In April of 2008, the community groups and neighborhood councils decided to organize balanced Town Hall meetings, that allowed the major parties in dispute and the Expo Authority to discuss the issue before the community.
Reflecting both the utter contempt the Expo has for the community, and willingness to violate their legal agreement between the City of Los Angeles, Expo refused to show, and instead sent a couple of teenagers they paid off the street to pass out flyers in front of the auditorium calling the community group and neighborhood councils liars.
Section 2.0 of the Master Cooperative Agreement between the City of Los Angeles and Expo Line Construction Authority states:
2.0 Community Notifications and Review
The Authority is responsible to coordinate all designs of the Exposition Metro Line with the Council Offices, Neighborhood Councils, and community groups that are affected by the Project. The Authority is responsible to work with the communities to seek consensus of these design elements impacting the traffic circulation, safety, appearance, and quality of life. These design elements include but are not limited to architecture, aesthetic of the stations, noise and vibration controls, and sound walls to the extent of complying with the approved Final Supplemental Environment Impact ReporUFinal Supplement Environmental Impact Statement (FSEIR/FSEIS) documents. The Authority is responsible to collaborate with City Departments and Bureaus to determine proper and effective mitigation measures to address community concerns.
Displaying the disrespect our local elected officials hold for the community and neighborhood councils, not one of the Expo Authority or MTA representatives showed either.
Below is the correspondence between our group and the Expo Authority staff and politicians.
On April 29, 2008 we sent them the following email invitation, and followed-up with formal invitations:
Dear Expo Authority Board of Directors & Elected Officials:
Partially in response to the community's disapproval of the Expo Authority's community meeting formats, which fail to permit an open public forum and resulted in a walkout of an important Environmental Assessment meeting, the neighborhood councils and community organizations have decided to organize two community forums on the Expo Line for the upcoming month of May.
The Expo Line community forum at Dorsey HS will start at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday May 22, 2008.
The Expo Line community forum at Foshay Learning Center Auditorium will start at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday May 29, 2008.
The format will be as follows:
-Expo Authority Presentation & Statement (20 mins)
-LAUSD OEHS Statement (5 mins)
-Parent Collaborative Statement (5 mins)
-UTLA Statement (5 mins)
-School Principal/Teacher Representative on this issue Statement (5 mins)
-Fix Expo Group Presentation & Statement (20 mins)
-Elected Officials Statement (20 mins)
-Open Public Forum with Question & Answer Period (40 mins)
The format and date of the meetings are locked.
Hard copy invitations will be mailed on Thursday, May 1 to the expected presenters, and the local elected representatives, all of whom are members of the Expo Authority Board of Directors and/or the MTA Board of Directors:
-Expo Chair & Council Member Jan Perry
-Expo Vice Chair & Council Member Herb Wesson
-Expo Board Member & Supervisor Yvonne Burke
-Expo Board Member & Council Member Bernard Parks
-MTA Incoming Chair & Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa
-Expo Authority CEO Rick Thorpe
-LAUSD School Board Member Marguerite LaMotte
-Ed Morelan for LAUSD OEHS
-Mary Johnson of the Parent Collaborative
-Elaine LeBoeuf of the UTLA
Invitations will be sent to the state and federal legislators as well. Since their work place is far outside the area, Sacramento and Washington D.C. respectively, for them and only for them, written correspondence will be accepted if they are not personally able to attend:
-Assembly Speaker-Elect Karen Bass
-Assembly Member Mike Davis
-State Senator Mark Ridley-Thomas
-Congresswoman Diane Watson
-Senator Diane Feinstein
-Senator Barbara Boxer
We look forward to your attendance.
Howard Blume, LA Times
Steve Hymon, LA Times
Steve Lopez, LA Times
Jeff Rabin, LA Times
Elaine LeBoeuf, United Teachers Los Angeles
Hattie Babb, West Adams NC President
Mike Urena, Empowerment Congress North Area NDC President
Expo Authority CEO Rick Thorpe
Expo Authority Public Relations Representative Gabriela Gonzalez
Expo Authority Public Relations Representative Adrienne Gardner
Additional Members of the Press & Community
14 days later, on May 13, we hadn't received any response from the Expo Authority, so we sent another email:
To: Expo Authority CEO Rick Thorpe, Expo Executives Joel Sandberg and Eric Olson, Expo Consultant James Okazaki, and Expo Community Relations Representatives Gabriela Gonzalez, Greg Starosky and Adrienne Gardner
Dear Expo Authority CEO Rick Thorpe & Expo Authority staff,
The Expo Authority has been allotted 20 mins at both the May 22nd and 29th forums to deliver powerpoint presentations and if you choose, be available for questions.
Please confirm by Monday, May 19th if the Expo Authority will be available to deliver information to the community and answer community questions at Dorsey HS, and identify the presenters so we can add them to the agenda.
And please confirm by Monday, May 26th if the Expo Authority will be available to deliver information to the community and answer community questions at the May 29th Foshay Learning Center, and identify the presenters so we can add them to the agenda.
Thank you so much for efforts in working with the community.
