By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu Senior Editor
An alphabet soup of rail alignment studies for the West Santa Ana Branch light rail line was boiled down to one simple statement from the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday: Alignment F gets an “F.”
The board, listening to concerns from Little Tokyo businesses and stakeholders, voted to remove F from consideration for the 20-mile corridor, which will bring commuters from gateway cities, including Artesia, Cerritos, Bellflower and Huntington Park, into Downtown Los Angeles.
F, in particular, was opposed due to its negative impacts on Japanese American institutions to the east of Alameda, including St. Francis Xavier Japanese Catholic Church, Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and Fukui Mortuary.
Metro staff will move ahead with draft environmental impact studies of Alignment E, which would underground along Alameda and end in Union Station; and G, a rail line that would bypass Little Tokyo entirely and head west, ending either at the Seventh Street Station or near Pershing Square. At a later date, the Metro Board will designate a route for the project as the locally preferred alternative.
“We want to study things that have a shot of actually making sense. I didn’t hear anybody embrace Option F here today. So I think it makes sense to move to take it out of the study,” Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti said, to the applause of many attendees gathered in the chamber.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Janice Hahn joined Garcetti in seconding the motion and expressed support for E because it would offer a one-seat ride, with no transfers, from the southern cities into Downtown.
“We need to build projects that are convenient for riders,” she emphasized.\
Hahn also expressed support for the Little Tokyo community.
“I think we have all heard from Little Tokyo and we are extremely sympathetic to your plight.”
Nearly 100 speakers, including dozens from Little Tokyo, attended the morning meeting to voice their concerns. Little Tokyo Community Council convened several listening sessions for residents and stakeholders to share their opinions on the proposed rail alignments.
Artist Nancy Uyemura said, “Personally, I am here because I am a recent person of eviction. I recently moved from the Arts District due to the rapid gentrification that is happening in the area. I encourage you to be really thoughtful of the impact Metro makes in the community.”
David Ikegami, who owns property in the area, said, “My family has owned a warehouse on 612 Jackson St. for over 30 years. While E is a fantastic option, F is a terrible option that devastates our community. F closes Jackson, Ducommon and Vignes streets. We rely on truck access into and out of our area and that blocks our neighborhood.”
Nate Heyward, representing Councilmember Jose Huizar, stated, “We have some major concerns about some of the alignments. Our first concern is Alternative F. Little Tokyo has experienced over a decade of construction due to the Gold Line East Side Extension as well as the Regional Connector. And to build through their community and have the impacts again with another project, we feel, is wrong to do.”
Many speakers rose to endorse Alignment H, which would place a station in the Arts District. Ultimately the Metro Board rejected the plan because it did not connect to Union Station. Supervisor Hilda Solis, who was not present at the meeting, had advocated eliminating Alignment F and studying a revised Alignment H as a one-seat ride ending at Union Station with a connection/transfer point to the Blue Line.
Ari Keller, Arts District representative for the Historic Cultural Neighborhood Council, stated, “I am here to oppose Option F and strongly urge the board to go for H. There is unbelievable development in the area. Businesses have already determined they’re coming down here based on the fact that there would be mass transit that would affect the Arts District and all of that could go away in a minute if H is not approved.”
Estela Lopez, executive director of the Downtown Industrial Business Improvement District, asked the Metro Board to remove F, adding a request to consider the residents of Skid Row.
“Only E serves the poorest of the poor. It would begin to address the needs of the transit underserved,” Lopez said.
Although H was rejected, the mayor offered some assurances to the Arts District.
“We are very committed to getting the Arts District stops plural,” Garcetti said.
For officials and residents along the alignment, the rail line would bring much-needed transit accessibility to an underserved populace.
Jhonny Pineda, mayor of Huntington Park, said, “I especially support Alternative E, which best serves the WSAB corridor cities and has the least potential impact in the Little Tokyo community … I’m here today representing the 85,000 residents in Huntington Park that couldn’t be here today. I hope we can push for this project. This project was promised to our residents as a one-seat ride and I want to make sure that we deliver in our promise.”
Following the meeting, Kristin Fukushima, LTCC managing director, praised the board’s decision to remove Alignment F.
“We are at our best when unified and speaking with one voice, and we were very much heard today,” she said. “Folks from the Metro Board, the gateway cities, and Arts District all spoke in support of Little Tokyo, and there was definitely a majority consensus from everyone in the room to back Little Tokyo and remove F.”
In a statement after the vote, Metro CEO Phillip Washington said, “This is an important Measure M funded project that will connect communities in southeastern Los Angeles County to Downtown Los Angeles and the growing Metro Rail system. Choosing these options for more study is a big step in keeping the project on track.”
The Measure M spending plan proposed building the project in two phases — the first opening as early as 2028 and the second phase by 2041.