Opinion: Opposition to the Subway Extension Through WeHo Calls to Mind MARTA

In 2010 I moved from New York City, which had been my home for 20 years, to Atlanta to take on a one-year consulting gig that required me to live there (and required me to buy a car).  As publisher of Creative Loafing Atlanta, a financially troubled alternative weekly, I had to get to know that city.  I was incredibly impressed by the fact that it was the African-American capital of the United States, a city full of successful Black business owners and politicians and celebrities.  And some of the most talented of our staffers were Black.

But, of course, there was another side to Atlanta. In the affluent white suburbs of that city, places like Gwinnett County, residents had fiercely opposed expanding the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) subway line into their communities. That’s despite the fact that traffic congestion in Greater Atlanta was horrible, and Atlanta and Gwinnett County ranked high on the American Lung Association’s list of cities with poor air quality, largely attributed to automobile exhaust. (Although it was still a lot healthier than car-obsessed L.A., which for 20 years in a row has been ranked as the city with the worst air quality in America.)

Why the opposition to extending the Atlanta subway into suburban counties? The arguments were much like those I am hearing now in opposition to extending L.A. Metro’s Crenshaw line through West Hollywood, a city (like most in Southern California) where people seem to hang some of their sense of self-pride on the size and model of their vehicle. The MARTA extension would bring downtown Atlanta criminals into the suburbs, the opposition argued, without evidence to support that. They complained that stores would be broken into and vehicles stolen, and people robbed.

As a New Yorker who had taken the subway daily for 20 years, I was puzzled. Wouldn’t a nearby subway station help you get to work more quickly, I thought? Wouldn’t the extension, if you were a local business owner with a unique product or service, help you expand your clientele? I was finally able to identify the underlying factor in much of the opposition when I was told that some residents of Atlanta’s affluent white suburbs said MARTA really stood for “Moving Africans Rapidly Through Atlanta.”

Racism is something that opponents of the MARTA expansion (and of the Metro northern extension of the Crenshaw/LAX light rail transit linethrough West Hollywood) certainly deny. However, when we have prominent people in our city saying the Metro extension will bring criminals into our community (where 81% of the population is white according to the 2019 US Census Community Survey, and only 3.6% is Black), and there are no reputable studies to support that claim, one has to wonder. (Here’s a link to one of the many, many studies that disputes the assumption that extending public transit increases crime). In Clayton County, Georgia, one of the MARTA opponents cited as evidence the fact that she “personally saw unsavory people begin to come from Riverdale Road down into the subdivision” when a new bus stop was created nearby. That’s somewhat like hearing some of those people who object to the controversial Cookies cannabis shop on Melrose complain that they see people wearing hoodies standing in line to get in. And there was that one woman who guessed that some of those Black Cookies customers “have Records and Weapons.”

Yes, it is true that some of those people who, years from now, walk out of the Metro Station on Santa Monica Boulevard near San Vicente may be Black, or Latino, or Asian. Many of them might be working in the hotels and restaurants and nightclubs that dominate the economy of West Hollywood, with jobs that don’t pay enough for them to afford to live here. Or they may be people coming to enjoy West Hollywood’s restaurants and nightlife. And perhaps some of those Metro passengers might be white West Hollywood residents who know that tooting our horn about being a “green city” is pointless so long as we do nothing to curtail vehicle traffic or make public transit and bicycling safer and easier.

Of course there still are complex issues about the funding of and construction of the Crenshaw North extension that need to be addressed. Should it run above ground? Should it run below ground? Who is paying for what and how? Some of that is on the agenda at tonight’s City Council meeting.

Thankfully we don’t (yet) have people complaining that WHAM  (West Hollywood Advocates for Metro Rail) means “West Hollywood Attracts More Races.” And please note that saying you’ll accept the Metro extension only if it runs along La Brea Avenue, the eastern border of West Hollywood, is a clear sign of transit NIMBYism that would put you in the West Hollywood Attracts More Races camp.

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chloe ross
chloe ross
1 month ago

Alas, had the tracks in the median divider along Santa Monica Blvd. been left in place, the entire area would have had clean, quick and direct service from the beaches to the business centers to downtown – and many stops in between. Business would have thrived and street and the air would have been far cleaner. I remember when they were there and when they were torn up. Having been raised in Boston where the first public transit was created in a large city – it blew my mind to see the “in place” tracks scrapped. In the firs tpart… Read more »

Eric Daniel
Eric Daniel
1 month ago

I used to live in Valley Village. When the orange line opened, areas around it got pretty dicey. Yes, it’s in the valley near NoHo which isn’t the greatest area, but it got much worse with the orange line. My neighborhood near Laurel Canyon and Chandler started to go down hill right when it opened. When I left a few years back, there were shootings in the neighborhood and a couple of murders, which we had never seen in years preceding. True that criminals can use cars. But car purchases are tracked and a criminal will have to abandon the… Read more »

Darrell Clarke
1 month ago

The same erroneous arguments were made about the Expo Line going past Cheviot Hills to Santa Monica. Fortunately strong local support prevailed.

