Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (PHOTO CREDIT-BRIAN CARTER) In an unprecedented show of unity, solidarity and concern for the well-being of the residents and the businesses, the community met with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa about the Leimert Park StopBy Yussuf J. SimmondsSentinel Managing Editor Last Monday, a group of concerned community leaders met with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to voice the community's concern about the upcoming Crenshaw Light Rail Line and its impact on the residents and businesses in the Black community. The two key items on the agenda were the construction of a Leimert Park Village light rail station and a tunnel through Park Mesa Heights. The meeting was called by Danny J. Bakewell, Sr., executive publisher of the Sentinel and Blair Taylor, president of the Los Angeles Urban League. The meeting included Councilwoman Jan Perry (9th District); Brenda Marsh-Mitchell (Mothers In Action); Gene Hale (GLAAACC); Charisse Bremond-Weaver (Brotherhood Crusade); Pamela Bakewell (LAUL); Rev. Dr. Henry Masters (Holman United Methodist Church); Rev. Dr. Melvin Wade (Mt. Moriah MBC); Denise Hunter (First AME Corp.); Pastor Dr. John Hunter (First AME Church); Mikael Moore (for Congresswoman Maxine Waters); Bernard Parks Jr. (for Councilman Bernard Parks); Michael Jones (Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce); and Jackie Dupont Walker (Ward Econ. Dev. Corp). Construction of the light rail along the Crenshaw Corridor has given the community cause for some elation and a lot of consternation. The potential job increase in numbers and in variety would definitely be a plus that would have a positive impact on the community. But the existing proposal for the construction to be above ground would have an enormously negative economic impact on an already devastated community. The purpose of the meeting was to impress upon the Mayor the importance and significance of the two aforementioned items: the stop (station) at Leimert Park and running the rail under ground down the remainder of the Crenshaw Corridor to just beyond 67th Street--where it is scheduled to turn west toward Inglewood. One of the stumbling blocks to the community's proposed construction request was the apparent lack of adequate funding. However, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas' funding study, there are ways to pay for a rail station at Leimert Park Village (estimated cost $131 million) and moving the 11-block section of the rail line along Crenshaw Boulevard below ground (estimated cost $269 million). The report from Metro's planning division, has identified $2 billion, as potential money sources, from which portions could be shifted to cover the Crenshaw project costs. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas has stated, "We can and must distinguish great investments from great costs. Finding money is always a challenge, but funding challenges must not shrink our ambitions," he said. "The need for a Leimert Park Village Station is obvious--a Crenshaw Corridor rail line must include the most prominent cultural center on its route," Ridley-Thomas said. "The Park Mesa Heights tunnel," he added, "would prevent disruptions to traffic and local businesses caused by a train running at street level."The community has asked the Mayor to support the agenda item that will put a stop at Leimert Park and keep it underground down Crenshaw Boulevard; and the supervisor has stated that the money is there. Those who attended the meeting have voiced their support for the project as stated above. Comments made following the meeting were:Councilwoman Jan Perry: "The meeting was a very well-rounded and very focused turnout that represented the stakeholders of the African American community, and while I did not have the opportunity to stay for the entire meeting, the parts that I witnessed ... I think the Mayor listened very intently. Mr. Parks (8th District councilman) and I share a common view about what should occur on Crenshaw, and I intend to work with him, and the Mayor, to see that it happens."Danny J. Bakewell, Sr: "Under no circumstances can our community allow this project to continue as it's now presented to us. I pledge to use all my power and influence to rally the community to stop this construction if Leimert Park does not get a station, and if the light rail does not continue underground down Crenshaw to the point where it turns west."Blair Taylor: "It was a good meeting; I characterize it as productive and I'm optimistic that the Mayor is going to be supportive of what the community has asked for and what our community needs, which are both the stop at the Vernon-and-Crenshaw location (Leimert Park), and the underground, below-grade component from Vernon to Slauson. I think those two things are connected, and they are both necessary. The Mayor seemed very receptive and it was a very positive meeting. I'm encouraged that he's going to look closely at what he can do to help us. Our community is very united on this and it's going to define our community for years to come." Gene Hale: "It's important that we get that stop at Leimert (Park) because in the long term, it will increase commerce in that area, and will have a substantial economic impact on that community, and create a substantial number of jobs."Charisse Bremond-Weaver: "We were pleased that we were able to meet with the Mayor and other MTA representatives to talk about the urgent need of getting a stop at Leimert Park and processing the underground part of the system."Rev. Dr. Melvin Wade: "I am so glad that attention is given to a section of our city that represents the 'heart of a community.' It is our hope that the Mayor will come on board with this effort because of the fact that in the Crenshaw district, Leimert Park has a lot of business and it is increasing. I think it will be helpful to the business community if we can get this stop at the Leimert Park. And it's our prayer that that will happen." Denise Hunter: "I thought that the meeting was productive. Also I appreciated the fact that that the Mayor came with an open mind, I think that was important. But more importantly, while we were looking at where we were going to find the funding for this program, I believe his staff and all who were involved in this (project), was really trying to identify funding and were really trying to make that stop possible in Leimert Park, because it means so much to the people there. And it's consistent with everything one would normally do to place a stop. So we're not asking for anything extra, we're just asking them to do the right thing."Jackie Dupont-Walker: "The show of unity in the interest of our community and the sign of leadership was touching. Personal interest was put aside in the interest of the community."Though he was not in attendance at the meeting, Danny Tabor, former mayor and councilman of Inglewood said, "I'll tell you why I support this. The Crenshaw line is going to connect this region with Los Angeles World Airport and historically, we have given up real estate in our community to build transportation--the 105 Freeway. And now we have an opportunity, before decisions are made and set in stone, to have a voice as to how the transit line gets built, and also to make sure it minimizes any negative impact to our community. The building of the Leimert Park station represents an acknowledgement of the historic value that Leimert Park has to all of Los Angeles, and particularly the African American community."Councilman Bernard Parks did not attend the meeting either but his support was evident in a letter to the MTA chair, signed by Perry and him that described the Leimert Park Station and the underground segment of the light rail line. It stated in part: " ... We encourage you to join us in supporting the needs of the community and the important design elements that we have outlined above. The completion of this thoughtfully-designed project will help to meet the transportation, job-creation and economic development goals and objectives for South Los Angeles." Finally, Supervisor Ridley-Thomas stated, "The long-term payoffs for these investments will be great and would become an even greater cultural destination with a rail station (at Leimert Park). Undergrounding the Park Mesa Heights section would speed travel times for all Crenshaw/LAX line passengers. Not making these investments also has a great cost to the cultural and economic life of both the immediate community and greater Los Angeles," Ridley-Thomas added.The funding sources named in the Metro study include $500 million in highway interchange and widening projects, $585 million in low-priority improvements to existing subway stations and lines, and $943 million in various maintenance projects.