MTA reassures property owners along proposed rail line

By Alfredo Santana

Contributing Writer

LOS ANGELES — Home and commercial property owners impacted by potential Metropolitan Transportation Authority acquisitions to build aerial structures, widen ground for train tracts and construct boarding and maintenance stations for the West Santa Ana Branch light rail line in Southeast area cities would receive relocation assistance and be fully compensated.

The announcement came at the third of three special virtual sessions held to address questions from residents and business operators potentially impacted along the proposed rail line from downtown Los Angeles to Artesia.

A team with the MTA’s real estate acquisitions unit said the agency’s goal is to engage with stakeholders in good faith and support relocations to similar properties to minimize business and housing disruptions and leave eminent domain motions as a last resource.

“We don’t want to come to you and tell you you’ll need to vacate,” real estate project manager Christopher Carrillo said. “There is a process. At the very least, a 90- and 30-day move out notice will be issued.”

A key component holding back the start of real estate appraisal is the certification of the environmental impact report by the MTA Board of Directors, which is expected in summer 2022 and its approval by the Federal Transit Administration.

The MTA board also will select one of four proposed routes by December, project manager Meghna Kahnna said. Alternatives 1 and 2, with costs estimated between $9.3 and $9.5 billion, would link either Union Station or the Seventh Street station downtown with light rail trains covering a 19-mile stretch through Huntington Park, Vernon, unincorporated Florence-Firestone, Cudahy, Bell, South Gate, Downey, Paramount, Bellflower and Artesia.

Two additional and less expensive alternatives are also being considered by the board.

Alternative 3, already recommended by staff to become the final route, would start at an elevated Slauson Avenue station next to the MTA A line (formerly known as the Blue Line) that carries passengers from Long Beach to the Seventh Street station, and end in Artesia with a 14.8-mile run and estimated costs of $4.9 to $5.1 billion.

Alternative 4 would only cover 6.6 miles with four stops from Artesia to an aerial station located at the intersection of the Glenn Anderson (105) Freeway and Paramount Boulevard, with a price tag ranging from $2.3 to $2.6 billion.

MTA real estate officer Konstantin Akhrem said property owners would start getting notices of intent for appraisals following the environmental impact report approval, unless comments submitted during the gathering period extended through Sept. 28 request timeline changes or address other discrepancies.

“The key part is transparency,” Akhrem said. “The act of private property acquisition is regulated by [the Uniform Relocation Act]. This federal regulation establishes standards for owners who have to move to make room for this project.”

The MTA would hire independent appraisers to contact property owners, and inspect parcels with attached and permanent fixtures for partial or full demolition.

Carrillo told property owners that targeted properties with projected full acquisitions, and lot trims or slivers required for the rail corridor “are entitled to certain benefits.”

He said the initial interviews will be key to establish the process with information on “how to successfully relocate you from part A to B,” or from impacted lots to homes and facilities identified by the residents and business owners with the MTA covering moving costs.

“Our intent is not to have your business relocate,” Carrillo said. But if the decision comes down to it, the MTA “can also help relocate business and home owners to stay in the area.”

Carrillo advised stakeholders not to move out until they schedule and conduct interviews with MTA representatives to find out and document the needs of current parcel occupants trying to match future parcels.

The website has a link to an interactive page under the legend “property impacts/acquisitions” that displays the path of the four alternative routes alongside parcels, property strips and lots the MTA may purchase to complete the project.

Clicking on the bottom left corner of the interactive map activates a module with definitions of lines and color meanings along the parcels’ diameters depicting full or partial purchases.

Lewis Kramer, owner of a metal recycling facility located at the corner of Slauson Avenue and Randolph Street in Huntington Park, said that a six-foot-long by six-foot-wide strip from his lot to ease construction of an aerial station would affect heavy machinery operation in need of a wide lot.

According to MTA officials, the property corner would make room for a supporting concrete column for the aerial station.

“I’m hearing you, but I don’t think you are hearing me,” Kramer said. “We operate a very sophisticated operation with limited space.”

Kramer said that by the time the final project and the environmental report are approved, it will be too late for him to save that sliver of land.

MTA transportation planning manager Ivan Gonzalez reminded Kramer that nothing has been decided, and told him he should submit comments on the potential property loss to Meghna Kahnna before Sept. 28 so the board considers them before the final route decision is rendered.

“We are taking public comments, and the MTA board will decide what would be the final project along with the approval of the environmental impact report,” Gonzalez said. “Then the property acquisition and negotiation will begin.”

Carrillo advised commercial and residential property owners to talk with MTA real estate officials before hiring attorneys or their own appraisers, because some of those costs and services may not be reimbursable.

“Ultimately, you are the best person to advise us in the process of finding a relocation site,” Carrillo said. “If you identify a possible relocation site, document it and notify it to appraise and relocation.”