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


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!).


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% [?]

The LA Weekly Honors Our Movement and Leader

Posted by Fix Expo Team On November - 13 - 2009 ADD COMMENTS

In their annual edition of LA People, LA Weekly honored our movement and leader, Damien Goodmon, with an article titled, “No More Mr. Nice Guy.”

The location of the photo has significant meaning to the Fix Expo movement and Damien.  The Blue Line crossing at 92nd and Graham is less than 100 feet away from his girlfriend’s church-home.  The crossing is also the location where on a tragic January 2007 day, young 14-year old Lavert Baker, Jr. was killed by a Blue Line train carrying his closest sister while walking home from school. Lavert is just one of over a dozen young adults and children that we can confirm as having their life cut far too short because of MTA’s street-level crossings.  All were killed at street-level crossings.

Here’s how the LA Weekly editor describes the 2009 LA People issue:

“Here we present our fourth-annual LA People issue, in which photographer Kevin Scanlon — shooting more than 60 incredible images over five-week period — and some of the city’s best writers set out to capture portraits of the waitresses and starlets … the tech wizards and rock stars … the activists, gang survivors, political warriors and policy wonks … the scientists, teachers and fabulous nerds … plus the nightlife shapers, art makers and fashion provocateurs that make Los Angeles the only place to live.”

Congrats to us all in the Fix Expo movement for our efforts to improve our community and city!

In case the link breaks, here is the full text:

By Steven Mikulan
April 20, 2009

“I’m a take-to-the-hills kind of guy,” admits Damien Goodmon. “When something’s not being done right, I don’t think of how to make it easier for people who are doing things wrong.”

In 2007 Goodmon, now 27, joined a group of South Los Angeles citizens to wrest from the Metropolitan Transit Authority the same safety considerations taken for granted by residents of the Westside and San Fernando Valley. At issue was – and is – the MTA’s Expo Line Train, which is being built through low-income neighborhoods from downtown to Culver City and, eventually, to the sea. He soon became the leading spokesman for the Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line and has since been called an obstructionist, and worse, by his detractors.

No one, though, has questioned his commitment to environmental justice.

Growing up in Leimert Park, Goodmon had little reason to suspect that other cities’ thoroughfares did not resemble L.A.’s bland, pedestrian-hostile boulevards and freeways. His mother didn’t drive, so Goodmon saw the city from the back of an RTD bus. While attending school in Seattle and, later, at Harvard, he realized that Leimert Park had less in common with the rest of L.A., with its cookie-cutter streets and strip malls, and more with other cities that made mass transit a part of the civic fabric. He saw janitors sit next to executives on trains, and small businesses thrive in an era of malls. In other words, he was seeing what was missing in his hometown.

“People treat the city as their car,” Goodmon says of L.A. “They get in it and leave.”

Florida’s contentious 2000 presidential recount first got Goodmon fired up about politics, and he later became a national student coordinator for Wesley Clark’s 2004 presidential run. Afterward, Goodmon immersed himself in the details of L.A.’s transit system, spending some 2,000 hours researching ways to overcome what he calls the city’s two traditional excuses for not building mass transit — that it’s too expensive, and that people can’t be convinced to look 30 years ahead to address the city’s problems.

His early forays into neighborhood activism were met with bemused indifference, he says. Playing Mr. Nice Guy got him nowhere with MTA officials and elected representatives, African-American or otherwise.

“You put on the tie and give them facts, and nothing happens,” he says. “You end up pounding your fist on the podium.”

Of his meetings in politicians’ offices, Goodmon says, “I don’t go in there looking for a handout and something for myself for the future. To work for free and to work day and night, and not ask for something in return other than to fix the issue under consideration — they’re floored by this concept.”

Fix Expo’s accusation of the MTA was simple: By allowing the proposed Expo Line trains to cross heavily trafficked streets at the same level as those streets — especially near Dorsey High School and Foshay Learning Center — the MTA was inviting tragedy.

