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Distorting Environmental Justice is an Injustice

Posted by Fix Expo Team On December - 24 - 2009 ADD COMMENTS

By Damien Goodmon, Coordinator of Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line & Chair of Joint Committee on Rail Transit of South L.A. Neighborhood Councils

(Image courtesy Univ. of North Texas Center for Environmental Philosophy)

(Image courtesy Univ. of North Texas Center for Environmental Philosophy)

Justifying the construction of unsafe and congestion worsening rail crossings in non-poor white communities, because they’re being built in majority-minority South LA, is one of the more incredible subtexts to emerge in the Expo Line discussion. It should be noted that these statements are NOT coming from our coalition of civil rights, neighborhood councils and community groups that has led the South LA fight for environmental justice on Expo Phase 1. Rather, the cynical chatter is coming from the public agencies, politicians and apologists who have opposed our efforts at every turn.

The objective of environmental justice laws is to raise the environmental standards, quality of life and participation in the decision-making process for minority and low-income communities, not to lower them for non-poor Caucasian communities. To realize this, one need only extend the practical application of our opponent’s misinterpretation of environmental justice: building a large polluting port in Malibu would be justified by the presence of one in Wilmington, building a landfill in Beverly Hills would be justified by the one in Sun Valley, etc. Such arguments are clearly illogical and contrary to the objectives of the environmental justice movement, which is rooted both in the cause of civil rights and environmental protection.

Recognizing that low-income and minority communities (“environmental justice communities” or “E.J. communities”) are substantially more likely to be subjected to policies, designs and projects that are harmful, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 12898, which is the basis of every federal agency’s environmental justice policies, including the Environmental Protection Agency. E.O. 12898 begins:

“[E]ach Federal agency shall make achieving environmental justice part of its mission by identifying and addressing, as appropriate, disproportionately high and adverse human health or environmental effects of its programs, policies, and activities on minority populations and low-income populations in the United States…”

E.O. 12898 remains a response to centuries of economic and political disenfranchisement that is institutional, systemic, and at times racial. Fifty years of civil rights legislation and the election of an African-American president not withstanding, the problem persists.

Environmental injustice can manifest itself in many ways. On the Downtown LA to Culver City Expo Phase 1 project it is shown in the disproportionately adverse effects on the minority and/or low-income South LA communities when compared to the only non-E.J. community that the project impacts – Culver City. MTA has appropriated the resources to build a line that is totally grade separated (the train crosses no street) in Culver City, while building the project in South LA on the cheap with over a dozen street-level crossings across busy intersections and at the doorstep of large urban schools.

Despite the claims of the Expo Line Construction Authority and opponents of “grade separation” (trains crossing the street underground or elevated), the MTA Grade Crossing Policy determined that the Culver City crossings at Washington/National and Jefferson/National were supposed to be built “at-grade” (street-level).

Excerpt from the MTA Grade Crossing Policy Recommendations for Expo Phase 1 showing recommended at-grade crossings in Culver City.

Excerpt from the MTA Grade Crossing Policy Recommendations for Expo Phase 1 showing recommended at-grade crossings in Culver City.

Also untrue is that Washington/National had to be grade separated because the policy required Venice/Robertson to be grade separated. In truth, the distance between the two crossings is sufficient to cross Washington/National at-grade and transition to an elevation over Venice.

Rendering of possible design with an at-grade Washington & National crossing AND Venice & Robertson elevated crossing

Rendering of possible design with an at-grade Washington & National crossing AND Venice & Robertson elevated crossing

The grade separations and additional resources to build them were added to the project because the City of Culver City opposed street-level crossings in their boundaries, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in consultant fees and bureaucratic resources fighting MTA, engaged in intense political lobbying and used the threat of a legal challenge. Culver City was successful, and as a result the Expo Phase 1 adverse impacts are inequitably placed.

Phase 1 discrepancies

The discrepancies in impacts of the Expo Phase 1 Project

This disparity is best illustrated in the construction budget: $185 million for the one mile from La Cienega to the Culver City terminus, vs. $140 million for the 4.5 miles from Vermont to one block east of La Cienega in South LA.

