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Mayor Garcetti Supports Dodgers Gondola, Disses Project Skeptics

Yesterday, the Metro board Executive Management Committee received an update on the proposed aerial gondola project between Dodgers Stadium and Union Station. There were no votes taken, but the committee debate showed clear sides being drawn for and against the controversial project.

Proposed route of Dodgers Stadium gondola. Map via L.A. ART website
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The gondola project is formally called Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit or L.A. ART. From early on, developer and former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt pledged to pay for at least part of the project privately. Metro's staff report notes that L.A. ART "is completely funded by the Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies (ARTT), including reimbursement of Metro staff time." ARTT is spin-off corporation formed by McCourt's family for the gondola project.

Though it is not a Metro project, the agency would need to approve the project's environmental documents (an Environmental Impact Report - EIR). The draft EIR is expected to be released this fall, likely before Thanksgiving. (Metro is also expected to allow L.A. ART station/s on property it owns - especially at Union Station.)

At committee, both public comment and boardmembers were divided on the project.

The area where the gondola would be located is L.A. City Council District 1, which, starting in December, will be represented by Councilmember-elect Eunisses Hernandez. Speaking to the committee, Hernandez expressed her concerns about the project, calling for transparency, accountability, community engagement, and a full clear long-term commitment that taxpayers would not subsidize the project.

I have some concerns about the Frank McCourt project, the L.A. ART project and L.A. Metro draft proposal that looks like it will cost about 300 million dollars.

There hasn’t been enough community input and I’m glad that you all are talking about having forums. I hope that it’s more than two. I hope that it’s also out of the holidays because a lot of the folks who have been here have been motivated though word by community outreach. That doesn’t happen a lot through the holidays. [...]

I would also like assurance from the Metro that this project will not use any taxpayer dollars in the future. The recent gift of this project to a nonprofit does give me pause that tax dollars will be utilized for a project that is mostly a tourist attraction. Every public dollar should be used for projects that decrease traffic and make it easier for working class people to travel around our vast city [...] To that end I would like to see plans that address potential cost overruns and a project budget. I would like to ensure that there’s a robust fiscal management to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used wisely and judiciously.

Hernandez' ears were probably burning, as just before she gave testimony, Metro Boardmembers Hilda Solis and Eric Garcetti had a back and forth exchange over how much attention Metro should pay to the incoming councilmember.

Solis expressed concern over various aspects of L.A. ART - from gentrification and displacement, to impacts on mom-and-pop businesses and parking. Solis called for "providing more public hearings" and waiting until December when Hernandez takes office. "I don’t believe that it’s fair," Solis stated "to just allow for a project to move forward that’s going to impact her district so dramatically without having her have a full purview of what is going on and hearing from all sides and understanding the project herself."

Garcetti, who is termed out the day Hernandez takes office, opened his response describing himself as a "pretty unabashed supporter" of L.A. ART. He stated that the project was about "reducing traffic... getting people off the roads."

Then he had some choice words directed at Hernandez:

All of us cycle in and out. I know you’re talking about the councilmember. I’ll also be gone, so one can say "wait for the new mayor, wait for the new councilmember." You'll all have those moments as Supervisors, as whatever. We've heard those arguments in Washington sometimes: don’t do a Supreme Court Justice now because a new president’s coming, etc."

The logic is somewhat tortured, but Garcetti seems to be accusing Hilda Solis of behaving like Senator Mitch McConnell when he blocked President Obama's nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. The lame duck mayor is trying to exert his waning power in favor of Frank McCourt's gondola project - and trying to stifle the influence of unabashedly progressive Hernandez.

A Metro board vote on the project won't take place until 2023 at the soonest. And the Metro board will look pretty different after December. Garcetti and his three appointees will almost certainly depart, as the incoming mayor appoints their own boardmembers.

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