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    Gondola project from Union Station to Dodger Stadium gets first approval from LA Metro
    • February 23, 2024

    A proposed 1.2-mile aerial tramway that would transport baseball fans to Dodger Stadium via sky-high gondolas above Chinatown and other neighborhoods in northeast Los Angeles received a major boost on Thursday, Feb. 22.

    The controversial project that has attracted considerable opposition, received the green light from the LA Metro board, which approved the project’s Final Environmental Impact Report and determined the project fits within the state’s regional transportation plan. The board voted 11-0-1, with Fourth District Supervisor and Metro board member Janice Hahn abstaining.

    Approval of the environmental report is a first step toward making Los Angeles’ first gondola transit project a reality. However, the project also will need approvals from the Los Angeles City Council, Caltrans, the Federal Highway Administration. the California Transportation Commission and California State Parks, according to Metro staff.

    In addition, the project developer will need to secure property acquisitions, land leases, air rights as well as state and federal sign-offs. If these are obtained, the project will come back to the LA Metro board for construction approval. No timeframe was set for what could be a drawn-out process.

    “This doesn’t mean we are greenlighting it,”  said Los Angeles City Council President and Metro board member Paul Krikorian. “The city of L.A. process will be robust. Land use approvals are in the hands of the City of Los Angeles.”

    Nonetheless, the Metro vote was historic. It was the first time Metro board voted to approve design and environmental documents for an unsolicited, non-Metro project. As lead agency under the California Environmental Quality Act, Metro is legally required to oversee the environmental process for all transit-related projects in Los Angeles County moving forward.

    The Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit (LAART) project was submitted to LA Metro by L.A. Dodgers’ former owner Frank McCourt in April 2018 and was not asked for by Metro. McCourt owns 50% of the parking lots at Dodger Stadium which court records show he may use for mixed-use development, including residential and retail uses.

    Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies (ARTT), a limited partnership that McCourt formed, was bankrolling the environmental review and preliminary design process. LA Metro will be reimbursed for staff time. Last year, McCourt Global gifted the project to a new entity, Zero Emission Technologies. ZET is the nonprofit owner responsible for building, financing and operating the gondola project.

    An artist rendering of what a LA ART gondola would look like en route to Dodger Stadium from Los Angeles Union Station. The project has received pushback from Chinatown residents, city of LA and Homeboy Industries. Yet it received recent support from Coalition For Clean Air. However, LA City Council member Eunisses Hernandez on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2023, has introduced a motion asking for a traffic study before L.A. would take any action on the project. The project is up for a vote on Thursday, Feb. 22 at the LA Metro board.(courtesy of Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit )

    The gondolas would take passengers over Chinatown, Solano Canyon, El Pueblo and Chavez Ravine on overhead buckets that accommodate 30-40 passengers. It is estimated to transport 5,000 passengers per hour on a sky-high, Disneyland-esque, 1.2 mile ride that would last seven minutes, according to Metro. The project would include three stations with 13-story towers on Alameda Street across from L.A.’s historic Union Station, at the Los Angeles State Historic Park, and atop Chavez Ravine at Dodger Stadium.

    As part of the approval, the Metro board attached a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA) with a list of conditions that must be satisfied before ZET can begin construction. These include: a plan to expand the existing Dodger Stadium Express which shuttles passengers to the stadium entrance while converting to zero-emission electric buses. A similar condition asks for a study of alternatives to the gondola project that would lessen traffic congestion during the 82 Dodger home games, including a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Sunset Boulevard.

    An unusual condition attached to the project requires setting aside 25% of stadium parking lots considered for development as affordable housing.

    First District Supervisor Hilda Solis and Metro board member pushed back against comments by project opponents, who told this news organization that those conditions are nothing more than lip service. “It (CBA) provides guardrails. It enhances transparency and ensures the community their concerns must be addressed,” Solis said.

    Metro officials ensured Solis that conditions imposed would have to be met by ZET or Metro would hold back on approval of land use and air space lease agreements, preventing construction and operation of the gondolas.

    The Metro board took more than two hours of public comments, which were mixed between supporters and opponents.

    Those in favor included: Dodger fans, who wanted an easier way to reach the stadium on game day and members of ZET and its parent nonprofit, Climate Resolve, as well as other residents who said the gondolas will take cars off the roads, reduce air pollution as well as greenhouse gases that cause global climate change.

    As the co-organizer of the first CicLAvia that inspires people to ride a bike, Jonathan Parfrey, founder and executive director of Climate Resolve, said the project would remove cars and reduce pollution. But it also will have a warming effect on riding public transit. “I believe the aerial gondola will be similarly inspirational for people to take public transit,” he told the board.

    “It will transform the transit experience for Angelenos,” said David Kim, a ZET board member and former California secretary of transportation.

    Opponents included residents of Chinatown whose neighborhoods, and in some cases, houses and backyards, would forever be changed by overhead gondolas and towers holding cables powered with humming electric motors; conservation groups that disagree with a station at the Los Angeles State Historic Park and residents who view it as a gift to a billionaire developer and not a solution to traffic, congestion and air pollution.

    “This is an overpriced theme park ride that rips into our Chinatown neighborhood, built on the backs of low-income communities,” said Phyllis Ling, organizer of Stop The Gondola, a coalition of hundreds of Chinatown and Solano Canyon residents and 29 member agencies.

    Others from the communities directly affected said the project would cause more traffic woes, not less, as people park at stations, add noise pollution and blight from the presence of large towers. Tommy Ling, a Chinatown resident, said the project doesn’t have a funding plan.

    The cost has risen from $125 million six years ago to between $385 million and $500 million in January 2024. Ling said the conditions don’t make the project much better.

    Members of the business community, including the business group BizFed, supported the project, saying it would bring in more tourist activity to Chinatown and the region.

    “We think it will help draw new guests to Olvera Street,” said Dominic Camacho, an owner of Camacho’s Cafe. He said Olvera street and El Pueblo area eateries have suffered lately and would benefit from the ridership.

    Los Angeles City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, whose district includes the project corridor, asked Metro to turn it down, even with the added conditions.  “A project that needs more than 30 checks and balances to make it palatable, many of which are not enforceable by this body, is a project that can’t stand on its feet,” she said.

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    ​ Orange County Register