Los Angeles Metro Purple Line Extension
- General Issues
- Planning & Development
- Scope of Influence
- Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
- Citizenship building
- Spectrum of Public Participation
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
- Targeted Demographics
- Stakeholder Organizations
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Ask & Answer Questions
- Information & Learning Resources
- Participant Presentations
- Written Briefing Materials
- Decision Methods
- Don’t Know
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- New Media
- Public Hearings/Meetings
- Type of Organizer/Manager
- Regional Government
- Government-Owned Corporation
- Type of Funder
- National Government
- Regional Government
- Implementers of Change
- Elected Public Officials
- Stakeholder Organizations
- Formal Evaluation
A comprehensive public engagement strategy starting in 2008, consisting of townhalls, online discussion boards, and a media campaign in order to make the Purple Line expansion process more inclusive and transparent.
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Problems and Purpose
The Purple Line is one of several heavy rail subway lines running through Los Angeles, California. It currently operates from Downtown Los Angeles into the Mid-Wilshire and Koreatown districts. Since the 1980s, the municipal government has recognized the need to expand the Purple Line, in order to accomodate increased ridership. The proposed expansion has been met with stiff public resistance. In respose, the City of Los Angeles launched a comprehensive public engagement strategy in 2008, consisting of townhalls, online discussion boards, and a media campaign in order to make the Purple Line expansion process more inclusive and transparent.
Proposed construction would expand the line into West Los Angeles (The Westside). Stations will begin in Downtown and stretch to UCLA and the VA Hospital, with the goal of making transportation between Downtown and West Los Angeles easier. Construction is being overseen by the LA County Metropolitan Transit Authority. Speaking at a 2017 press conference. Mayor of Los Angeles and Metro First Vice Chair Eric Garcetti stated, “Angelenos and people across L.A. County have shown their commitment to creating a better-connected transportation system — and this investment echoes that commitment to giving people faster, more convenient connections to their jobs, to healthy recreation fun attractions, and to the people they love.” According to the LA County Economic Development Corporation, the project now has a total budget of $2.5 billion and will generate an additional 25,000 jobs in Southern California.
Since the beginning of the expansion in the mid 1980s, the project has met significant resistance. Opposition has stemmed particularly from residents and elected officials of Westside neighborhoods, including Beverly Hills. This resistance has continued, culminating into a 2014 lawsuit filed by Beverly Hills Unified School District against LA Metro. Despite efforts by citizen groups to stall the construction, The Purple Line expansion is still expected to be completed before the end of the next decade.
Expansion of the Purple Line is set to happen in three phases. The first, beginning in 2019, will take place along Wilshire Boulevard. Wilshire Boulevard will gain three new Metro stops at the intersections of Wilshire with La Brea, Fairfax, and La Cienega. This part of the expansion is set to open in 2023. The second phase will extend the Purple Line into Beverly Hills via two additional stations - one at Wilshire Blvd / Rodeo Dr. and the other at Century City / Constellation. This is set to be completed by 2025. The third phase is set to be completed by 2026 and will introduce two new stops in the Westside - one at UCLA and the other at the VA Hospital.
Background History and Context
In 1980 Proposition A passed, creating a half-cent sales tax whose revenue would be dedicated specifically to bolstering mass transit in Los Angeles. Since then revenue generated from Proposition A has funded the completion of the Blue Line, Red Line, and Red Line “stub”: a small east - west rail line that was the precursor to the Purple Line.
Many residents of the Westside opposed initial construction of an east-west subway line along Wilshire Boulevard. Significant opposition came from Representative Henry Waxman, a Democratic representative of West Los Angeles in the House of Representatives. Waxman, citing a 1985 methane gas leak in the mid-Wilshire district, repeatedly discouraged the expansion of Metro into the Westside because of the presumed dangers it presented. Although a 1986 Congressional study found that no danger would come from the construction of a subway tunnel in West Los Angeles, Waxman continued to oppose the project and stalled federal funding for the project. More information about the presence of ‘Not In My Back Yard’ organizations is still necessary to assess the influence that citizen participation had.
Construction on a separate metro line - the Red Line - began in 1996, but did not extend into the Westside. During construction of the Red Line, disagreements between LA Metro and contractor Tutor Saliba lead to a temporary budget deficit and an eventual lawsuit. This prompted West Los Angeles City Councilman Zev Yaroslavsky to create legislation in 1998 that banned the use of Proposition A money for mass transit in West Los Angeles.
