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Little Tokyo has concerns about Southeast rail line

By Jose Ivan Cazares

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — A new 20-mile-long light rail line between Artesia and downtown Los Angeles is in the planning stages by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and is scheduled to start construction in 2022.

The West Santa Ana Branch Transit Corridor, also known as the Eco-Line, would travel through Artesia, Cerritos, Bellflower, Paramount, Downey, South Gate, Bell, Cudahy, Huntington Park and Vernon on its way to Union Station.

The MTA held its final scooping meeting July 31 to discuss potential routes for the line’s northern alignment and is taking formal comments from the public until Aug. 24.

The project is being funded by Measure M, a sales tax measure approved by Los Angeles County voters in November 2016 meant to fund the expansion of public transportation systems, repair transportation infrastructure and keep fares affordable for students, seniors and disabled people.

Though the project’s reception has been largely positive, residents from communities like Little Tokyo, which have been affected by MTA construction for years, have expressed concerns about some of the potential routes being considered for the new line.

“We’re one of the areas that are being directly impacted,” Kristen Fukushima, managing director of the Little Tokyo Community Council, said during a scooping meeting on July 24. “We’ve been impacted by construction for the last 15 years.

[The MTA] has directly led to displacement of businesses and the gentrification of Little Tokyo. [It] has been a presence in our neighborhood for a very long time, so we just want to be careful with how construction is done moving forward,” Fukushima added.

The impact on local businesses which define the community’s identity was the main concern of the Little Tokyo Community Council members who spoke at the July 24 scooping meeting. They also expressed concerns about the environmental impact of prolonged construction in the area.

Fukushima said the MTA didn’t properly assess the regional connector project currently under construction and asked that MTA minimize the impact to Little Tokyo by continuing mitigation meetings currently being held to discuss the regional connector.

Chris Komai, vice chair of the Little Tokyo Community Council, conceded that the neighborhood benefited from MTA’s light rail system and praised MTA’s Gold Little Tokyo marketing campaign to promote use of the Gold Line but asked that it step up its mitigation efforts.

“When these businesses disappear, our community disappears,” Komai said. “The mitigations that where negotiated for the regional connector were a good start to figure out what’s going on, but we really have to look at them, especially the business improvement fund.”

According to Komai, businesses right in front of the regional connector Little Tokyo station under construction were told they were ineligible for aid and were driven out.

Others attending the July 24 scooping meeting asked the MTA to approve routes that would directly cut through there communities. Estela Lopez, executive director of Central City East Association, expressed support for a route that would cut across many Southeast neighborhoods.

“Alignment E would begin to fill the enormous historic transit void on the east side of downtown,” Lopez said. “In the industrial district, many of our workers would be well served by this line. Many of them live in the Southeast cities and have no transit options to get to work.”

“The purpose of scoping is not only to define the project but also to share all the possible alternatives,” MTA Project Manager Teresa Wong said. “It is meant to assess environmental impacts, but ultimately we are here to hear your comments.”

The MTA is scheduled to release a draft of its environmental impact study by 2020. However, Wong said it is possible that the time lime will be pushed up so that the line is completed before the 2028 Olympics, which Los Angeles will host.