Jun 19, 2011

Our view: Monrovia must cut deal for the Gold Line yard – SGV Tribune

IN many ways, work toward the crucial Gold Line extension from Pasadena to Azusa is going great guns.

Last week, the Gold Line Construction Authority received bids from three prominent design-build engineering teams for the $440 million job. With its happily accelerated timetable, coming from Measure R county sales-tax funding and the plan to condense what would have been 30 years of transit work into a single decade, the plan is to see trains rolling through the central San Gabriel Valley by 2014.

As we reported recently, ridership on the existing Gold Line from east Pasadena into downtown Los Angeles and beyond on the new East Los Angeles extension has hit new highs and continues to increase. Metro, which operates the system, says it will begin later this month to run trains every six minutes in both directions, rather than the current 10 minutes, adding significantly to commuter efficiency and that all-important sense that, hey, this sure beats freeway driving.
But amid all the good news is a potential impasse over the acquisition of land in Monrovia for a needed maintenance yard that could literally derail the entire Gold Line extension.

After other foothill cities declined to come forward to put together parcels of land for the maintenance yard, without which the full Gold Line cannot be built – including cities such as Irwindale with huge parcels of vacant land – the offer by Monrovia to do so was most welcome. The real estate transaction required was always going to be complicated, with the entire 12-acre light-industrial area in the city's far southeast below the 210 Freeway being owned by various private parties, the Monrovia Redevelopment Agency and the city itself. But hosting the maintenance yard is not necessarily all burden to the city. It's an excellent investment in not just the region's but the city's economic future. It will provide jobs, some of them presumably local. People who work there will need to eat and to shop. And the fact is that getting the Gold Line completed in a timely matter is more important to Monrovia than to any other foothill city because of its huge Station Square mixed-use development to which the presence of the light-rail line is key.

But now the Gold Line and the Monrovia City Council are in a massive spat over how to pay for some unexpected costs coming out of an unfortunate suit by one of the private landowners involved in the deal. That landowner is suddenly asking for far more money from the sale than previously. It's all bad news, but so is the upshot from it. The consequent delay is endangering the entire project and transit progress for the region. So is the City Council's and City Hall's grandstanding on the issue about not altering previous agreements to pay $56 million for the city-owned property “by one penny” and apparent refusal to share with the Gold Line the newly increased costs for the entire parcel. But the city apparently had not disclosed a 2004 covenant with the problem property owner allegedly prohibiting the transaction, and yet is acting “shocked, shocked” that there's an impediment to a final deal.

Should other area cities come forward with some cash for the deal, as we all benefit from the Gold Line? That would be fine, if unlikely. Seeking another site for the yard, as some on the Monrovia council desire, would add years of delay pending new environmental reports.

Monrovia has to cowboy up here. At its June 21 City Council meeting, it needs to own up to its responsibilities and pay its fair share of the land acquisition. The city has been an aggressive developer itself in recent decades, including the frequent use of eminent domain to shore up its employment base. So if, as would be likely if the city won't cooperate, the Gold Line Construction Authority begins to explore the use of eminent domain in this deal for the common good, why should the city be surprised?