$185 million/mile west of La Cienega vs. $31 million/mile in South LA

$185 million/mile west of La Cienega vs. $31 million/mile in South LA

The point is not that the Culver City crossings should be built at-grade. The adverse impacts of street-level crossings on safety, congestion, air quality, emergency service response times, and others environmental impacts would be severe. The point is that the impact of street-level crossings is also severe in South LA. Internationally renowned rail safety experts and nationally renowned vehicular accident causation experts have raised alarm bells about the hazards to pedestrians and motorists, and congestion at several of the major intersections like Crenshaw, Western and Vermont will be worsened to Level of Service F (the worst possible congestion level) with the project.

Furthermore, the process of proposing substandard designs and forcing communities to fight for what MTA calls “betterments” but most in the public consider basic necessities, will inevitably lead to projects with disparate impacts. E.J. communities are far more likely to be politically disenfranchised and/or to lack access to legal recourse, both of which are severe impediments to fighting projects or winning concessions/mitigations.

So what’s the correct course to address the environmental injustice on Expo Phase 1, which for better or worse MTA has legally segmented from Expo Phase 2? Consistent with the objective of raising standards for E.J. communities, not lowering them for non-E.J. communities, we have focused on the cause of grade separating South L.A.’s street-level crossings to eliminate the “disproportionately high and adverse human health [and] environmental effects.”

The need to address the disproportionately adverse effects of the project is why simply adding one or two grade separations to the project in South LA is not enough – there would still be another 3.5 miles of Expo Phase 1 E.J. communities that will be exposed to the hazards and adverse impacts of street-level crossings, of which Culver City has been completely spared.

MTA/Expo could have and still can tap a variety of resources to fund the grade separations, including the federal stimulus act, Proposition 1B and Measure R. But the reality is they don’t want to and neither do those who seek to misconstrue the meaning of environmental justice. MTA wants to build the Expo Line as cheaply as possible without regard to the 100-year impact to traffic, public safety, community cohesion, system capacity and public need, which all necessitate grade separation.

MTA’s reasoning is flawed and must be resisted in the streets and in the courts. Building 15 miles of inadequate and unsafe rail that will worsen already congested traffic is bad for all communities and the region, and it is not a better use of taxpayer resources than building 10 miles of good rail that will serve our 100-year transportation needs.

Citizens should place the blame for poor planning and performance right where it belongs – in MTA’s lap and not attempt to pit communities against one another by misrepresenting the meaning of environmental justice. After all only the most cynical would define “justice” as harming one non-poor white child in West LA for every minority child harmed in South LA.

As published in this week’s CityWatchLA article, with applicable renderings, documents and links.

Popularity: 26% [?]

Crenshaw Subway Motion APPROVED!

Posted by Fix Expo Team On December - 11 - 2009 1 COMMENT

YES WE DID!

We came in busloads and caravans. We came in numbers so great that the MTA had to open up their overflow room. Hundreds of us descended upon the MTA board meeting and we walked away with a major battle victory: the MTA Board UNANIMOUSLY approved the Ridley-Thomas Crenshaw Blvd. subway motion. (LA Times article)

For the first time in the history of the current process, MTA will now conduct a study and identify a funding strategy to keep the entire Crenshaw Blvd portion of the Crenshaw-LAX Line in a subway. A full Crenshaw Blvd. subway would allow our children, elderly and the public at-large to walk/drive across the street without having to negotiate with 225-ton trains, preserve over 200 parking spaces crucial to the commerce of local small businesses, provide some basic equity to the system, and reduce the travel time of the train ride by 25% (from Jefferson Park to the future LAX people mover in just 15 minutes – faster than cars!).

THANK YOU AND CONGRATULATIONS TO ALL, and to SUPERVISOR MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS!

How Did We Do It?

It began as lead member organizations of the Fix Expo Campaign attended MTA Crenshaw Line meetings early in the process (2007) and submitted comments requesting an underground light rail. We diligently followed the process for the next two years, consistently articulating an underground alignment and, procedurally, keeping underground options on the table so that they could be environmentally cleared, a crucial requirement.

