L.A.’s Metropolitan Transport Authority and megachurch Faithful Central Bible Church sat down last month for a series of meetings to finally settle the dispute the church raised against the agency over its plans to bring the proposed Crenshaw/LAX Transit Corridor light rail extension through their Inglewood campus.
With as many as 400 trains a day coming through at 35-55 mph per hour “at grade,” or at street level, church leadership became concerned for safety of it’s members; an average of 4-5,000 of which attend church on any given Sunday.
The conflict emerged—according to Faithful Central’s Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel, Marc Little—when Metro failed to send Faithful Central the Environment Impact Report (EIR), which is supposed to be distributed within the communities affected to give anyone the chance to voice their concerns.
“If you don’t get it, you can’t respond to it. If you don’t respond to it, you don’t have a voice,” says Little. “They have the church listed as having received it, but I never got it.”
“The church was blindsided,” says Executive Director and Chair of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition Damian Goodmon.
A community advocate who believes at grade construction down Crenshaw will destroy the small businesses located there, Goodman thinks these issues point to a larger problem.
“They [Metro] just don’t address community concerns wherever they’re building these lines,” accuses Goodmon. “They’re listening to developers, they’re listening to contractors, and that’s it. They don’t have much respect for our community despite the fact that it’s our tax dollars that goes toward building these.”
Metro representatives say that just isn’t true. In fact, hearing and addressing the community’s concerns is to Metro’s benefit, according to Rob Ball, Project Director for Metro’s Crenshaw/LAX Light Rail.
Says, Ball, “I always tell the community when we talk to them, and we do talk to the community often, that they have made this project so much better than when it started off.”
As far as the EIR goes, Balls contends that Metro upheld the agency’s side of the obligation.
“We do post the environmental documents online,” says Ball. “We do send out notices indicating where the public can view them, like libraries for example. They may not have actually gotten a copy sent to them directly, but they did receive notices of it being available.”
Ball confirms that Metro has had a relationship with church since the planning phase.
“We had some community planning meeting in their facilities,” says Ball. “They would have actually had the opportunity to comment, and they did comment in some of the community workshops that were held on their facilities.”
But the Environmental Impact Report isn’t the only reason Faithful Central took issue with Metro officials. Upon hiring their own team of experts, which included real estate consultants, a traffic consult, and a rail engineer, Little says the church found shocking evidence.
“We learned that Metro, just based on the EIR, hadn’t even studied this intersection properly,” says Little. “They didn’t have the right pedestrian counts. They didn’t have the right vehicular counts. They didn’t have the right community description.”
“That’s the opinion by the church. We have our own experts within Metro and consultants that would probably differ in opinion,” states Ball, who also says that Metro has met with and continues to dialogue with the church’s consultants.
“We still want to be a good partner and we continue the dialogue with them at every chance we get,” says Ball.
After a pre-trial hearing conference that essentially went nowhere and the threat of publicly opposing Measure J which, in short, adds 30 years to funding and accelerates the existing transit projects by adding another $90 billion in sales tax revenue, a resolution was found during a series of meetings that included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has four seats on the MTA board; Mike Antonovich, board chair; as well as advocates on behalf of the church.
As result of the meetings, Metro will put a grade-separated pedestrian crosswalk on the Faithful Central campus, meaning there will be a well-lit and safe underpass for foot traffic.
“We actually proposed that to the church as a way of trying to partner with the church to come up with a solution on that was a win-win for both of us,” says Ball.
“We have prevailed in a way that no one thought we could,” says Little. “The people on the board of the MTA, specifically Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa saw our challenges, appreciated the danger that we described and decided that it would be good idea to compromise with us.”