“My issue,” Goodmon says, “was factual but unapologetically brutal: We know people are going to be killed. In the process of running over people you’re creating a separate and unequal transit system. And you’re ignoring complaints that would make it a better transit system!”

Community activists demanded the same as what had been put in place at USC and Culver City — that trains cross over or under streets. So far, the group’s fight has won them one of the two victories they were seeking — a pedestrian bridge over the tracks near Dorsey, which they also want for Foshay Learning Center — and they haven’t quit.

The thing that galls Goodmon and Fix Expo is that they have dedicated so much time researching solutions only to be met with suspicion and hostility by L.A. officials.

“We tell them, ‘We’ve done the work for you guys — all you have to do is be the heroes,’” Goodmon says. “We don’t want the glory.”

Popularity: 9% [?]

Coverage of our Hearings Request of MTA by Congress

Posted by Fix Expo Team On July - 13 - 2009 ADD COMMENTS

Several of the local media outlets, including KTLA 5, The Wave, and NBC 4 covered our request for Congressional hearings and investigation of the MTA.

- KTLA 5 Report:

- NBC 4: Activist Calls For Congressional Safety Hearings on Blue Line Safety

- The Wave: The Soulvine – Riding the Rails

In case the links break, here is the full text of the NBC 4 and The Wave Reports:

Activist Calls For Congressional Safety Hearings on Blue Line Safety

A day after a man was killed and a woman injured in separate collisions involving the Metro Blue Line, an activist today called for congressional hearings on the safety of the light rail line between downtown Los Angeles and Long Beach.

A 55-year-old man was struck and killed by a northbound train in the 1600 block of East 48th Street yesterday. About five and a half hours later, a 49-year-old woman was critically injured when she was struck by a Blue Line train in the 1500 block of South Flower Street.

Since the Blue Line opened in 1990, there have been 826 collisions and 93 deaths. Metro officials say about 20 of those deaths were suicides.

“Clearly, MTA is indifferent to the safety of the members of the public who must interface with their trains,” said Damien Goodmon of the Citizens’ Campaign to Fix the Expo Rail Line.

“Absent congressional intervention and oversight to require MTA quickly implement necessary changes to their rail system and internal processes, MTA will continue killing on the tracks with impunity,” he said. “How much longer must these preventable tragedies continue to occur?”

Metro officials said the criticism ignores safety improvements, including safety cameras and gates that stop motorists and pedestrians from crossing when trains are approaching intersections.

Those safety measures have also been implemented along the Metro Gold Line and the under-construction Eastside Extension.

“It’s really been an evolving process over the last 20 years,” said Metro spokesman Rick Jager. “We need a partner here and that partner is the public. They need to be aware that trains have the right of way and they need to stop, look and listen.”

The Soulvine
The Wave

RIDING THE RAILS — Following three separate back-to-back-to-back Blue Line accidents late last month, which left a male pedestrian dead and a woman trapped in a truck in South L.A. and another woman critically injured downtown, rail safety advocates are requesting a congressional investigation and hearings on the 18-year-old light rail operation in the city and expansion of the system into more complex communities in the Southland. Leading a coalition of several community groups in a fight for rail safety in the city, Damien Goodmon noted: “The three accidents on the Blue Line, which travels at street level between 35 to 55 mph in dense urban areas, bring the train’s death count up to 93 from over 826 accidents.” He called it “the deadliest light rail train in the nation.”

Popularity: 9% [?]

Expo Line Approval: License to Kill?

Posted by Fix Expo Team On January - 26 - 2009 ADD COMMENTS

An op-ed by international human factors and rail safety expert Professor Najmedin Meshkati was published in yesterday’s Daily News. The title is “Expo Line Approval: A License to Kill?”:

The L.A. Country Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority with their army of lawyers, consultants, lobbyists and PR agencies, which are all paid from our tax money, are vigorously pushing and asking for CPUC approval of their at-grade crossings near the two schools. However, the local community organizations and the Los Angeles Unified School District are opposing such at-grade design of intersections. The public’s distrust of MTA is rooted in its dismal safety record. Ninety people have died on the MTA’s 22-mile L.A.-Long Beach Blue Line, which has had more than 821 recorded incidents since its inception in July 1990 to July 2008. These numbers, which are significantly higher than national average rates of accidents and fatalities along the MTA rail network, attest to the dire state of rail safety in LA, which is primarily caused by MTA’s outdated and messy safety-related policies, procedures and practices.