In October ‘09, when the MTA released the draft study for public comment, over 100 of us attended the hearings in our community at West Angeles and Transfiguration Church, and we flooded the MTA staff with comment forms and emails (not just petitions) with a strategically-focused message requesting a subway in the section that, at the time, had no underground option (48th to 59th Streets). Our numbers were so large and consistent that MTA staff recognized it in their staff report to the board.

We spent the month of November pushing the issue on the streets, in the papers and through the airwaves. Our elected officials, many of whom we established relationships with through our Fix Expo advocacy, took note and each of them, from City Hall to Sacramento to Washington D.C. similarly requested that the entirety of the line on Crenshaw Blvd be built in a subway, citing community requests.

The political champion along the way was County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who as an MTA Board Member kept the project on the drawing board, strategically positioned it to be eligible for hundreds of millions in federal funding, and brought the community, business, labor, faith-based and political groups together, as only he can. Ridley-Thomas welcomed the opportunity to use his board seat to represent our community for safety, equity and jobs and offered the Crenshaw subway motion.

In the lead up to yesterday’s MTA Board meeting, we flooded the board secretary’s email box. Then when the meeting was called to order, with the senior staff of our elected officials by our side, we – the community – articulated a message in unison and so impassioned that even westside Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, an opponent of subways anywhere except around his Fairfax District home, had to vote for it.

At each stage, everyone of you, through your conversations, phone calls, emails and presence played a critical role in our victory yesterday. It would not have been possible without your diligent attention and actions.

What’s Next?

Within 6-months, MTA staff will present a report on building a subway in the segment between 48th and 59th Streets to the MTA board. We will likely need to be at that meeting as well. MTA staff will also be conducting community meetings about things such as station area planning, likely in the late winter/early spring. And on the contract (jobs) front, the primary contractor for the $10 million study, Hatch Mott McDonald, has been directed to diversify the make-up of their primarily Orange County-based team. We will continue to monitor this process closely, and remain prepared to protest if the changes are not sufficient at this stage in the process.

On the Expo Line front, another CPUC Public Hearing, similar to the one held two-years ago (YouTube video), will be conducted to receive community input on the Farmdale crossing at Dorsey H.S. As reported in this week’s L.A. Times article, that decision is still being made, and we’re still fighting the Expo Authority in the courts. The Fix Expo position is that additional cost and delay to the project are acceptable ONLY for safety improvements in South L.A., something the MTA has long known are necessary. All other cost overruns are unacceptable and a product of waste, fraud, abuse and incompetence. It is why, among other reasons, we’ve requested that Expo C.E.O. Rick Thorpe be fired.

We all must continue informing our fellow citizens about these two major projects in our community.

(Front page image courtesy WalkingInLA)

Popularity: 27% [?]

Crenshaw Subway Motion Offered

Posted by Fix Expo Team On December - 6 - 2009 1 COMMENT

Subway image

Subway image

GREAT NEWS!

MTA Board Member and County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas has delivered on the promise conveyed by his transportation deputy at our November 23rd meeting to offer a motion to amend the MTA staff recommendation regarding the design of the Crenshaw Line.

The Mark Ridley-Thomas Park Mesa Heights subway motion, would require the MTA staff to include in their study of the Crenshaw Line an underground segment from 48th to 59th Street. Currently staff has recommended that the section ONLY be studied for street-level operation. The motion, if approved, would require it be studied as underground as well.

Our community MUST be at the MTA Board Meeting on Thursday, Dec. 10 at 9 a.m. in large force to support the Mark Ridley-Thomas Park Mesa Heights subway motion, which will likely be discussed around 10 a.m. (Buses leaving South L.A. at 8 a.m. – RSVP for a seat: 323-761-6435 or crenshaw@fixexpo.org)

If this section is built at street-level the Crenshaw Line would:

  1. Violate the Crenshaw Specific Plan, which prohibits overhead utility lines,
  2. Result in the removal of over 200 parking spaces crucial to the local small business (mostly African-American) economy,
  3. Require the chopping down of the tall mature trees, compromising Crenshaw Blvd’s scenic highway status,
  4. Challenge the Crenshaw community’s economic revitalization efforts, and
  5. Result in numerous at-grade crossings just a block away from Crenshaw High School and St. Johns Evangelist Church and right in front of View Park Prep School, placing children and other members of the public in jeopardy from the hazardous at-grade crossings and worsening traffic.

