Opinion: Acceleration of Metro Northern Extension at What Cost to WeHo Residents?


Last Monday night, a City Council majority voted to adopt a resolution in support of accelerating the Northern Extension of the Metro Crenshaw/LAX line. The resolution sounds innocuous enough – but the devil is in the details.

Here are the details:

1. This vote will cost us $70 to $550 million in addition to the 3% match required by Metro, which is $42 to $66 million. The amounts depend on the final alignment (route) of the Northern Extension — e.g., La Brea, Fairfax, La Cienega or San Vicente – as well as the project delivery scope and schedule.

2. Regardless of the route of the Northern Extension, the city is committing to expedited environmental review and permitting. This could mean less time for public review and community input.

While I’m 100% in favor of public transportation and fully know the benefits (as I learned growing up in Brooklyn New York!), I think it’s irresponsible to commit city efforts, staff, and your money to a project where we don’t know the route of the extension.

West Hollywood City Council
Lauren Meister

Shouldn’t a $616 million commitment have a discussion and not just a consent vote on a meeting agenda?

I pulled the item from the consent calendar to initiate dialogue. For me, placing this item on consent calendar raises red flags about transparency and public process, particularly considering the significant amount of money involved in this decision. The City Council is responsible for good stewardship of public funds — and the public deserves to be provided the facts — the pros as well as the cons — and to be part of that discussion.

My colleagues argued that West Hollywood voters were overwhelmingly supportive of Measure M and would want an accelerated timeline. But were West Hollywood voters informed of the potential costs of acceleration?

On Nov. 8, 2016, voters were asked: “To improve freeway traffic flow/safety; repair potholes/sidewalks; repave local streets; earthquake-retrofit bridges; synchronize signals; keep senior/disabled/student fares affordable; expand rail/subway/bus systems; improve job/school/airport connections; and create jobs; shall voters authorize a Los Angeles County Traffic Improvement Plan through a ½ ¢ sales tax and continue the existing ½ ¢ traffic relief tax until voters decide to end it, with independent audits/oversight and funds controlled locally?”

There was no mention of matching funds or the need for bonds or a local sales tax or private/public partnerships. There was no choice given between a non-accelerated option that could cost the City of West Hollywood an estimated $42 to $66 million versus an accelerated option that could cost the City of West Hollywood an estimated $112 to $616 million.

What’s the plan to fund up to $616 million?

Per Monday night’s staff report, sources of revenue could include a local sales tax, bonds, private investment, or value capture tools such as an Enhanced Infrastructure Financing District (EIFD), or additional state or federal funds.

Why are we ignoring the local tax poll results?

The staff report did not mention that in the fall of 2016 (just before the Measure M vote) the City of West Hollywood authorized $40,000 for a poll regarding a potential local tax initiative. FM3, a leading public policy polling company with 37 years of experience, was contracted to facilitate the poll.

A random sample of West Hollywood likely voters were asked, “Regardless of how you will vote on a local tax initiative, please tell us how important each feature or provision is to you personally?”

Results indicated that nine  other features/provisions were of higher importance to these West Hollywood voters than providing matching funds to attempt to accelerate the extension of the light-rail line through West Hollywood — items such as expanding the city’s efforts to address homelessness, ensuring safe and clean public areas, increasing affordable housing, and assisting in earthquake retrofitting.

No one is disputing the fact that West Hollywood voters supported Measure M, as did a unanimous Council. And since 2015, the city has spent nearly $1.2 million on building support for the Northern Extension and trying to convince Metro to accelerate the build-out of this line.

The issue at hand is, do the people of West Hollywood want the city to commit to spending an additional $550 million to accelerate the project, and continue to put large sums of money into this effort, without knowing the exact final route of the expansion, and if that route best serves all businesses and residents of West Hollywood?

  1. Subway ridership will take cars off the road, thus freeing the streets of pedestrian obstacles, and reducing the demands on parking in West Hollywood all at once. Businesses within walking distance of a stop will most likely see increases in revenue and in their property values. Residents will have cheaper options for work, play, and travel, but yes it will cost something up front, and forever more – that’s why the sooner those increased revenues and property values accrue interest, the better. The city has the money now, and can find more – questions and investigation are great, but when the big votes happen, the devil in the details might be the best bargain with the devil West Hollywood will ever have.

  2. Subject: Send a letter: Speak Up to Keep the Northern Extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line Moving!
    I wrote a letter for the Action Network letter campaign “Speak Up to Keep the Northern Extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line Moving!”.
    The Future of the Project is On the Line! We need you to speak up and make sure that Metro honors their commitment to keep the Northern Extension of the Crenshaw/LAX Line moving by contacting Metro by May 11th! Help us “Finish the Line!”
    Can you join me and write a letter? Click here: https://actionnetwork.org/letters/northern-extension-eir-2018?source=email&

  3. Thank you, Councilmember Meister.

    It’s hard to believe that public safety cameras got as high as 50%.

