The Judge Who Created LA’s Green Line

The Los Angeles light rail Green Line, running down the middle of the Century Freeway, is mostly a failure.  It runs from a derelict area south of the LAX to an underpass in Norwalk, a few miles short of connecting to Metrolink, with unpleasant stations in the middle of the freeway.

But it was born out of a first-of-its-kind settlement to build the freeway, in an attempt to deliver community benefits.  Longreads profiles the federal judge who made it happen, Harry Pregerson:

Good luck building transit-oriented development here

Good luck building transit-oriented development here

Like his hero, the late Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren, Pregerson has always had a knack for consensus building. His skill at bringing together divergent parties—Caltrans, neighborhood residents, and unions—and forging a compromise was the key factor in getting the Century Freeway built. According to the L.A. Times, Pregerson was known to open negotiations early in the morning by telling all parties, “Gentlemen, I just happen to have brought my lunch with me and it could be a long day. I’m not sure yet when you’ll be able to eat.”

The Century Freeway’s final consent decree, filed in 1979, included a housing program, jobs program, jobs training program, affirmative-action program, and a child-care program, all under the guise of a freeway project that somehow also had to have a train running down the middle. Even for a legislative body, these initiatives would have been bold, but for them to come at the behest of a district court judge was unheard of.

Pregerson comes off as a bit abrasive and self-centered in the piece (he is a judge after all), but it’s a nice exploration of the long-lasting positive benefits of the settlement.

Ultimately though, as I detail in Railtown, the transit line in the middle of the freeway should have been the far-cheaper bus rapid transit option, which would have been more appropriate for the ridership in that area. But now we’ve got a rail line in the middle of the freeway, with no place to build housing or jobs around it.  So while the other community benefits may have worked out well, the Green Line unfortunately did not.


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