Little Tokyo Reacts as Metro Plans New Rail Line

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A Metro map shows proposed routes of the West Santa Ana Branch (WSAB) Transit Corridor Project.

A plan to build a new 20-mile light rail transit line through Little Tokyo, Arts District and other downtown neighborhoods is generating concern among business owners, residents, and other stakeholders still dealing with the inconveniences wrought by Metro’s Regional Connector construction.

Known as the West Santa Ana Branch (WSAB) Transit Corridor Project, the new line would connect Downtown Los Angeles to southeast Los Angeles County and include communities such as Vernon, Huntington Park, Bell, Cudahy, South Gate, Downey, Paramount, Bellflower, Cerritos, and Artesia.

Meanwhile, opening of the $1.8 billion Regional Connector is anticipated in 2021. Stakeholders worry this could mean that Little Tokyo will experience a near-perpetual state of construction. Little Tokyo has lost about a dozen businesses, most of them long-standing and family-owned, related to construction of the Regional Connector since 2014.

During scoping meetings held in June, stakeholders were given an Aug. 4 deadline to submit comments regarding four proposed routes. Among those responding were Los Angeles City Councilmember Jose Huizar, Little Tokyo Community Council, Little Tokyo Business Association, Little Tokyo Business Improvement District (BID), and Arts District BID.

The WSAB line will begin at Union Station, with the following four alignment options being proposed:

– Proceeding south on Alameda Street (7.4 miles)

– Proceeding southeasterly on Vignes Street (7.2 miles)

– Proceeding along Alameda Street for 8.9 miles

– Proceeding to Alameda/Vignes and continuing for 8.1 miles

Although Huizar expressed support for a new transportation alternative that provides service to the Arts District and Little Tokyo through a full underground option, he emphasized that none of the four alternatives addresses Metro’s stated objective involving mobility and access constraints faced by transit-dependent communities nor do they necessarily improve transit equity.

“All four alternatives fail to achieve this goal,” Huizar stressed. “(They) will divide existing communities and create barriers to multi-modal mobility across the proposed routes.”

Current plans call for the WSAB line to run in a southeasterly direction and end at a proposed Pioneer Station in the city of Artesia and proposed Florence/Salt Lake Station in Huntington Park. In addition, an optional station at Bloomfield Avenue (just north of the L.A. County-Orange County boundary) in the event that the WSAB line is extended to OC in the future.

Any pre-construction and/or construction activities that proceed south along Vignes Street could impede access to Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Temple and the four-generation, family-owned Fukui Mortuary.

The project gets its name from an old street car alignment (south of today’s Metro Green Line) known as the “West Santa Ana Branch Corridor.” Per the Measure M Expenditure Plan, the project is anticipated to break ground in 2022.

According to Metro data, there are 1.2 million residents in the 20-mile WSAB project area. Population and employment densities are five times higher than the L.A. County average. The project is expected to provide a direct connection to the Metro Green Line and the L.A. County regional transit network.

A resident who lives at the Savoy condominiums at First and Alameda streets bemoaned the potential negative impact of the Metro plans on his property value, saying, “I don’t want a Metro train running outside my bedroom day and night.”

Next step for Metro is the creation of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Environment Impact Report, which are anticipated to be circulated in late 2018 and will include public hearings.

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