Two years ago, every one of the elected officials representing South Los Angeles — members of the City Council, the Legislature and Congress — joined in an unprecedented show of unity to call for the Crenshaw-to-LAX light-rail line to include a stop in Leimert Park Village.
Hundreds of residents packed the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hearing room and urged the board to include this historic stop in what is the heart of the African American community and, increasingly, an important residential and business center for Latinos.
We urged, we made a case, we explained. We prepared for the best and braced for the worst. We were told maybe.
In other words, a dream deferred.
Now, another vote on whether the line will include a station in Leimert Park Village is set for May 23. Will Metro make the right decision?
The issue, Metro said in 2011, is money. The board voted to include the village stop — not as a component that must be constructed but as an option — only if bidders vying for the construction dollars chose to include it in their proposal and kept it within budget.
But there has always been money for it. Metro has a $4.5-billion annual budget and an estimated $40 billion in the decades ahead from the 2008 Measure R ballot initiative. Furthermore, it is common for the agency to make financial adjustments in order to include projects similar in cost to that of the Leimert Park Village station.
What has been missing is the will.
A Leimert Park station would not be a favor or a perk for South L.A. We all have seen how train stations throughout the county confer economic benefits on a community — enhancing tourism, bolstering businesses and turning locales into destinations. The new Crenshaw-to-LAX line not only will take travelers to the airport, it will take workers employed by restaurants, hotels, rental car companies and other airport-related industries to their jobs. And a station in the village would connect the region to one of the city’s cultural centers, just like the stations in Chinatown, Little Tokyo, Culver City and Mariachi Plaza.
If the winning bid, which will be before the board on May 23, does not include the station, or if it says construction costs are beyond what had been expected, the Metro board must decide whether it can find additional resources for a station.
It is encouraging that members of the Metro board, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, have said they want to see a station in Leimert Park Village. A vote in favor of the station would demonstrate the board’s commitment to a fair and equitable approach to regional transportation. For the mayor, it would solidify his transportation legacy.
We have come so far. As originally conceived, the Crenshaw-to-LAX line was to be a bus line, to be built in 2029. We fought to make it a light-rail line. (Can you imagine dragging your luggage from bus to bus to get to LAX?) Then we worked to move up construction to begin in 2016.
We are in the last lap. Will we get the station? Yes, if there is enough will.
Mark Ridley-Thomas, a Metro board member, is chairman of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and represents the 2nd District.