SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Residents of the area took their complaints about public transportation to the man in charge of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, better known as Metro, June 13 during a forum at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Mall.
Metro CEO Phil Washington addressed the concerns of community representatives regarding new transit projects. The 12 issues ranged from creating construction jobs for under-represented populations to preserving the safety and character of local communities.
Washington called the meeting in an effort to sell the community on a proposed November ballot measure that would seek another half-cent sales tax increase countywide to fund future transit projects and extend Measure R, a similar half-cent sales tax increase county voters approved in 2008, indefinitely. Measure R was supposed to end in 2038, 30 years after its passage.
Job creation was one of the stated benefits of Metro’s plan for new transportation projects, something the L.A. Black Worker Center would like to see pay off with more jobs for South Los Angeles residents.
“We face increasing unemployment,” said Halisi Price, a member of the African-American Sheet Metal Workers Association. “We’ve seen our people decimated in the recession.”
Operating engineer Joundi White, who spoke alongside Price, said that as a black woman, she represents only two percent of the building trade. She said she would like to see more diversity in her profession, not only as actual labor, but in positions of influence such as contractors and superintendents.
Washington said he wants to work with community colleges to put together a curriculum for the hardest to fill positions at Metro. He also said he is building up a compliance program with random inspections to make sure people are treated well on job sites.
“I grew up on the South side of Chicago where the infrastructure was built by people who weren’t like me,” Washington said. “That won’t be the case at Metro.”
While that situation received a direct response, Washington was more vague about other issues, stating that he would like to examine a problem more closely or would have to address the board before making any promises.
One of those concerns, was the Crenshaw LAX Light Rail line, and the above ground section of the route between 48th and 59th streets.
Robbye Davis, representing the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, argued that building the tracks above ground puts the community at both physical and economic risk by cutting through the black-owned business corridor.
The line, currently under construction, will run underground from Exposition Boulevard to 48th Street, then run above ground from 48th to 59th streets, and then run back underground at 60th Street, continuing on south of 67th Street
“If the train is already underground, why should it come above ground?” Davis asked. “We would support a train getting people to the airport, but this is denigration of one community for the service of another.”
Davis and Damien Goodmon, the founder and executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, called on Washington to identify the resources to build the Park Mesa Heights corridor underground, to cheers and calls of “respond” from the audience.
Washington did not answer with a solid “yes,” a move that Goodmon said was frustrating.
“It’s always been cheaper” to build above ground, Goodmon said. “Metro says, ‘we don’t have the money,’ but we hear that a lot in South L.A. We are adults who pay taxes and don’t want to be treated like children.”
But Goodmon said he appreciated Washington coming out to address the community, which is more outreach than his predecessor Art Leahy conducted in the past. Others in attendance echoed that sentiment.
“I thought he gave excellent responses under the circumstances,” said Dwayne Wyatt, a land-use advisor for the Hyde Park Organizational Partnership for Empowerment. “Most of the complaints were about decisions made before his time. I have a positive feeling about community groups coming together on these issues, and we have a face to the position we didn’t have before.”
The Metro Board of Directors will meet June 23 to decide which projects to fund under the proposed tax increase, a gathering Goodmon said he would rally the community to attend and fight for the continuation of the underground tracks through the entire South L.A. area.