UPDATE: This story has been updated with a response from City Councilmember Lindsey Horvath to accusations that the West Hollywood City Council has acted in a racist manner.
West Hollywood’s campaign for its own Metro stop has sparked anger among African-American residents of neighborhoods like Park Mesa Heights and Hyde Park who see it in conflict with their own campaign for an underground extension of Metro’s Crenshaw line. They argue that putting the proposed Crenshaw line extension underground for 11 blocks in their neighborhood rather than running it at street level is essential to preserve the city’s oldest black business district.
That anger was evident at last night’s City Council meeting, when several of those residents accused WeHo of being insensitive to their needs, if not racist. There also has been an exchange of emails over several months between the Crenshaw Subway Coalition (CSC), which represents advocates of the underground extension, and Councilmember Lindsey Horvath and city staffers. Last night’s speakers particularly objected to a broadcast ad campaign by All on Board, a lobbying coalition funded with $400,000 by the city to push Metro to include a stop on Santa Monica Boulevard in WeHo. That stop would be part of Metro’s extension of the Crenshaw line north from San Vicente Boulevard and then along La Brea Avenue on WeHo’s eastern border to the Hollywood/Highland Red Line station. The ads, they said, suggested that their Crenshaw Subway Coalition has won its battle for an underground line, which is not true. In an earlier dispute, CSC demanded that the All Aboard Coalition remove the names of two African-American ministers and an NAACP member from its published list of supporters of diverting the Crenshaw extension to Santa Monica Boulevard, saying they did not support that. One of those minister, the Rev. Xavier Thompson, president of the Black Ministers Conference, asked that his name be removed because he no longer supports the All on Board group.
“We heard your commercial invade our airwaves with the All on Board Coalition, confusing our citizens as to the fact that we were now successful with the undergrounding of the light rail and in fact fully in support of the continuance of the light rail to the north to allow it to meander through your community, to allow you to have greater economic benefit, whereas right now we are fighting to preserve the lives and to preserve the economic corridor of our community, said Robbye Davis, a resident of Hyde Park, a predominantly black neighborhood in Los Angeles.
“Right now, essentially, the candid photo that we have of the West Hollywood City Council bears a striking resemblance to the white massa who gets out of his bed and leaves the white woman in the big house and travels down to rape the black woman in her house,” Davis said. “So just colloquially speaking…. we do not wish and we will not be screwed over by the West Hollywood City Council.”
Damien Goodmon, executive director of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, which is lobbying for the underground extension along 11 blocks in Park Mesa Heights, said members of his organization, of the Black Community Clergy and Labor Alliance steering committee and of the Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch of the NAACP are “livid with respect to the actions of this council and its disrespect.” Goodmon said he emailed the city council and WeHo officials on March 11 and wasn’t able to arrange a meeting until 11 weeks later. “I’ve literally scheduled meeting with members of the president’s cabinet in less time.”
“We hope this will not be another chapter in the sad history of black community relations where you use us symbolically to advance your interests to advance selfish non-black interests without regard to black needs.” Goodmon said the All on Board Coalition is not a community organization and is an “astroturf” organization, a term used to describe a group or organizations whose founders make it seem to have broad support by withholding information about who is funding it.
Councilmember Lindsey Horvath said that she and the city have corresponded with Goodmon about the Metro extension. Copies of that correspondence were supplied by Goodmon to WEHOville. Horvath met with Goodmon and representatives of the Black Community Clergy & Labor Alliance Steering Committee, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference-Greater Los Angeles, the NAACP Beverly Hills/Hollywood branch, the Leimert Park Village Merchants Association and the Hyde Park Organizational Partnership for Empowerment on May 27.
Horvath today contested allegations that the City Council is racist. “Last night, a few of the members of the Crenshaw Subway Coalition suggested that the City of West Hollywood City Council is racist,” she said in a message to WEHOville. “That could not be farther from the truth. The city, as part of the All on Board Coalition, has been building partnerships with communities, including Crenshaw, South Los Angeles and the City of Inglewood, for example, because we see the benefits of connecting our communities, and the value of connecting the rest of the region to our communities.
“As I mentioned on the phone, the All on Board Coalition, is comprised of a diverse group of supporters, including:
Earl Ofari Hutchison – CEO, LA Urban Policy Round Table; James T. Butts – Mayor, City of Inglewood; Alex Padilla – Councilmember, City of Inglewood; Pastor KW Tulloss – National Action Network; Nathan Freeman – Vice Chairman, Black Business Association, Los Angeles; Rev. Francisco Garcia, Jr. – Holy Faith Episcopal Church; Bishop Robert Douglas – Jacob’s Ladder Church; Bishop J. C. Opong – All Souls Christian Center International; Henry Brown – Inglewood Unified School District; Rene Talbot – Former Member, Inglewood Unified School District; Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce; Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; Inglewood Airport Chamber of Commerce; West Hollywood Chamber of Commerce; City of West Hollywood City Council; Cedars-Sinai Medical Center; St. John’s Hospital and Beverly Center.
“The All on Board Coalition has always been and remains open to members from the Crenshaw Subway Coalition to join us in trying to connect our communities. Additionally, the City of West Hollywood does not oppose the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, which I communicated to Mr. Goodmon last week. While we may not be similar in our tactics or demands, we share the goals of achieving access to jobs, economic opportunity, quality health care, and equitable access to transit for under-served communities.”
Metro wants to put on the November county ballot a measure that would extend for 20 years the half-cent sales tax increase that was part of Measure R, which voters approved in 2008. It has been projected to raise $40 billion over 30 years for Metro projects. The increase took effect in July 2009 and is set to expire in 2039. A little more than a third of its revenues are dedicated to new rail or bus rapid transit programs. The ballot proposal also would include an additional half-cent sales tax for at least 40 years, with half of the money generated likely to be allocated to each of Metro’s sub-regions by using a formula based on population and employment figures. The proposal must get the support of two-thirds of voters.
The challenge for West Hollywood is getting Metro to proceed with the proposed extension of its Crenshaw Line to connect with the Hollywood/Highland Red Line station in a way that best serves WeHo. Metro’s target budget for the extension assumes it will run from San Vicente Boulevard and then along La Brea Avenue on WeHo’s eastern border to the Hollywood/Highland Red Line station for a total of six miles. But Fehr & Peers, a consultant hired by the West Hollywood, has pulled together data to argue that running the extension from San Vicente to Santa Monica Boulevard for nine miles, with a stop on Santa Monica Boulevard, will better benefit the city and Metro.
Metro has a long list of requests for light rail and other expansions, and competition among various groups such as Crenshaw Subway Coalition and All On Board coalition reflects the fact that it will not have sufficient funds to meet all requests. West Hollywood also wants its proposal to be high on Metro’s project list so that construction can begin relatively soon.