All the best,
George Bartleson, Dorsey HS Principal
Veronique Wills, Foshay Learning Center Principal
Hattie Babb, West Adams Neighborhood Council President
Mike Urena, North Area Neighborhood Development Council President
The next day, May 14, 2008 Rick Thorpe, the Expo Authority CEO sent the following email:
Dear Damien Goodmon and Interested Parties;
The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is the responsible party for determining the safety of all proposed rail crossings in the State of California. The CPUC has a very extensive public process that is currently underway for the two remaining crossings that have yet to be approved near Dorsey High School and The Foshay Learning Center. The Construction Authority has and will continue to be an active participant in that process.
The CPUC has set a schedule and an open public process for addressing any outstanding grade crossing issues at Dorsey High School (Farmdale crossing) and the Foshay Learning Center (Harvard Blvd. crossing). We believe that this is the appropriate venue for all interested parties to discuss the remaining grade crossing issues on the Expo light rail project. Therefore, upon advice of our legal counsel, the Expo Construction Authority will not be participating in the upcoming forums organized by parties that are actively opposing the Authority’s pending applications before the CPUC.
Expo's refusal to show was a violation of the Master Cooperative Agreement. Furthermore, under their "legal prohibition" standard ridiculously stated by Expo, any public agency ever involved in any legal dispute/lawsuit with any group would never be required to answer community groups/neighborhood council questions or respond publicly to community concerns.
We responded to Mr. Thorpe and the Expo Authority board members the next day, May 15, 2008:
Mr. Thorpe & Expo Authority Board Members and staff:
As Mr. Thorpe knows well, the Expo Line CPUC proceedings are currently limited to the Harvard Pedestrian Tunnel at Foshay and the street-level Farmdale crossing at Dorsey, which the Expo Line Construction Authority is aggressively pushing through the CPUC.
The Expo Authority's tenacious pursuit for approval to go across the Farmdale crossing at Dorsey HS at 55 mph (pdf) is completely contrary to the commitment of the Expo Authority Board Members, which include Bernard Parks, Yvonne Burke, Herb Wesson and Jan Perry who passed a motion to begin an environmental assessment of an underpass, overpass and pedestrian bridge at the crossing at the February board meeting. (pdf)
Given these conflicting actions, community members are concerned that the motion was simply a public relations tactic and not an actual commitment to address the community and school district's well expressed concern at the Farmdale crossing, where nearly 2000 students walk across every day in upwards of 108 students per min.
Nonetheless, as Mr. Thorpe knows, since he was made personally aware of the problems around Foshay by the Foshay Principal last Thursday, the issues that are currently being experienced by the residential and school community and have not been addressed by the Expo Authority despite repeated requests, (such as construction mitigation, soil contamination, project budget allocation, etc.) are not within the scope of the CPUC proceedings and thus that is not the relevant venue.
Additionally, the CPUC "public process" Mr. Thorpe mentions is simply a public participation hearing, where public comments - which again will be limited to the two crossings, will be transcribed. It is not a question and answer session, where the Expo Authority would have to answer the concerns of the community in an open forum.
Given that the Expo Authority has refused to allow such open public forums at their community meetings since the fall of 2006!, we are disappointed, but not at all surprised by the Expo Authority's decision to not attend the community's forums on the Expo Line. The community recently walked out of a public meeting where your staff refused to answer questions with a public forum held in our own backyard. (link)
But so it is clear, the May 22nd and 29th forums are being conducted in coordination with the neighborhood councils who are recognized city agencies, and are intended to facilitate community understanding and discussion of important city and regional issues.
The agenda for the forums is balanced and provides 40 mins for the Expo Authority (20 mins for Expo Authority staff and 20 mins for Expo Authority board members), 40 mins for the groups with concerns about the project, followed a 40 mins public forum for audience questions and answers. The Expo Authority was also given the distinct advantage of opening AND closing the presentation/statement period.
The neighborhood council's have requested such forums from the Expo Authority for well over a year.
The North Area Neighborhood Council in the summer of 2007 attempted to facilitate a one-on-one debate between Mr. Thorpe and myself with public questions, and the Authority refused.
The Foshay Principal has said her request for a forum at her school of 3400 students, which is within 50 feet of the Expo Line tracks goes back 4 years.
I find it unfortunate that the Expo Authority staff and board members feel it has no obligation to address the community about the largest public works project in the region, in a manner that is respectful of the South LA community. This public relations strategy is does nothing to heal the gulf that currently exists between the the South LA community and the Expo Authority, of whom NONE of the project managers live in the South LA community.
Alas, the May 22nd and 29th forums will be conducted with or without you, and the elected representatives of the area who have been sent invitations and who the community expects to attend can report back to staff.
Perhaps after the Dorsey HS forum on the 22nd, Parks, Burke, Wesson and Perry will actually use the power they have as the board members of the Expo Authority to direct you to present at the Foshay forum on the 29th to answer the questions of the people who they were elected to represent. Although, given past actions, we would be disappointed but not at all surprised if chose not to.
By the way, these are the same people, the South LA community that is, who pay all of your salaries, are footing the bill for the $862 million public works project, are currently absorbing the construction impacts that the Expo Authority has failed to appropriately mitigate, and are being expected to absorb the safety hazards, traffic impacts and other environmental impacts of the Expo Line. Members of the community seem to feel that that is too easily forgotten.
I respectfully suggest, the Expo Authority and board members do a much better job of remembering these facts and begin to act with them in mind.
Elected Officials & FTA
-The South LA Community
-The Civil Rights & Legal Community of Los Angeles