A greenbelt future for South L.A.

In a desolate stretch of South L.A., an unused train track winds its way along the east-west corridor of Slauson Avenue. A shabby path of dirt and rails, it is a sad reminder that the bustling manufacturing industry that once flourished in the area is long gone and no other development has prospered there.

But that railway track could be transformed into a path of greenery and trails. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the land — part of the Harbor subdivision right-of-way — has launched a feasibility study for an 8.3-mile greenbelt that would include walking and cycling paths, and the lighting and security features necessary to make it a safe place. Metro, which initiated the project at the request of Los Angeles County Supervisors (and Metro board members) Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina, has begun holding community meetings for people to comment on the project and make suggestions.

The new corridor is a great idea. It has been dubbed the Rail to River project because it starts on its western end at Florence Avenue and West Boulevard near the future Crenshaw/LAX Metro rail line, moves north to Slauson and goes east to Santa Fe, where it turns north and heads toward the river. The corridor route would allow a bicyclist to connect easily to the bicycle path along the L.A. River.

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There’s still a long way to go. The design and some of the route are still in flux. And officials have not yet determined how much the project would cost and where the money would come from, although Ridley-Thomas’ office has identified a number of federal, state and local grants that could be tapped. Metro would also have to agree to waive its right to undertake other projects, such as light rail, on the property. And a freight railway company would have to relinquish its easement.

As promising as this project for South L.A. is, it is only one portion of a bigger, more challenging effort to redevelop and revitalize the business area on Slauson Avenue. West of the proposed Rail to River project, deputies in Ridley-Thomas’ office have been working on a project to revitalize the corridor. They offered grant funds to property owners along Slauson just to enhance facades of buildings and storefronts. They met with resistance from owners on the north side and enthusiasm from those on the south. So the project can proceed only on the south side.

One planner notes that upgrading the facades is “putting lipstick on a pig.” But it’s a start. Economic redevelopment for this area should be a priority for city and county officials who have control over a patchwork of communities near the commercial Slauson area. That area is ringed by neighborhoods of affluent residents in search of a local business center worthy enough to patronize. Community and elected leaders need to work on developing one.

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