By NAO GUNJI
Rafu English Assistant Editor
Emotions rose high Wednesday night at the working group meeting held by Metropolitan Transportation Authority in Little Tokyo to discuss Metro’s Regional Connector project and relating issues specific to the Little Tokyo area.
“It’s quite devastating what could happen over four years (of the construction),” said Akemi Kikumura Yano, CEO of the Japanese American National Museum, which hosted the event.
“Possible massive disruption, in terms of access, not only to the Japanese American National Museum, but to Little Tokyo in general, I think that is a major concern for us… How are we going to survive?” she said, during the Q&A portion of the meeting.
The Regional Connector seeks to create an almost two-mile transit link between the Gold and Blue Line light rail systems through downtown Los Angeles.
Currently, four options, including an underground corridor below Second Street through Little Tokyo, an at grade alternative, which would be built above ground and follow along Second to Temple streets, a bus line or a no-build option, have been approved by the Metro Board of Directors and evaluated by the Regional Connector Light Rail Transit Team. Metro estimates it would take four years or less to complete the construction either for the at grade or underground option.
Wednesday, the Metro team presented 3-D models of the intersection of First and Alameda, and also Temple and Alameda under the subway alternative, which was prepared by architect Ted Tanaka.
After a 90-minute presentation by Metro, which seemingly focused on the underground option, participants were given an opportunity to ask questions and express their concerns to Metro Project Manager Dolores Roybal Saltarelli and Principal Consultant Ray Sosa.
“This is the beginning of the working group. As we mentioned in the presentation, we would like to meet stakeholders individually,” said Roybal Saltarelli, responding to Kikumura Yano’s concerns. “There are a lot of issues we need to identify and we need to do that with you.”
Many of the participants shared the sentiment that Metro prefers the underground alternative over the other options and has already made up their mind to move forward with it.
“The steamroller is already under its way,” one participant commented. “Does this meeting have any pull? Any value? How willing are you to accept that there isn’t a lot of support from the community?”
Roybal Saltarelli explained the sentiment was a misconception largely due to the fact that the underground alternative does require more attention from Little Tokyo.
A couple Savoy condominium residents, who already have Metro Gold Line running next to them on First Street, complained that the possibility of having the rail lines going two sides of their property would affect the quality of their life greatly.
Kathy Masaoka suggested that terminating the transfer fee would be the easiest option to connect the rail lines. “I don’t understand the necessity of this link, only a mile plus, from Little Tokyo to 7th Metro, Union Station is one stop over. I’m willing to transfer if I don’t have to pay the transfer fee,” she said.
Mark Masaoka said having the Regional Connector run through Little Tokyo would change its economy to be more attractive to national chains and franchises. “Those are the places which succeed in (heavy traffic) locations, not the places you have to wait 30 minutes for a nice Asian meal. So, the economy is going to change. How is that aspect going to be mitigated?” he said.
With nearly 100 in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting, it was the biggest turnout in a series of community meetings that have been held in Little Tokyo for the project’s environmental impact study process.
In the past meetings, many of the community members expressed that the underground alternative would be safer, quieter, and more pedestrian friendly. However, the atmosphere changed drastically for this time around. Several people showed their growing interest in the at grade alternative.
Throughout the 3-hour meeting, the Metro team welcomed the input and emphasized the importance of preserving the Little Tokyo identity as “one of the three remaining Japan Towns in the nation.”
Diego Cardoso, Metro executive officer, attempted to inspire the audience, but his effort somehow fell flat on the concerned community. “Give us a chance to explain,” Cardoso spoke with passion. “We’re basically laying the foundation for the transportation infrastructure for the 21st century… We are part of this greater community. The viability of this community depends on how it is connected.”
Metro will continue to explore the existing four alternatives, but they won’t be reexamining the initial 29 other alternatives or considering new ones. The Board will eventually pick one option by the summer (or the early fall) of 2010.
Mike Okamoto, senior vice president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, told the Rafu Shimpo after the meeting that Metro seems to be giving out the pieces of information one by one, and that the community would run out of time before being ready to make a decision.
“We are just so afraid that sooner or later, the time will come and they’d say, ‘too bad, time is up,’” he said.
Okamoto also stated that Metro needs to understand the vulnerability of the neighborhood.
“It is like fitting a big foot in a smaller shoe,” he continued. “Little Tokyo is not so big, it can’t take all the impacts or consequences. If something goes wrong, a whole street, a whole block would suffer.”
Comments on the Regional Connector can be made to Dolores Roybal Saltarelli, project manager, at One Gateway Plaza, MS 99-22-2, Los Angeles, CA 90012 or e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org For more information, log on to www.metro.net/regionalconnector