Credit goes to MRT for stepping up to the plate.

Credit goes to MRT for stepping up to the plate.

By studying an underground segment and requiring staff to identify a financial strategy to fund it, the Crenshaw community and MTA would be best positioned to capture the opportunity to build a truly 1st class 21st century rail line on Crenshaw Blvd and avoid the adverse impacts and risks of street-level crossings.

In addition to Mark Ridley-Thomas, lots of credit go to the many community members who showed up at MTA community meetings and wrote in comments to the MTA staff. Our strategic decision to focus comments on this particular section has paid off. Both the staff report and Ridley-Thomas’ motion take note of the large community request for the section to be built underground in addition to the others.

From the MTA staff report:

A significant number of comments requested a below grade alignment along the entire length of Crenshaw Boulevard between the Exposition Line and the Harbor Subdivision. Specifically, commenters requested a below grade alignment between 48th to 59th Streets related to concerns about traffic impacts, pedestrian safety associated with two schools (one located near a station and one located one block away from Crenshaw Blvd), impacts due to reconfiguration of the street and landscaping, and perceptions of equity.”

The full text of the motion is here (pdf):

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority conducted extensive community outreach to solicit comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Report/Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the CrenshawILAX Transit Corridor. There was an overwhelming level of community support for further study of a below grade separation through the heart of the Crenshaw Community.

The Locally Preferred Alternative proposed by Metro staff recommends a below grade light rail track alignment north of 48″ Street and south of 59th street. However, the track segment between 48th and 59th is proposed at grade.

There may be cost, constructability, safety, environmental and economic development benefits to Metro and to the residents of LA County that can be reached by a below grade connection at this location.

The intent of this amendment to the Locally Preferred Alternative is to have staff perform further study of the cost, constructability, safety, environmental and economic development benefits associated with a below grade rail connection between 48th and 59th streets on Crenshaw Boulevard.

I THEREFORE MOVE, THAT:

1. The scope of preliminary engineering and environmental review be expanded to consider the cost, constructability, safety, environmental and economic development benefits associated with linking proposed underground segments of the Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor with a below grade connection between 48th and 59th Streets on Crenshaw Boulevard; and

2. Metro staff be instructed to develop alternatives, recommendations and a funding strategy for this segment of the connector.

Popularity: 27% [?]

Distributed by the Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line/Crenshaw Subway Coalition

(This message can be downloaded here: pdf)

MTA Board Meeting:
Thursday Dec. 10, 2009 – 9 a.m.
1 Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012
(Tall building behind Union Station)
Buses Leave South LA at 8 a.m.
RSVP for your seat: call (323) 761-6435 or email crenshaw@fixexpo.org

On Thursday, December 10, 2009 at 9:00 AM, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) Board of Directors will meet to approve the first major contract of a $2 billion dollar light rail project for Crenshaw Blvd., the heart of Los Angeles’ African-American community. Your presence at this Board meeting is vital to demand:

  1. That this engineering contract includes qualified African American businesses representative of the demographics of the community, who have a depth of experience and knowledge of the Crenshaw community.
  2. That this engineering contract includes residents of the Crenshaw community who will recycle their money into community.
  3. That future selection committees include community stakeholders to insure that our voice is represented in the decision making process.

THE IMPACT

This is the largest public works project in the history of South L.A., projected to create 7,800 jobs.

How will the residents of the Crenshaw community share in the economic benefits of this $2 billion investment? The first $10 million dollar investment by MTA offers a very disturbing answer.

MTA’s staff has proposed that a $10 million dollar conceptual engineering contract be awarded to a team that consists of no African American owned businesses, no local businesses and no residents of the Crenshaw community.

Translation: Out of the first $10 million that is being spent by our tax dollars in our community, ZERO DOLLARS will go to African American businesses or residents of our community.  The team selected couldn’t even find a “token African-American” to be their public relations front!