In 2006 the “stub” of the Red Line that extends from Union Station to Wilshire/Western (east-west) was renamed as The Purple Line to distinguish it from the part of the Red Line that runs north-south. In 2007, legislation to prevent tunneling in West LA was lifted as part of a 2008 House of Representatives appropriations bill. Expansion of the Purple Line was formalized in 2009.
In fall of 2007, Metro began conducting studies on locations for potential stations. The study concluded in 2009 with five options identified. In fall of 2010, Metro completed two seperate environmental impact statements and reports. Final versions of the reports were released in 2012 for public review. The Metro Board of Directors subsequently approved the route, locations, and three construction phases of the Purple Line extension. In 2014, Beverly Hills Unified School District filed a lawsuit against LA Metro stating that Metro had failed to follow procedure when conducting environmental impact reports and had neglected to consider student safety when proposing to extend the Purple Line beneath Beverly Hills High School. In April 2014, LA County Superior Court ruled that Metro had correctly followed procedures, a ruling that was echoed in 2017 by the California Court of Appeals.
Contracts for the first phase of construction was awarded to a joint venture spearheaded by the firm Skanska USA. The MTA Board approved the $1.6 billion contract of Skanska USA by a vote of 9 to 3. Metro proceeded to award the construction of the second phase to Tutor Perini Corp., the controversial contractor whose work two decades earlier resulted in a lawsuit. Earlier concerns over the firms work included doubts over the structural integrity of their work specifically regarding the thickness of tunnel walls. The contractor for the third phase of the Purple Line Expansion has yet to be announced.
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Purple Line expansion is currently overseen by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority. The MTA’s Board of Directors is responsible for making decisions regarding the Purple Line Expansion.
The Purple Line Expansion is being partially funded by two LA County tax measures: Measure R and Measure M. Taking effect in July of 2009, Measure R consisted of a half-cent sales tax increase to finance new projects and accelerate those already in construction. The $585 million dollars in revenue generated by Measure R will pay for approximately one quarter of the project’s expenses. In 2016, 71% of LA County voters approved Measure M which is expected to generate $860 million in revenue per year to fund general transportation projects. Measure M increases the sales tax instituted by Measure R to a permanent one-cent sales tax. No information could be found on citizen opposition or protest to the tax increases.
In combination with the $836 million in revenue generated by both Measure M and Measure R specifically for the Purple Line Expansion, the MTA secured nearly $1.5 billion in federal aid for the project. MTA will receive a $307 million loan from the Department of Transportation in addition to a $1.187 billion grant from the Federal Transit Administration’s Capital Investment Grant Program. In addition, the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program will provide an additional $169 million in funding. The Purple Line Expansion has an estimated total cost of $2.38 billion.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Citizen engagement partially shaped the early stages of the Purple Line Extension, primarily from 2008 to 2013. 2010 saw a large amount of civic engagement in which citizens provided Metro feedback on early proposals, voiced opposition to a stop at the VA hospital, and filed a lawsuit against subway construction underneath Beverly Hills High School. In response, Metro hosted a series of town hall meetings focused specifically on discussing alternative routes beginning in fall of 2010 and continuing into 2011. In June of 2013, Metro officials hosted one of its final town hall meeting at LA County Museum of Art along Wilshire Boulevard, an area that would be primarily affected by the Purple Line Expansion. It remains unclear the extent to which the feedback provided at town hall meetings impacted the Metro Board of Advisor’s final decisions. A comprehensive list of events from 2010 to 2013 that required citizen input can be found : https://www.metro.net/projects/westside/articles-archive/ .
LA Metro’s website dedicated to the Purple Line Expansion provides a majority of the information about how citizens can play an active role in the project. The website contains a variety of different tabs in which LA residents can access information. Under the events tab, citizens can find information on upcoming public forums and monthly meetings. Information on recently published reports can be found under the FAQ, Fact Sheet, and Reports and Info tabs while construction updates are posted under the Construction Notices tab. The website currently contains a survey for residents of Beverly Hills to determine how information should best be transmitted. The names, email addresses, and phone numbers of Metro employees directly responsible for the Purple Line extension are also posted under the “Contact Us” tab of the website. Citizens are encouraged to stay up-to-date with the latest Purple Line Developments. Individuals have the option to sign up for the Purple Line Expansion’s email list, in addition to following developments on LA Metro’s social media accounts.
