By Meghan Bobrowsky and Kellen Browning
More than 200 Claremont residents and 5C students packed the Alexander Hughes Community Center during a town hall meeting Monday night to demand that the Los Angeles County Metro Board of Directors keep the city’s Metrolink stop.
The Gold Line Foothill Extension will expand Los Angeles’ light rail system further east, adding a Metro stop in Claremont in 2026. The current plan is to demolish the existing Metrolink station at the end of 2021 to make room for the new Metro station, and rebuild the Metrolink station across College Avenue so Metrolink trains can continue to stop there.
In September, County Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed a study to examine the impact of not rebuilding the Metrolink station after it is torn down. Staff from Metro, Metrolink, and the Foothill Gold Line presented their preliminary findings at the town hall Monday.
The study determined that not rebuilding the Metrolink station after its demolition would save an estimated $40 million in construction and overhead costs for the Foothill Gold Line, helping to alleviate the project’s $280 million budget shortfall. But it would leave Claremont without any type of train from 2021 to 2026.
Though Metro promised to provide free shuttle service to the nearby Montclair Metrolink station for the duration of the construction, the results of the study were met with fierce criticism from fired-up Claremonters. Residents and students, who clearly view the Metrolink station as an integral part of the city, peppered the presenters with questions and condemnation.
“I think a lot of it’s kind of bullshit,” Violet Burbank HM ’21 said of the presentation, “closing everything down just for a bunch of statistics that they don’t really fully explain.”
Burbank was part of a contingent of 5C students who showed up with signs reading #SOS, for “Save Our Station,” and were firmly against removing the Metrolink stop.
“I rely on the trains a lot, because I live really far away and I always have to go to LAX [to get home],” she said.
Claremont resident Raoul Cervantes, 80, said he drops his granddaughter off at the Metrolink station early each morning so she can ride to California State University, Los Angeles.
“I wouldn’t want to drive her to Cal State every day, it’d be a hassle,” Cervantes said. “If they shut it down, what’s the alternative? There is no alternative.”
Claremont Mayor Larry Schroeder asked the presenters dozens of written questions on behalf of the audience, including whether Metro has considered the environmental impacts of the project, whether Montclair will be required to create a bike path from Claremont to its Metrolink station, and if Metro has consulted with San Bernardino County.
The crowd, unsatisfied with the presenters’ incomplete answers, grew increasingly rowdy, and about 50 people lambasted the Metro staffers for two hours of public comment afterward.
“I currently have a diagnosed medical condition that requires me to return to my home in Los Angeles for treatment every month, and I use the Metrolink to do that, because I don’t have a car and I cannot afford a sixty-dollar round-trip ride-hailing service fee,” Olivia Wood PO ’19 told the presenters. “Closing the Metrolink station would have a drastic, negative impact on students such as myself.”
Former Claremont Mayor Suzan Smith, 81, told TSL she was “absolutely horrified” when she learned about the study and noted that the station “helps us economically.”
Smith served on Claremont’s city council in 1977, when the city first advocated for a Metrolink stop, which eventually opened in 1992.
Several Claremont business owners at the meeting told Metro staff that their livelihoods depend on customers who arrive in Claremont on the Metrolink.
“My clientele comes from all over,” said one woman, who identified herself only as a Claremont resident. “We rely on this being a place that people can get off the train to.”
Smith added that the Metrolink stop makes Claremont more accessible to visitors who are elderly or unable to drive.
Jenny Johnston SC ’21 and McKayla Cox SC ‘21 arrived opposed to removing the stop, but said they were open to hearing information that might change their minds. They weren’t swayed.
“I’ve seen more reasons not to get rid of it,” Cox said. “I think the biggest issue is that five-to-six year span” without any rail service.
But not all students oppose removing Claremont’s Metrolink stop.
“I’m OK with eliminating the Metrolink station as long as they provide dependable shuttle service to Montclair in the interim Gold Line construction,” Adam Dvorak PO ’21 wrote in a message to TSL.
He noted that the Gold Line will be cheaper, and wrote that the six-year shuttle interim would be “only a small sacrifice.”
A one-way ticket on the Metro costs $1.75, while a trip from Claremont to Los Angeles Union Station via Metrolink costs $9.25, or $7 for students.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Jeanet Owens, a senior executive officer for Metro, acknowledged the community members’ complaints.
“We have heard you, and we will definitely include your comments in our board report,” she said. “We want to make sure that we’re very transparent in the process.”
Metro staff members will present the findings of their study, recommendations, and feedback from the community to the Metro Planning and Programming Committee on Jan. 17 at the Metro Board Room at 1 Gateway Plaza in Los Angeles, near Union Station.
Liam Brooks contributed reporting.