According to the MTA staff report, over 13% of this contract will go to Anil Verma Associates, a sub-continent Asian American (Indian) architecture and engineering firm that has no experience in the Crenshaw corridor.  An additional 15% of the contract will go to other small businesses, none of whom are African-American owned or located in our community and many of whom are based in Orange County.

QUALIFIED AFRICAN-AMERICAN FIRMS ARE BEING PASSED OVER

There are several eminently qualified African-American owned businesses, whose owners and employees live in the Crenshaw Community that were overlooked, including RAW International and Terry Hayes Associates, who performed all of the preliminary planning and design work on this project for over 15 years. The two firms helped keep this investment in our community alive when many elected officials from outside our community wanted to divert funds earmarked for Crenshaw to transit projects in other parts of the county, including the “Subway to the Sea” (Wilshire Blvd.) near westside Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s home.

The message of this decision made by MTA staff is profoundly disturbing and should be a wake up call to our community.

Where is the economic development for our community, when the first $10 million coming in goes out to companies that don’t live in our community and don’t invest in our community?

What is going to happen when design and construction contracts worth over a BILLION dollars are awarded?

Who will speak up if eminently qualified African American professionals are overlooked?

The chances of local residents and local businesses participating at a meaningful level are bleak.  As a community, we must ask ourselves another question:  How could something this blatant happen?

The answer is simple: It happens all the time!

SAME SONG, DIFFERENT DANCE

People from outside African-American communities across the nation come into our communities, take advantage of business opportunities, enjoy individual economic development and take money they made in our communities back into their own communities.

This cycle of sucking the economic life out of the African-American community has gone on since the days of Reconstruction.  While many of our leaders have decried this practice, our community as a whole has yet to mobilize as a cohesive voice to let the powers that be know that this will no longer be tolerated.

This kind of situation would never occur in Orange County or West L.A.! These communities have a cohesive voice that prevents this kind of exclusionary practice to occur.  Even in East L.A. the recently completed Eastside Light Rail project was executed by the Eastside LRT Partners, a partnership that included a prominent Latino owned firm (Barrio Planners) and a prominent African-American owned firm (Jenkins, Gales and Martinez).

NOW IS THE TIME WE STAND UP AND DEMAND THE PRACTICE END

It is time for the African American community to wake up and raise our voice as a united front.

If not now, when?!

If not on this issue, the largest public works project in the history of South L.A. down the center of Los Angeles’ African-American community, where?!

We now have the political leadership in place to insure that our voices are heard.

Since taking office last December, Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas has worked tirelessly to insure that the Crenshaw community receives its fair share of quality transit improvements.  Community groups like ours have organized to become a voice of advocacy before the MTA.

Now it is time to show up to make our voices heard by the decision makers at MTA.

On Thursday, December 10th at 9:00 AM, the MTA Board of Directors will meet to approve this first $10 million contract. It is imperative that you be present.

The way the first $10 million is spent by MTA will lay the groundwork for how our community will (or won’t) benefit in the economic investment of the Crenshaw corridor over our lifetime.

As African-Americans, rich or poor; employed or unemployed; white collar, blue collar or no collar, we are joined together by one powerful bond: the vast majority of us are descendants of slaves.

The time is now for us to embrace our bond and become a powerful and united voice for economic justice.  Let’s unite to build a legacy that our children and grandchildren can be proud of.

May God bless our community.

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Popularity: 17% [?]

Next Meeting: Mon Jan 11

Join us at our first community update and organizing meeting in the new decade as we discuss the on-going Farmdale controversy and Crenshaw subway effort.

Campaign for Stimulus & Measure R Funds to Grade Separate the South LA Portion of Expo

MTA now has more resources that by law has to be spent on rapid transit expansion. Now is our time to request these resources go toward FIXING EXPO!

Responding to MTA Spin & Deception

A comprehensive response to the spin, red herrings, and half-truths delivered by MTA/Expo, complete with agency memos, testimony, studies, pictures, videos and all.

Separate & Unequal: Expo Phase 1

Compare the design of the Expo Line Phase 1 west of La Cienega to that in majority-minority South LA and it’s clear that Expo Phase 1 is textbook environmental racism.

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