If the CPUC has not learned its lessons about the human factors-related root-causes of past rail accidents, and does not fully scrutinize MTA’s proposed crossings’ risk and hazard analyses, then CPUC’s “easy” approval will be tantamount to granting MTA and its Expo Line Construction Authority a license to kill and maim school children and adults on the Expo Line for the next decades to come, as approximately 72 million Dorsey students who will use the Farmdale Avenue crossing during the expect life of operation of this line. The CPUC’s approval would provide MTA with the alibi – the “design immunity” in legalese – for so doing.

Here is the full article:

Expo Line Approval: A License to Kill?

The Metrolink crash in Chatsworth on Sept. 12, which killed 25 and injured more than 135 innocent people, highlighted the need for much more rigorous government scrutiny of rail safety in the country and especially in Southern California. It is against this sober backdrop that we — the badly hit Southlanders — are pleading and looking up to the north for a protector from future rail carnages.

This Thursday, Jan. 29. the five commissioners of the California Public Utilities Commission are expected to vote on and announce their final decision concerning the design of key street crossings in phase 1 of the Exposition Light Rail, or Expo Line, project planned from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. It will cross major busy city streets such as Vermont, Western, Farmdale and Crenshaw.

There are rare occasions that a San Francisco-based state agency’s decision can determine the risk to life and safety of millions school children in Los Angeles for the next 75 to 100 years. However, this CPUC’s decision will be a precedent-setting case and there certainly will be future similar cases elsewhere in California, and as such, many more lives will be at risk.

In fact, the term “light rail” is a bit of a misnomer. Each of the three-coupled 225-ton train cars will operate at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour. Expo Line trains will run every 2 to 2.5 minutes, 22 hours a day, in opposite directions on parallel sets of dual tracks and will cross Farmdale Avenue at street level (at-grade), within 10 feet of Dorsey High School, which has 2,100 students, and will cross Western Avenue and Harvard Blvd., also at street level, within 50 feet of the Foshay Learning Center, which is a K-12 Multi-Track School with 3,400 students.

The L.A. Country Metropolitan Transportation Authority and its Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority with their army of lawyers, consultants, lobbyists and PR agencies, which are all paid from our tax money, are vigorously pushing and asking for CPUC approval of their at-grade crossings near the two schools. However, the local community organizations and the Los Angeles Unified School District are opposing such at-grade design of intersections. The public’s distrust of MTA is rooted in its dismal safety record. Ninety people have died on the MTA’s 22-mile L.A.-Long Beach Blue Line, which has had more than 821 recorded incidents since its inception in July 1990 to July 2008. These numbers, which are significantly higher than national average rates of accidents and fatalities along the MTA rail network, attest to the dire state of rail safety in LA, which is primarily caused by MTA’s outdated and messy safety-related policies, procedures and practices.

If the CPUC has not learned its lessons about the human factors-related root-causes of past rail accidents, and does not fully scrutinize MTA’s proposed crossings’ risk and hazard analyses, then CPUC’s “easy” approval will be tantamount to granting MTA and its Expo Line Construction Authority a license to kill and maim school children and adults on the Expo Line for the next decades to come, as approximately 72 million Dorsey students who will use the Farmdale Avenue crossing during the expect life of operation of this line. The CPUC’s approval would provide MTA with the alibi – the “design immunity” in legalese – for so doing.

