the new alignment, the tunnel for the Regional Connector will be constructed partly under JVP.
“Japanese Village Plaza’s ownership supports public transit that furthers the interests of Little Tokyo and its businesses and residents. However, it has substantial concerns about the impacts this project will have on its property and the final EIS/EIR’s failure to analyze or mitigate fully for these impacts,” said Robert D. Crockett, an attorney for Latham & Watkins LLP.
Representatives from Little Tokyo attended the meeting and expressed appreciation for the support of Metro board members. The Little Tokyo Community Council submitted a motion seeking marketing support of local businesses, a business interruption program and a parking program to offset loss of parking spaces during construction.
“I speak in favor of the additions that have gone in the EIR/EIS in support of Little Tokyo,” said Chris Komai, public information officer of the Japanese American National Museum, who noted that this weekend is the 70th anniversary of the signing of Executive Order 9066. “This forced our families unfairly to leave Little Tokyo. We were told when we did this it was for the greater good, well, when people say it is for the greater good, it means you are being left out. After the Regional Connector was being introduced they were saying it was for the greater good again … I am pleased to say that the good thing that has happened is that the process has shown itself to be open to us, to speaking and changes have been made.”