Not So Fast: Crenshaw-LAX Rail Project Fast-Tracked for Review by the Obama Administration Headed to Court

Los Angeles, CA – Last week the South Los Angeles community non-profit, Crenshaw Subway Coalition, filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against the L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for violating environmental and civil rights laws in approving the Crenshaw-LAX light rail project. The lawsuit names the Federal Transit Administration as a party in interest. The legal challenge was filed just 10 days after President Barack Obama picked the Crenshaw-LAX line as one of 14 projects of national significance and directed the administration to fast-track review of the project.

“We’re going to court to preserve the environment, to protect the future of Crenshaw Blvd, and to defend our civil rights,” said Damien Goodmon, chair of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition.

Goodmon is a transit activist best known for leading the South L.A. community on another front against MTA — the Expo Line Farmdale Avenue railroad crossing that is adjacent to Dorsey High School. The battle there led to by affiliate group, Fix Expo, was a long-drawn out 3-year process in the administrative courts, which ultimately forced the MTA to invest new resources in the rail line for additional safety measures and a new station at the high school, and reduce the train’s allowable operating speed. The process has delayed the opening date of the line by over a year and cost the agency tens of millions of dollars.

“It has cost MTA more to fight us than to simply agree to our initial request at Dorsey,” said Goodmon.

Filed on Friday, the 200-paragraph lawsuit (see below) specifies how that the Crenshaw-LAX Line environmental study certified by the MTA board on September 22nd, violates the state’s civil rights law (Section 11135), and eleven key provisions of the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”):

“MTA violated provisions of CEQA…in that the EIS/EIR [environmental study] failed to comply with the information disclosure provisions of CEQA and failed to adequately analyze Project environmental impacts. MTA also failed to require all feasible mitigation and failed to consider and adequate range of alternatives. MTA failed to ensure that mitigation was certain and enforceable and failed to consider feasible alternatives, in particular grade separation of the rail line, proposed by the public.” [….] “MTA’s determination to approve the Project has a discriminatory impact on the African-American population in the Project area, the last major concentration of African-American owned and operated businesses in the area and the region’s center of African-American culture.”

Crenshaw Subway Coalition is represented by environmental law specialists Johnson & Sedlack. The law firm is known for repeatedly taking on corporate retail giant Walmart for violating CEQA in their expansion plans, and representing clients like the Sierra Club, Audubon Society and Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice.

“This is an epic battle, against an agency with virtually unlimited legal resources,” said Goodmon. “When searching for a warrior to represent us we knew we’d need an accomplished law firm that regularly faces Goaliaths bigger than MTA and beats them. Johnson & Sedlack is that firm.”

Crenshaw Subway Coalition has been the lead community group expressing concerns that MTA’s current street-level plan on Crenshaw Blvd in Park Mesa Heights from 48th to 59th Street is a traffic and safety nightmare that will lead to the destruction of the Crenshaw business district.

“Crenshaw Blvd is the last black business corridor in Southern California,” said Jackie Ryan, immediate past president of the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association. “5 to 6 long years of street-level construction will kill not just the business district from 48th to 59th, it will vibrate all down Crenshaw Blvd as people avoid the disruptive street-level construction zone. Then there’s the horrid permanent impacts after construction: the removal of half the business parking spaces, cutting down our mature median trees and replacing them with fences, the elimination of left turns, and other changes that will forever hamper our community’s revitalization goals. And to not have a stop at Leimert Park Village? That’s makes no sense from a transit perspective and is just plain insulting.”

“From a safety perspective the proposed Slauson crossing next to View Park Prep is as bad as any on the MTA system,” said former MTA light rail operator Lester Hollins. “That is why the California Public Utilities Commission, the state’s rail safety agency, requested the line not be built at street-level at the intersection. Too much traffic, too many kids, too hazardous.”

The lawsuit points out that the street-level design from 48th to 59th Street is similar to the most accident-prone portion of MTA’s Blue Line, America’s deadliest light rail line at 103 deaths from over 900 accidents. “We’re fighting for the safety of our kids,” said Hollins, a parent of an alum of Crenshaw HS, which is a block away from a Crenshaw-LAX rail crossing.

Crenshaw Subway Coalition led a chorus of over 600 community, clergy, civil rights and business leaders who flooded the MTA headquarters in May, requesting additional resources be added to the project to keep the rail line underground for the one mile, and to return the Leimert Park Village station to the project. “The South L.A. community has been clear in their request to MTA since day one about this project: underground for remaining 11 blocks between 48th to 59th with a station at Leimert Park Village,” said Goodmon.

A MTA staff report identified over $2 billion possible funding sources, six times more than enough to fund the design changes, and in a show of South L.A. political unity unseen in generations every political representative of South L.A. joined them in their request…except one.

“Everyone was on board except Mayor Villaraigosa, now the chair of MTA,” said Winnifred Jackson, a Hyde Park resident. “And unfortunately it was his block of four votes against the Crenshaw community that was the difference. MTA refused to invest the resources to fix the problems. And so we go to court to defend against Villaraigosa/MTA’s destructive, dangerous and discriminatory attack on Crenshaw.”

“We’re going to need the Crenshaw community and all who value a multi-cultural society, safe rail lines and smart transit planning to donate for the lawsuit and collect petitions to submit to the White House,” said Goodmon. “So we’re kicking off our 25-25 Campaign: our goal is to raise $25,000 and collect 2,500 signatures by November 30th. To get involved people should come to our next meeting at the Crenshaw DWP Office at 6 PM on Nov 7th and go to our website, www.CrenshawSubway.org.”


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