J S
J S
1 month ago

The argument against crime is idiotic as even the most petty criminal can afford a cheap car and gas to move it. In fact they are way more likely to use a car to rob your house as it’s hard to cart away much stuff on the subway. In fact they’re more likely to have a car than a hardworking working poor person as the crime helps them afford the car, and it’s part of the tools of their criminal trade. What the subway *does* bring is mentally ill homeless people — the ones too nonfunctional to ever be able… Read more »

Oren
Oren
1 month ago

It’s strange to hear you argue that advocating for the La Brea route is NIMBYism. Those of us who favor La Brea like it because it’s more direct and faster. A person who wants to get from North Hollywood to the airport, or from Mid-City to Hollywood, wants the most direct route possible. The La Brea route is the one that makes the most sense for everyone who doesn’t live in West Hollywood.

Last edited 1 month ago by Oren
RobbyDobby
RobbyDobby
1 month ago
Reply to  Oren

It would also not serve West Hollywood unless you lived in that area. The whole point of creating a bubble in the the direction the train takes allows it to serve much more of the community. The racist arguments against extending the line are ridiculous. So are the NIMBY’s arguments for NOT serving the majority of West Hollywood. I personally would welcome the opportunity to have the line swing through the city and connect us to the rest of the Metro Area rather than being an isolated conclave for rich people only…

Art
Art
1 month ago

Well said Hank! Thanks.

hifi5000
hifi5000
1 month ago

Gee, has anyone ever thought that cars bring criminals to West Hollywood? Cars also bring multiracial visitors to the city just as buses and rail will.Following the NIMBY logic,cars should not be allowed in the city.Blocking rail service will not stop the criminals from visiting.

Vigilant
Vigilant
1 month ago
Reply to  hifi5000

The domestic human race is deteriorating faster than they can be transported anywhere.

James Francis
James Francis
1 month ago

Even with the Metro or WHAM, Federal and State dollars and municipal taxes are already allocated to expansion. If metro is indeed built, we are seeing the economy collapse before our very Eyes in our very own community Dozens of businesses, gyms, dozens of small restaurants, on Santa Monica, several more on Sunset not withstanding, have shuttered in the last 6 months. From LaBrea To Doheny, people are being priced out due to rents and higher cost of living and expenses and expenditures—that they are in fact leaving the city! private landlords, private clubs, and private rentals are taking this… Read more »

Denise McCabe
Denise McCabe
1 month ago

It saddens me to hear that a city that is known for inclusion and acceptance would hold racist ideas. I moved here over 20 years ago for the city’s diversity and acceptance. We are all humans. Nothing else should matter. Love ❤️

Alan Strasburg
Alan Strasburg
1 month ago

Perhaps the focus of intelligent debate should be on reducing the root causes of crime, just like solutions to the homeless crisis should be on reducing the root causes of homelessness. Sadly, NIMBYism fails to address underlying conditions, it is rooted in just saying no. West Hollywood’s economic future and its livability scorecard rely on sensible rail options. The history of many other cities and the science supported by multiple rigorous studies are on the side robust rail expansion. West Hollywood is not a quaint suburb of cul de sacs, it is as urban as the Los Angeles region gets.… Read more »

Steve Too
Steve Too
1 month ago

Yes, you are correct for pointing out the fallacies associated with crime and light rail.

However, not everyone advocating for the LaBrea route are NIMBYs. Many realize the benefits of a direct route – one that doesn’t add significant time by taking a “C” route through West Hollywood.

I’ve long supported the Fairfax alignment as that doesn’t add significant time, yet reaches key business centers and could help build up West Hollywood’s east side.

Scott
Scott
1 month ago

It’s not about race/color, or what people wear. It’s about behavior and respect. Cookies is a great example of out of control behavior by many outsiders.
The same could be said in Atlanta for Lenox Square. With Marta it went from a high end mall to a hang out for groups of guys not shopping but causing trouble.
Maybe we’d be better hosts if we had respectful guests. Come correct!