The concept of “design immunity,” which is based upon an otherwise obscure California Government Code § 830.6, would potentially entitle MTA to avoid liability for dangerous condition of its designs and grant MTA with complete immunity against any type of claim arising out of its design defect. It was precisely the CPUC’s lax approval of the Blue Line’s more than 100 crossings back in late 1980s that left us to live with the persistent dangerous condition which is a major root-cause of its many fatalities and accidents (the last two accidents happened just in one day, on Thursday, Nov. 20.)

Moreover, the automatic “design immunity” entitlement of MTA has also been responsible for the status quo, as well as stifling any motivation and imputes within this agency for any fundamental change and systematic safety improvement. Neither numerous deaths and the resulting protracted litigations, nor trail or appeal court’s affirmative rulings against MTA in favor of the rail accident’s victim (plaintiff), have been able to make a dent in the MTA’s dismal safety practices.

This time around, the CPUC approval of MTA’s requests for the Expo Line would do the same. It will not only continue to shield MTA’s unsafe crossings and operation against any future lawsuits stemming from accidents and resultant injuries and deaths caused by design-induced errors of pedestrians and drivers on the Expo Line, but also will further hardened MTA’s entrenched archaic safety culture.

It is truly perplexing that the Exposition Light Rail Construction Authority, even in this dismal state economy, is still continuing to squander millions of dollars of precious taxpayers’ money by lavishly paying for thousands of pages of legal briefs, stubbornly fighting neighborhood community organizations, and recklessly disparaging scientific facts which justifiably question and refute its proposed designs. This is the money that should have been spent on making the Expo Line safer and our hope is that the CPUC puts an end to this vicious cycle.

The CPUC of today has much greater competent technical resources and it can (and should) learn from other agencies such as the National Transportation Safety Board and do much better job than what it did some 30 years ago and consequently we are stuck with the Blue Line’s unsafe intersections. We can only hope that what the American philosopher William James said, “great emergencies and crises show us how much greater our vital resources are than we had supposed,” also applies to California and its PUC.

Najmedin Meshkati is a professor at the Sonny Astani Department of Civil/Environmental and a professor at the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering (ISE) at the Viterbi School of Engineering, University of Southern California. He teaches and conducts research on the safety of technological systems and created USC’s Transportation Safety Program in 1992. Robert “BJ” Takushi, a recent graduate of the Epstein ISE Department, received a grant from the Rose Hill Foundation to study the Expo Light Rail safety.

Popularity: 10% [?]

BREAKING: Judge Denies MTA’s Plans at Dorsey & Foshay!

Posted by Fix Expo Team On October - 24 - 2008 ADD COMMENTS

As covered in:


In a landmark decision regarding the MTA/Expo Line Construction Authority’s two proposed Expo Light Rail Line crossings next to 2,100-student Dorsey HS and 3,400-student Foshay Learning Center, California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) Judge Kenneth Koss ruled MTA’s plans unsafe, and the community and LAUSD’s safety concerns valid. The ruling is a tentative decision that will either be adopted or amended by the full CPUC commission on November 21, and it is a major milestone in a heated struggle pitting a scrappy South LA community coalition with the support of LAUSD, against the MTA and their local elected leaders building the project.

Judge Koss’ influential decision recommends the CPUC deny both proposed crossings and MTA submit the appropriate environmental review documents regarding the alternative options.

This is a major battle victory in a long and unfortunate war.

We are relieved that the Judge heard the concerns of the rail safety experts, traffic experts, LAUSD and the community. And we are regretful that the Commission didn’t allow hearings on any of the other crossings, and basically rubber-stamped them believing what MTA said.

Two crossings went to hearing and two crossings were found to be unsafe by the judge. We believe that as the evidentiary hearings on Farmdale and Harvard Avenues revealed, the ‘evidence’ used by the MTA and Expo Authority to support their assertions that they are building a safe project is both unfounded and has been manipulated. (More on that this weekend)

The manipulation of data, unfounded assertions, and dismissal of valid safety concerns for decades, speaks volumes to the deficient rail safety cost-benefit analysis that our region’s transportation agencies and politicians have been implementing with impunity. Our transportation agencies’ Ford Pinto cost-benefit analysis is why the MTA’s Blue Line at 90 deaths and over 821 accidents, is by far the deadliest light rail line in the country, and Metrolink is one of the deadliest commuter rail systems in the country.