    I am hardly torn by this project. I support rail, but it’s not a fact of life in the West.
    I wonder how long it will take for upcoming generations to become used to it.

    What is the environmental impact?

    At $40,000 for the poll, how many of the 36,000 residents did they reach?
    I wasn’t contacted…

  4. A quick easy and low cost to give WeHo residents quick access to the MetroRail System.

    The DASH mini-bus used to offer an inexpensive (25¢) fast access through WeHo to Hollywood & Highland.

    Our line through WeHo was cancelled. I’m not sure why, but it was and could be a very quick & easy way to get rail transit to WeHo at a nominal cost relative to all ideas thrown out.

    1. This is a good idea, but the City already has a shuttle to H&H, which only operates during rush hour in the morning and evening. I wonder how many people use it.

      1. True enough, but what about a line down La Cienega/Wilshire when that station opens?

        Shuttles running up and down LaCienega, Fairfax, and LaBrea could certainly expedite access to rail once those stations open.

  5. Many interesting points raised in the article, and in (some of) the commentary (that which is not anonymous). The LA region cannot continue to expand without mass transit, it’s simple math. I completely agree that we should not commit funds in the absence a concrete plan. What is needed, and what I suggest Ms. Meister do with her zeal on this topic, is leadership on what WILL happen, and what CAN happen. I applaud the analysis, now let’s move forward and make WeHo’s voice heard in the planning! My guess is that WeHo can exert considerable pressure on the final product.

  6. Thank you for such a comprehensive explanation of the issue at hand and I, for one, agree with you about getting more information before green lighting what could be a 500 million differential. I am sorry your support of converting motels into homeless shelters didn’t receive more support, as they seem to work well elsewhere in L.A. I volunteered at a bridge shelter in North Hollywood that had been a motel and it seemed to be working well. It’s hard to believe that property values take that much precedence and we should think back to Los Angeles during the Great Depression- the 1920’s had been prosperous years and there was an inter-mixing of people, many of whom were affluent, with huge numbers of the newly impoverished, and it didn’t stymie creative solutions in which everyone had an investment in them working.

  7. Surprisingly, I agree with Ms Meister on this one. Most people in WeHo would love better public transit/rail transit.
    The cost per mile of any rail project is so high, it would never be feasible through WeHo, given the current path already built. The streets of WeHo, we all know, are unlike any normal grid pattern. Likewise, WeHo is a narrow east/West city, so any usable transit would have to go through the whole city, east/West to give enough residents access to use.
    Wasting any more City money is flushing good after good resources down the toilet.

  8. Kudos to Meister for putting the city’s financial well-being first.

    To have the city promise to pay an astronomical amount for a route that might run up LaBrea doesn’t make sense.

  9. Dear Ms Meister

    I want to participate in the City’s survey of priorities for West Hollywood by the FM3 Group; a leading public policy polling company with 37 years of experience. Unfortunately they did not ask MY OPINION or anyone else I know for that matter. Had they asked me I would have said that expanding the City’s efforts to address homelessness is not a priority because we now have a County wide tax, the first of it’s kind, to provide help to the homeless. I would have said that West Hollywood is drowning in an endless sea of luxury cars and that the single most important improvement the City could hope for is Station on an expanded Crenshaw LAX line.

    I agree with Ms. Meister that, in a perfect world, we should not have to pony up a half a billion bucks without knowing where the stations would be; however at this point JUST DO IT! We cannot afford anymore delays. Your City Council continues to approve unbridled development in West Hollywood. Where are all the cars going to go! It’s a future of gridlock and buses that we can look forward to if we don’t get a Metro line into West Hollywood.

    For god sake stop bloviating and JUST DO IT!

    1. Warren – I agree with you, WeHo is drowning in traffic. But Measure M is ALSO a county wide tax that was sold to voters that it would generate $120 Billion.

      I’m glad at least one councilperson is asking some very basic transparency questions about a huge amount of money for a city of 35,000.

      Those other three rubber stampers approved a ridiculous amount of money without even asking about the acceleration timetable – is $550 million buying 5 years faster? 10 years? 20 years? I’d like to know that answer but there’s nothing in the staff report about timetables.

