The gulf between local government and the business community was on full display last week at the Van Nuys State Building Auditorium.
That’s where the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority held a meeting Oct. 10 to hear from businesses that stand to be evicted because Metro wants to clear land northeast of Oxnard Street and Kester Avenue to build a train maintenance yard to serve a new rail line.
The message from businesses seems simple and clear: Can’t you find a better place for your maintenance yard? Maybe one that doesn’t oust a train load of businesses – 186 of them, by one count.
The message from bureaucrats also seems simple and straightforward: Yawn.
Whether they know it or not, that’s the memo they sent to businesses. To Metro’s credit, it did hold the so-called informational meeting after it became clear that businesses were growing restive. On the other hand, Metro’s temper at the meeting was vaguely brusque and at times dismissive. To at least some of the businesspeople in attendance, it all came off as if Metro’s imperial overlords had been forced to travel to Van Nuys to sit through another dull meeting in which the plebian supplicants had to beg for their survival. (For more on businesses’ reaction, see the article on page 1.)
Here’s an example. The business group proposed an alternative site for the train yard. It seemed to make sense because it would only displace one business, an auto salvage yard, and a facility with some vacant land that’s owned by the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, better known as the DWP.
But at the meeting last week, Metro Senior Executive Officer Manjeet Ranu announced: “Late this afternoon we got a letter from DWP that says they have specific plans and a construction timeline for use of that property.” So, no deal.
Well, excuse me, but are you seriously saying that DWP’s single plan is more important than the plans of 186 businesses?
Ranu did explain that eminent domain against a government entity like the DWP was difficult, you see.
Well, excuse me again, but isn’t this where we can count on our elected officials to step in and make the DWP yield? Maybe work out some compromise? Surely the DWP’s needs can be met while saving 186 businesses.
Alas, apparently not. The 186 businesses are in Councilwoman Nury Martinez’s district and she did not bother to attend the meeting. No representative from her office was announced at the beginning of the meeting, although her chief of staff said someone from the office later showed up.
The staffer sent me Martinez’s statement, which started by saying the new rail line, which will run from Oxnard Street to Sylmar, is needed and would bring economic revitalization to the area, which no one is arguing. She added this: “Metro indicates there will be some displacement due to the need for a maintenance facility, no matter which option is chosen. I will ensure that Metro continues to have an open and honest dialogue about the support, resources and assistance that will be available to these businesses, so they can plan for their short- and long-term future.”
Well, excuse me, but Martinez is missing the point. Some options for the train yard will have much less “displacement” than others. Focusing on the ones with less displacement is the point here. But I guess you’d have to actually talk to your business constituents to get that. And attend the meeting.
There’s a great gulf between local government and the business community here, and last week’s meeting displayed that.
Government officials see the need for a new train line and therefore a new train maintenance yard and that means some businesses will be evicted and that’s just the way it is. The affected businesses will complain, and part of the job is to yawn through some dull meetings and listen to them whine and patiently explain to them why their alternative proposals won’t work.
Business operators also see a need for a new train line and therefore a new train maintenance yard and that means some businesses will be evicted. But they don’t understand why government can’t be more judicious in selecting a site that is the least disruptive. They don’t understand why government officials can’t seem to see that it is not easy to relocate and could be permanently harmful, even fatal, to the businesses. They don’t understand why elected officials like Nury Martinez fail to come to their defense. They don’t understand why, if their alternative ideas don’t work, the government officials won’t help them come up with ones that do.
Surely there are other sites out there that would be less disruptive. Panorama City actually wants the train yard.
Let’s hope Metro and city officials look harder to come up with a new site that works well for the new train system without wrecking a swath of businesses.
Charles Crumpley is editor and publisher of the Business Journal. He can be reached at email@example.com.