MTA simply doesn’t value life.

For more about our response to possible project delay, the cost of redesigning the crossings, the project’s financial background, excerpts from the evidentiary hearing, and excerpts from the Judge’s proposed decision, and our requests of our elected representives click here to continue reading…


If the Judge’s proposed decision is adopted by full CPUC, it may delay the full opening of Phase 1 of the line to Culver City, currently scheduled to begin service in 2010.

And true to form MTA’s inflated estimates of delay and cost, exaggeration of impacts of the more expensive elevated and trench options, and undervaluing of the impacts of the cheaper options is a textbook example of a public agency cooking the books. This is their attempt to blackmail the Commission into approving unsafe crossings next to our schools of all places.

First off, since when is building something more quickly more important than building it safely?

Second, let’s look at the facts: On the stand MTA’s executive admitted they could build up to the previous station and begin service.

UCA/Fix Expo Question: Assuming the regulatory approvals were granted to operate the line in the segmented way that’s described in Exhibit 21, wouldn’t Metro then be able to operate the line in that fashion?

Expo Authority Executive Eric Olson’s Answer: That would be a decision of the Metro Board to make.

UCA/Fix Expo Question: But again, physically possible; right?

Olson’s Answer: I mean, as far as the construction goes, yes.

Exhibit 21 is Pg. 2.4-72 of the Expo Line EIR (large pdf) which reads:
Partial Operation Construction Option

The Partial Operation Construction Option would phase-in LRT operations in three segments as construction milestones are met. LRT operations from 7th Street/Metro Center to the Vermont Station would begin upon completion of this portion of the Project’s route in approximately 2008; while LRT operations to the Crenshaw Station would begin upon completion of this segment in approximately 2010. The final segment, from Crenshaw Boulevard to the Venice/Robertson Station, would be scheduled for completion in 2012.

And more importantly, the full line to Santa Monica isn’t even scheduled to open until 2014-2015 – at the earliest!

There is no need to rush to compromise safety.

It is more important that we get this right, make the appropriate investments on the front end to save lives – particularly the lives of children, so the public isn’t paying on the back-end with accident lawsuits and inexplicable pain from deaths and injury. This is a 100 year project – build it right.

Furthermore, if there is a delay to the project, the delay is of MTA’s own making and due to the failure of political leadership to address legitimate community concerns.

As we showed in a post earlier this week, MTA’s own documents on this project prove that from its inception, the community has repeatedly and loudly said that the street-level crossings, in particularly near our schools, are not safe and were unacceptable. But out of bureaucratic arrogance and political indifference, MTA and our political leaders have fought the community at every turn.


In the backdrop of one of the most horrific train accidents in this country’s history that cost us 26 innocent lives, seriously injured and maimed 135 people, and has made our region’s public transportation agencies an embarrassment to the world, please tell us that our elected officials and transportation agency bureaucrats aren’t claiming that they don’t have the money to make the Expo Line safe.

Tell us that they’ve learned their lesson – unfortunately the hard way.

Tell us that they’re not still of the mindset that has led to hundreds of preventable deaths on our tracks like last month’s Chatsworth accident. Tell us they don’t still believe that time and money is more important than saving peoples lives and limbs.

This is the problem with the term “safe.” It is by definition a relative term subject to misinterpretation by elected officials.

For example, before the Chatsworth accident it was too expensive to implement positive train control and that segment of track was ’safe.’ After the tragedy it is clearly unsafe and the cost of the technology is a drop in the bucket. It shouldn’t take multiple deaths and worldwide embarrassment to make our elected officials realize that.


