LA Metro board approves environmental impact report for Dodgers gondola project

City News Service
Friday, February 23, 2024
Metro approves key report for Dodgers gondola project
Controversial plans to build a gondola to transport fans to Dodger Stadium moved a step forward Thursday as the Metro board approved an environmental impact report on the project.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- Following two hours of public comment, the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday approved the environmental impact report for a hotly debated gondola project that would provide access to Dodger Stadium.

In an 11-0 vote, the Board of Directors certified the EIR, which represents a significant step toward fruition of the gondola, officially known as the Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transit Project. L.A. County Supervisor and Director Janice Hahn abstained from the vote.

Additionally, the board adopted a motion introduced by L.A. County Supervisor and Director Hilda Solis, establishing an inclusive community benefits agreement intended to address the concerns of impacted communities prior to any construction.

"For the project to win my vote, it needs transparency guarantees and addresses community priorities and concerns,'' Solis said prior to the vote.

She added, "I'm happy for Union Station property to be leveraged to address public traffic concerns, but it should not be used to enrich private interests. What this provision does is ensure that the leveraging of public resources is used to address the region's most pressing public need -- and that is affordable housing."

The project will require further consideration from the city of Los Angeles, Caltrans, the California State Department of Parks and Recreation, and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health before it comes back the transit agency at a future date for construction approval.

"Your motion mandates a robust plan to mitigate the project impacts while pushing for significant resources for the most at-risk young people in the surrounding community with care-based solutions that reduce recidivism," Los Angeles Mayor and Board Chair Karen Bass said, who also co-authored Solis' motion.

In 2018, Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt proposed the $300 million private project, which would establish a 1.2-mile aerial gondola, connecting Union Station with Dodger Stadium.

Aerial Rapid Transit Technologies, a partnership formed by McCourt, funded EIR and preliminary design process. Last year, McCourt Global gifted the project to a new entity, known as Zero Emission Technologies. ZET would be responsible for building, financing and operating the gondola.

The project would include a station at the southernmost entrance of Los Angeles State Historic Park, as well as pedestrian and landscape improvements. The project would run above Chinatown, Mission Junction, Elysian Park and Solano Canyon.

Metro formally concluded the proposal process and began exclusive negotiations with ART, and stepped up to be the lead agency overseeing California Environmental Quality Act requirements.

The transit agency is required by the Public Utilities Code to review for approval all plans proposed for the design, construction, and implementation of public mass transit projects, regardless of whether Metro is the project sponsor.

The environmental impact report noted major construction noise and vibration would occur. Some cables and cabins would pass over private properties, sparking concerns over privacy. Traffic lanes would be closed during parts of the construction phase as well, which would require a detailed plan outlining street closures, lights and detours.

Metro has outlined possible mitigation efforts to address these issues, but acknowledged that impacts related to construction would remain "significant and unavoidable."

The proposal has garnered significant pushback from some community members in neighborhoods surrounding the stadium, who contend it overlooks critical concerns regarding potential environmental and economic impacts. Some residents and other stakeholders formed the Stop the Gondola Coalition in opposition of the project.

"Today, the Metro board has failed our communities and effectively decided a billionaire's private tourist attraction is more important than investing in what our communities truly need -- real public transportation and protected green space," Phyllis Ling, founder of Stop the Gondola Coalition, said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.

Members of the coalition contend McCourt -- who owns 50% of the parking lots at Dodger Stadium -- has plans to use the lots for residential and retail use. It was reported in 2023 that McCourt submitted plans with the city of L.A. for apartments along Stadium Way.

On top of concerns about the environment, quality of life and gentrification, opponents say there is no guarantee taxpayers won't be stuck with the bill for the project, which they say is closer to $500 million for construction, and an annual $8 million to $10 million for maintenance and operations.

Supporters say the project could remove as many as 3,000 cars from neighborhood streets and the Harbor (110) Freeway before and after Dodgers games, leading to a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Following the vote, the Los Angeles Parks Alliance announced its intentions to file a lawsuit under CEQA and will ask the court to throw out the gondola is "fatally flawed" final EIR.