By GWEN MURANAKA, Rafu English Editor-in-Chief
Holiday decorations are out in Little Tokyo, but looming over this holiday season are closures of the Metro Gold Line Station and disruptions on First Street that business owners say will negatively impact them during the busiest time of the year.
Metro announced that First between Alameda and Vignes streets will be closed due to construction on the Metro Regional Connector for the next two months, starting on Friday, Dec. 4. The road closure was originally scheduled to begin in February.
Paul Gonzalez, a Metro senior media relations officer, explained that the closures were moved up because of the $891 million Gold Line Foothill Extension, which is set to open on March 5. Once the Foothill Extension opens, the Gold Line will run from Citrus College in Azusa to East Los Angeles.
“The desire is to have one contiguous system,” Gonzalez said.
“We are actively engaging all of the (Little Tokyo businesses), we are constantly talking to them and we’re going to do what we can to help them,” he said.
Gonzalez added that while Metro has said the closures will continue through February, that it will probably be less than that.
The Little Tokyo/Arts District Station will also close on Dec. 4 and remain shuttered through February. A free bus shuttle will take riders from Union Station to Little Tokyo’s Toriumi Plaza at First and Judge John Aiso Street commencing on Dec. 4.
The approximately three-month closure becomes effective 9 p.m. on Dec. 4 with a weekend full closure on Alameda between Temple and Second streets; and on First Street between Central and Vignes to install K-rail (concrete barrier) and reconfigure traffic lanes. Starting Dec. 7 at 7 a.m., there will be full closure of First Street between Alameda and Central through February 2016 and westbound directional closure of First Street between Alameda and Vignes.
Further impacting traffic flow is the current closure of Central Avenue between First and Second streets.
Workers will relocate the existing Gold Line tracks approximately 40 feet to the north of First Street at Alameda and reconfigure the southern station entrance of the existing Little Tokyo/Arts District station to make way for tunneling operations for the Regional Connector.
Irene Simonian, owner of Bunka-do, in a letter to Young-Gi Kim, Metro senior construction relations officer, said moving the road closure to early December will have a devastating impact on Little Tokyo businesses.
“I cannot stress more strongly the hardship that these street closures will cause to all businesses, cultural institutions and tourism in Little Tokyo,” Simonian said. “As you know, holiday sales are a significant portion of annual sales for retail businesses like mine, which has been in continuous operation since 1946. Causing a financial hit like this for the Little Tokyo community that is just recovering from a recession is simply poor governance, especially when it is avoidable.”
The Little Tokyo Business Association board of directors issued a statement on Monday urging Metro to reconsider their decision. LTBA said they were only informed of the closure on First Street at their meeting on Nov. 19. Along with Nisei Week in August, Oshogatsu festivities in January are among the most culturally significant events on the Japanese American calendar.
“LTBA is disappointed in that Metro’s latest actions fail to honor the spirit and letter of commitments made in the Mitigation Monitoring and Reporting Program (MMRP) mutually agreed upon by Metro and the community in 2012,” commented Ellen Endo, LTBA president.
“The MMRP states in part, ‘Surface level construction activities shall be curtailed to the extent feasible during major Little Tokyo festivals and outdoor events to ensure that noise, air quality, traffic, and parking issues do not adversely affect these economically vital events.'”
The scheduled closures are only the latest impacts on Little Tokyo, as the early phases of construction continue on the Regional Connector, a 1.9-mile rail project scheduled to open in 2020.
Brian Kito, owner of Fugetsu-Do Confectionery, said that he was worried about the lasting impacts on Little Tokyo. He echoed the feelings of others who said the decision to move up construction had to do with issues outside of Little Tokyo.
“It was a horrible idea to move up the construction to December when December is our busiest month. It has nothing to do with us, it coincides with the opening of another station. It looks more like bragging rights,” Kito said.
Metro has set up a Business Interruption Fund to help small businesses that are negatively impacted by rail construction. The transit authority will also hold a construction update meeting on Monday, Nov. 30, at 6 p.m. at the Regional Connector Community Office, 360 E. First St., Little Tokyo.
For more information and construction updates, visit metro.net/regionalconnector.