      1. Nobody can deny the ever worsening WeHo daily traffic nightmare.
        In general, even if some won’t or can’t take any existing or upcoming rail, the good of the project benefits everyone. With the plan to go through Century City, the most number of daily commuters can take the metro, thus eliminating many individual cars, and reduce the number of Street buses needed at rush hour, to significantly reduce the entire concestion, much of which is dumped into WeHo via SMB.

  10. Thank you for bringing this ridiculously scary info to our attention Ms. Meister. Huge waste of funds at this total stab in the dark. Now how can we reverse course STAT????

  11. Another mistake by uninformed or misinformed citizens participating in the California political culture of decision-making via Measures and Propositions.

    Nonetheless, NO, voters did not commit to spending an additional $550 million on this transit pipe dream. Especially without first knowing what devastating route it’ll take through a yet unnamed West Hollywood neighborhood.

    Unfortunately this train has left the station. Oh but if we only had that extra money to use for more worthwhile things, instead of an old fashion mode of transit that would serve (as it does now) a minuscule number of people.

  12. With all due respect, the city can and should do multiple things at a time. Addressing homelessess is the number one issue yet NIMBYs like you will and have likely opposed the very things that will address homelessness: more housing and more services for the homeless like temporary shelters, permanent housing and others in the name of ‘property values’ and citing ‘character of the neighborhood’ to oppose them.

    1. Frank, I suggested a drop-in shelter for homeless at the Metro site but got little or no support from my colleagues. I also have suggested and am supportive of converting motels (such as Alta Cienega, Holloway) for housing for homeless as Step Up and AHF have done in LA but unfortunately land values are so high that it is difficult to do in WeHo. Homeless issues are complicated. Appreciate your comments. My concern here is the city committing to spend up to an additional $550 million for acceleration of the extension – without knowing the final alignment, and the lack of public input on this decision.

      1. I believe we were sold
        a “ bill of goods” on M and I’m
        disappointed that I listened and trusted Horvath in this . We are all it assured that paying for a lobbyist would push WeHo to the top of the short list and look where that got us! I find it intolerable that
        you all agreed to spend millions on “ researching” the homeless issues and potential solutions . If it was anything sobriety related ( for boys) Duran would stop at nothing to get them approved and built – fits his narrative ! Yes, WeHo can come up with a solution to starting to get our homeless
        Off the streets and employeed
        Again! Have you approved enough housing NO ONE can afford! This City Council is so obscenely obvious in who’s loudestest voices are shaping their careers to fit their narratives and long term plans and not what is in the best interest of WeHo!

    2. When are we going accept the reality that the homeless problem isn’t about housing, it’s about mental health and drug treatment. The sidewalks aren’t full of tents because these people “can’t afford housing” they’re there because they’re drug addicts and schizophrenics dumped on us by outlying jurisdictions who refuse to put up (or help) with them (You don’t see sidewalk tents in BH or South Pasadena or Agoura or…). Until there is a nationwide effort to fund treatment, nothing will change, even with more “low cost” housing. Just look at Venice. More treatment centers just equals more homeless as other cities, even states, send them our way and wash their hands of it. It’s a never ending vicious cycle to think more and more cheap housing will fix it. Only drug treatment and aggressive refusal to allow encampments to grow will stop it. By continuing to believe the mental health problem of the whole country is LA/WeHo’s problem only guarantees 1. WH will be destroyed as a decent place to live and 2. The problem will just expand.

      1. It is… about housing. It just so happens that those mentally ill or with horrible addictions are the most vulnerable to it. They are the symptom not the cause.

      2. There are articles about Seattle and Utah (don’t remember the city) which calls for non-intervention. ^The programs work really well. I heard a gentleman from the Weekly Standard speak the other day:

        I think some, if not more than some, become homeless because they can’t afford the rent. They may be struggling w/other issues, but that may push them over the edge.

    3. Idealy I would agree. But there is ‘no solution to address the homeless’ here or anywhere. If there were, we (and the rest of the world) would follow that model.
      Provide Services & Housing, though logically needed, will only bring more and more homeless into WeHo for whatever we offer. There is no end. We increase spending to meet the increase needs, just to attract people truly in need.
      I am for helping all people in crisis, but there is no sustainable method that has successfully worked (anywhere. The crisis is everywhere)

  13. Thank you for the explanation. I wonder if other metro expansions have relied on extra cost to the communities that they benefit. Such as the expansion of the Gold Line to the east.

    On the other hand, people in this community did vote for Measure M (and R), and we are seeing a little benefit from that. We are the most dense city west of the Mississippi, and we are also a traffic artery. We essentially voted for a couple of measures that seem to mainly benefit people who live 10 or more miles away, and one of the two valleys. Yet we are all paying for it through our sales taxes.

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