Methods and Tools Used
During the initial phases of planning for Purple Line extension, a large portion of community engagement took place in the form of town hall meetings and public forums. Town hall meetings provide a space for constituents to voice their opinions on public projects. Similarly, public forums are described by scholars Abigail Williamson and Archon Fung as “an open gathering of officials and citizens, in which citizens are permitted to offer comments, but officials are not obliged to act on them or, typically, even to respond publicly”. Both allow citizens the opportunity to contribute to the discussion about decisions made by officials, and to establish a sense of representational legitimacy. LA Metro used in-person town halls in addition to “telephone town halls” - an opportunity for citizens to speak directly with government officials from remote locations - to garner citizen input. Since January 2015, Metro has hosted Construction Community Meetings every other month.
Surveys are defined by the National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation as “a method used to collect information from a specific population.” They provide a snapshot attitudes and ideas at a particular moment. LA Metro is currently commissioning a survey of Beverly Hills residents to determine how information should be best disseminated.
Social media has also been used by LA Metro to keep citizens informed about new proposals, construction updates etc. Social media refers to online platforms that allow individuals to engage in social networking. LA Metro currently maintains Twitter, Facebook, and Flickr accounts dedicated specifically to providing updates about the Purple Line expansion. It remains unclear the extent to which social media commenting played in effecting final decision making.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
Beginning in October 2007, Metro began conducting Early Scope Meetings to gather information about the public’s view on potential routes. During this time - known as Alternative Analysis - Metro conducted a series of town halls at different locations in the Westside and opportunities to provide comments through mail, phone, and online. Questions specifically asked by Metro included:
• Should there be a new transit alternative to serve the Westside?
• What mode or alignment do you want studied?
• Do you want a station in your community?
• What is important to you in evaluating options?
• For all of the above: WHY?
• Other thoughts?
By September 2008, Metro had compiled an Alternative Analysis report based on citizen opinion, prior decisions made by the LA City Council, and funding availability. The report detailed a list of potential alternatives, one of which (the Wilshire Subway) would develop into the Purple Line. Metro subsequently developed Station Area Advisory Groups (SAAGs) from 2011 to 2014 to continue including citizen voices in the decision making process. SAAGS consist of community representatives from the areas nearest to construction, including residents and homeowner associations, neighborhood councils, institutions, businesses, business associations, and property owners. SAAG groups met once per month at workshops to review plans for specific subway stations, provide project status updates, discuss art and cultural elements to be displayed at each station.
The LA Metro Board of Directors is responsible for making all final decisions about the extension. The 13 member board represents various areas throughout Los Angeles County including Los Angeles neighborhoods, and the cities of Inglewood, Duarte, Glendale, and Long Beach. The Board of Directors was responsible for approving Measure R - the ordinance that provided the funding for the Purple Line expansion - and were responsible for approving contractors for the expansion.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Citizens played a moderate role in determining the eventual route and stations of the Purple Line. During initial planning phases, citizen input was responsible for the creation of alternative routes and alternative stations for the Purple Line. The current subway stops are the result of input provided by citizen groups, primarily SAAGs. For example, multiple proposals by SAAGs were considered - and eventually realized - for the Wilshire/Fairfax and Westwood/VA Hospital stations.
Some citizen attempts were not successful, however. Beverly Hills Unified School District notably filed a lawsuit against the LA Metro Board of Directors because of proposed construction beneath Beverly Hills High School, citing that the Board of Directors had not complied with Environmental Impact Report procedure. County and state courts both ruled in favor of LA Metro, despite a considerable amount of ‘Not In My Backyard’ sentiment that grew from the case.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
The use of town hall meetings and the subsequent development of SAAGs provided a streamlined and effective process for citizens to have input on the Purple Line expansion. The use of SAAGs provided an effective tool for citizens with a direct stake in the project (ie: business owners, property owners, residents along the Purple Line, community activists) to provide constructive criticism so that alternatives were developed to best meet the needs of the community. The program could be expanded upon in the future to include a more extensive series of SAAG workshops and to encourage more direct collaboration between SAAGs, policy makers, develops, and the Metro Board of Directors.
It is unclear the extent that social media and email lists played in giving citizens an effective tool to communicate with Metro officials. Although these platforms were used to publicize information about construction updates and upcoming community forums, social media and email lists did not serve as methods for citizens to engage in direct communication over the project.
Alternative forms of direct communication, however, provided an opportunity for citizens to voice their opinions without formally attending meetings. The use of “telephone town halls” allowed LA residents to submit questions directly to Metro officials and have them answered on the phone. Additionally, the ability for citizens to submit written and recorded comments to Metro during the initial phases of planning helped dictate the location of eventual stations and routes.
Lead image: @CityofBevHills/Twitter https://goo.gl/fq4P6Q