The Vision Theater, the Leimert Park landmark
Anything less will devastate the businesses in the area and devalue the communityBy Yussuf J. SimmondsSentinel Managing EditorThe metro rail is coming through "our" neighborhood, but there is one problem: according to the latest information the Sentinel has received, it is not scheduled to stop at Leimert Park, which is a major cultural and business center for African Americans and is punctuated by the Vision Theater. And the community wants to know--Why?Second District Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who is also the Metro Director, has introduced a motion to add a station at Leimert Park and a tunnel through the area--Park Mesa Heights--from 48th to 60th Streets beneath Crenshaw Boulevard. The line is scheduled to run along the Crenshaw Transit Corridor CTC) from Exposition Boulevard southbound to the Hyde Park Boulevard area. The full Metro Board is scheduled to vote on the matter on Thursday April 28. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's voting bloc (a total of 4 votes) could make the difference. They, along with Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Michael Antonovich who is also on board would only need one other vote to make the Leimert Park Station a reality. There have been community forums and meetings held to iron out the discrepancies and inconsistencies that have dogged the CTC since the light rail was scheduled to begin the Crenshaw Boulevard portion of the line. And according to one of the community forum's flyers, when it's built right (including the Leimert Park Station), the community will reap economic opportunities and benefits.In addition, according to the supervisor's office, the project is designed to produce a total of approximately 7800 jobs--4400 construction jobs and 3400 indirect jobs associated with the engineering, materials and design component of the project. Also when completed, the rail is expected to yield 272 permanent jobs, a figure based on the environmental report. The Sentinel was also told that out of the total light rail budget of $1.7 billion, the Leimert Park station is estimated to cost $120 million, less than ten percent of the budget.Residents of the area, business people and elected officials, whose districts will be directly impacted, have all voiced their concerns and have come out strongly in support of the station and what the impact will be without the Leimert Park stop along the Crenshaw line.Supervisor Ridley-Thomas: "The vote cast on Thursday, April 28 will determine the fate of the Crenshaw Corridor for generations to come. Passage of the motion guarantees that Leimert Park is not bypassed as a station stop and that the safety of thousands of people who live, work and worship in the Crenshaw Corridor are put first by having the train below ground in the Park Mesa Heights community."Assemblyman Mike Davis: "I believe this is a necessary proposal which creates the opportunity for South Los Angeles to receive its fair share of rail transportation services, given both the state and federal funds tied to the project," said Assemblyman Mike Davis. "We have always been concerned about the diversity of the workplace on transportation projects in our community. We believe that contracts should be shared with the small and medium sized firms in the manner consistent with the large corporate firms. We believe this is true diversity which improves the quality of life for the residents of the Crenshaw District."Laura Hendricks, long time business owner of Gallery Plus located in the heart of the Leimert Park district said, "I think it's a good thing (the Leimert Park station) with the Vision Theater here and all the people who come to shop there is no reason for them not to stop here." She said that she is on board with the idea.Joe Bowers, a resident of the area said, "I'm firmly behind having a station at Leimert Park because it's vitally essential to the economics and viability of the area."Damien Goodmon, another resident of the area and chair of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition said, "There are other communities and ethnic centers on the Metro system. Little Tokyo has a station; Chinatown has a station. I don't see any reason why the ethnic center of the African American community wouldn't be on the Metro system." In response to other proposed stations along the Crenshaw Corridor that are in the African American community, he replied, "That's ridiculous! Throughout the Metro system, there are examples of station that are within a half a mile on every rail line they've built, and a half of a mile, as everyone knows, is way too far for most people to comfortably walk." In essence, Goodmon was referring the distance between the 'King Blvd.' station and the 'Slauson Blvd.' station. "Theoretically, but most people won't do it, and it'll be a lost opportunity for our community to provide that unique African American cultural, social, political, art experience that is the envy of the world." And Michael S. Jones of the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce said, "There are two things involved here. One is Metro is saying they don't want to do it because it cost too much money; so that's a concern that they have.
However, when you look at Leimert coming up ... the Vision Theater, the renovated shops and the businesses that will follow, for that train NOT to stop at Vernon and Crenshaw, will be a travesty to the community. The other part is that the train must run underground between 48th Street and 59th Street. Why? Because the time it will take to build two train tracks in the middle of Crenshaw, the businesses will be affected in a very, very bad way." Going underground will be less disruptive to the community.The voting on Thursday at the full Metro Board meeting will let the community know the outcome.