In 2004, MTA pulled this project out of the federal New Starts program, in the process walking away from $320 million federal dollars, saying they’d build the project primarily with state and local money instead, because they wanted to speed up construction. That doesn’t sound like an agency that can’t afford to build grade separation to me. That sounds like an agency with plenty of financial options.

In the past year alone, MTA has appropriated $222 million extra dollars to the now $862 million project, including $54 million to add an overpass in Culver City to Phase 1 of Expo. And they appropriated these funds while telling us with a straight face that there’s no money for additional grade separation in South LA.

It is insulting to the intelligence of the people that have followed this issue to suggest this multi-billion dollar agency led by the most powerful politicians in the county, can’t find a way to make the Expo Line safe in our community – particularly right next to our schools.

MTA has the resources. MTA has many options – they can scale the project back for one. The fundamental problem is MTA has and unfortunately continues to lack a concern for safety in South LA.


At the evidentiary hearing three expert witnesses testified on behalf of the community group including Professor Najmedin Meshkati, an internationally renowned expert in human risk analysis and creator of USC’s Transportation System safety program, Ed Ruszak an nationally-renowned expert in traffic impacts and vehicular accident causation, and West Point graduate and retired Major Russ Quimby, who for 22 years led the rail and rail-transit accident investigation group at the National Transportation Safety Board before he retired in 2007.

Quimby testified that there was a high risk of catastrophic accident from MTA’s street-level crossing plan at Farmdale Ave, which abuts the school’s property line, and where after-school every day 700 hundreds of students flood the narrow sidewalks in 15 minutes at rates as high as 108 per minute:

As proposed, the Farmdale Avenue crossing creates a high risk that students will be injured and killed because the proposed safety mitigation measures essentially put the burden on students to maintain their own safety. The proposed crossing also creates a higher risk of a catastrophic accident. [....]

By ‘catastrophic accident,’ I mean an accident involving fatalities and/or injuries to a large number of people. As proposed, the at-grade Farmdale Avenue crossing creates the notable risk that a catastrophic accident may well occur under one of several different scenarios.”

(More excerpts from Quimby’s testimony.)

EXCERPTS FROM THE JUDGE’S DRAFT DECISION (link to the full draft decision)

“Expo Authority proposed a state-of-the-art system of gates and other warning devices at the Farmdale crossing, including swing gates to allow pedestrians to exit the rail right-of-way when all other gates are down. All of these gates, however, can be avoided easily by pedestrians. Considering the large number of crossings during peak periods, and the student populations using the crossing, we find that any system of gates or other warning devices at-grade would not eliminate all potential safety hazards.”

“The parties discussed several other crossings at or near school sites along other light-rail lines. However, none of these cases presented the unique characteristics of the proposed Farmdale crossing at Dorsey. This issue, therefore, provided little or no weight in our determination of practicability.”
“A.07-05-013, for authority to construct an at-grade crossing at Farmdale Ave. in the City of Los Angeles, should be denied.

“Authorization to construct a light rail line over an existing pedestrian tunnel crossing at Harvard Blvd., in the City of Los Angeles, requested in A.06-12-020, should be denied.”


Prior to the issuance of the decision, we delivered a statement on Wednesday before the LA City Council challenging the other members of the chamber to intervene and persuade our local black council members and MTA who have ignored legitimate concerns and data and instead, “declared war on the very community they were elected to serve and the neighborhood council system in general.”

We believe it is now incumbent upon our elected officials from the council members to the congressional leaders, to do the responsible thing and listen to the safety concerns expressed by the experts and Judge, and take into account the impacts to the community and schools of the grade separated options. This is a transportation project that will impact this community and serve this region for 100 years. It is important we have a safe light rail line that is a compliment and a good neighbor to the South LA communities that it passes through.

Our intent is to now go back to the community and discuss this draft decision further, but for now we are relieved that MTA’s unsafe street-level crossing was denied – it is a cause for celebration. Today the judge choose life over the risk of death next to our schools.

Stay tuned for the next community meeting, likely the week after the election.

Popularity: 8% [?]

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.