Following a major push by lobbyists for the City of West Hollywood, Metro has amended its proposed budget to include $500,000 to begin the environmental study of the Crenshaw Line Northern Extension. If adopted by the full Board, Metro could start the crucial draft environmental impact review for the project by next summer, provided Directors can agree on a set of alternatives to study. In recent weeks, WeHo’s advocacy has included a letter-writing campaign to Metro exhorting the transit agency to “fund and commence an EIR… as promised,” in preparation for a desired construction start date of 2020. The city has also volunteered to fund pre-construction planning activities with an unspecified amount that could range as high as $550 million of its own revenue.
The Crenshaw Line extension, which is proposed as a light rail line connecting Expo/Crenshaw Station to the Red Line’s Hollywood/Highland station, is expected to receive $2.2 billion under Measure M’s expenditure plan with an expected opening date in the late 2040s. However, West Hollywood has been vocally discontent with the timeline for the project, as well as the lack of a guaranteed rail project through the heart of their city, which city leaders perceive as a broken promise by Metro.
Activity around this project has ramped up in advance of Metro’s adoption of a budget for the 2019 fiscal year. In addition to the letter-writing campaign, West Hollywood Advocates for Metro Rail (WHAM) and the similarly-constituted All on Board Coalition have turned out to public hearings, and hosted an event attended by Los Angeles City Councilmember David Ryu, whose 4th district lays athwart the path of the potential rail extension.
The two groups, which emerged from an apparent two-year hiatus in April, aim to accelerate a partially-funded extension of the still-under-construction Crenshaw Line that would take the light rail line northward into Hollywood. Additionally, they also seek to influence the Metro Board to choose a route that follows San Vicente Boulevard and Santa Monica Boulevards on its way there.
The Board’s amendment to the budget allotting funding for the rapid commencement of environmental studies for the extension is a significant victory for WeHo and its advocates. Pending selection of a set of candidate alternatives by the board (a parallel process is occurring across town for the Artesia Line currently, and the potential pitfalls this choice poses are abundant in evidence there), Metro intends to begin studying the Crenshaw Line extension during the upcoming budget year, which spans July to June 2019.
In the past, I’ve written that the route favored by WeHo is inferior, and I still believe that to be the case. Such a route, based on Metro’s grade separation policy, under which light rail defaults to at-grade operations except at certain high-volume intersections, would also likely be designed to run at street level through some of the county’s worst traffic. The pressure to reduce grade separations would be increased by the additional costs incurred by the route’s length, which is 3 miles longer than the La Brea alternative.
Nonetheless, WeHo has reason to be optimistic. Following the year-long chairmanship of Mayor Garcetti, the new budget year will also signal the start of term for Inglewood Mayor James Butts. While the All on Board Coalition has seemingly been primarily a West Hollywood concern throughout its existence, Mayor Butts was an early ally of the group.
In 2016, the “Finish the Line” campaign centered around both the northerly extension of the Crenshaw Line, and a then-proposed plan, favored by Mayor Butts, to branch the line on the southern end in order to serve the under-construction football stadium in downtown Inglewood. This plan is no longer being pursued by Metro due to its cost and lack of transit benefit, however, it appears that Mayor Butts is still supportive of the WeHo rail advocacy group.
The Board Chair sets the tone and direction for the agency, a dynamic that can be seen most recently in Chair Garcetti’s focus on the 2028 Olympic Games. The Olympics became a Metro concern because they were Garcetti’s concern: he introduced the 28×28 initiative, to complete a significant portion of Measure M’s 40 year plan in 10 years. This, in turn, has led to Metro staff taking on the Olympic acceleration as a project goal, informing the scope and design of important regional projects. Given that Metro will be making the determination of routes to study for the Crenshaw Line during the term of Chair Butts, it’s entirely possible for the project goals to be molded in a way that looks favorably on the city’s favored San Vicente route.
Metro’s proposed budget goes before committee on Wednesday and then to the full Board for adoption at the end of the month.