As Dodger Stadium gondola vote nears, all sides make their pitch

Fernando Valenzuela hasn't thrown a pitch for the Dodgers in 34 years, but he remains beloved in our city, even among fans too young to have seen him play. When the Dodgers recently brought their community caravan to Homeboy Industries, hundreds of fans of all ages happily lined up to take a photo with Valenzuela.

But many fans lined up to take a photo with Father Greg Boyle, the acclaimed founder of Homeboy Industries, which calls itself “the largest gang reentry and rehabilitation program in the world.” For thousands of people released from prisons and gangs each year, Homeboy offers jobs, training and social services, including access to dozens of therapists, tutors and tattoo removal specialists.

Their grand vision includes Hope Village, which would provide affordable, transitional housing along with new spaces for job training, mental health counseling and substance abuse treatment. The planned site for the village is beneath what would be one of the towers that would support the proposed gondola from Union Station to Dodger Stadium.

In 2020, Boyle and California Endowment CEO Robert Ross co-signed a letter to Metro and the city, opposing the gondola and characterizing it as “a tourist attraction for the benefit of private enterprise.”

The gondola, first launched by former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt six years ago, is scheduled for its first public vote on Wednesday.

A Metro committee will consider a staff recommendation to advance the project to Metro's board of directors. The project has an expected construction cost of up to $500 million and a projected opening in 2028, and with the attraction that the gondola would offer free rides to fans while relieving congestion and pollution in access to the stadium, which It often gets congested.

An affirmative vote Wednesday could set the stage for Metro's board to approve the environmental impact report next week, the first in what would be a series of approvals required from a variety of public agencies.

The Metro board could also have voted last month, which is what a Metro official suggested would happen during a public meeting in December. But proponents don't want to push the vote unless they have the votes, and the votes didn't come last month.

This month?

Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass chairs the board and appoints three of the other 12 voting members. Bass has not said how she would vote. When my colleague, Rachel Uranga, asked the mayor's press secretary, Clara Karger, what position Bass had taken on the gondola, Karger said she didn't know and that Bass had been busy dealing with the effects of the waves from the storms.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes Dodger Stadium and surrounding neighborhoods and who also serves on Metro's board of directors, declined an interview request from Uranga. Instead, a spokeswoman provided a totally evasive 77-word statement from Solis.

The only politician who says much about the gondola is Councilwoman Eunisses Hernández, whose district also includes the Dodger Stadium area. Hernández is not part of Metro's board of directors.

If the Metro board approves the environmental impact report, the city council would have a say, but Hernández has filed a motion that would prevent the council from considering the project until the city completes its own study comparing the gondola to alternative means of improving transit to Dodger Stadium, including expanded bus service from Union Station and regional park-and-ride type service. operated successfully at the Hollywood Bowl.

Hernandez told me that he also wants to see guarantees, not just promises, that the construction and operation of the gondola would be financed with private funds, so that taxpayers would not have to pay even a portion of the project.

Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt appears in Lisbon, Portugal, on November 14, 2023.

(Lukas Schulze/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Additionally, while gondola advocates say they are presenting a transit project and nothing more, Hernandez said he wants proponents to be upfront about any vision of an eventual development of the Dodger Stadium parking lot, which McCourt co-owns.

“In this part of the city, for too long, many voices have been left unattended and unprotected,” Hernandez said. “We are not going to advance this project at the expense of the community to benefit one person and enrich them.”

Are you referring to McCourt?

“Yes,” she said.

Have your allies reached out to you?

“Yes,” she said. “With all his strength”.

With pro- and anti-gondola forces working to rally community support, it would be a good man to have Father Boyle on his side. Boyle told me that he recently met with McCourt.

Boyle, who wrote against the gondola four years ago and whose CEO raised serious concerns in a letter to Metro last year, now says he is “neutral.” His concerns that the gondola would hinder the Hope Village proposal, he said, have been resolved for some time.

So why the meetings with McCourt?

“We didn't talk about the gondola,” Boyle said. “We're trying to launch a campaign for Hope Village, so we want a lot of people to help us with that.”

Did McCourt offer to help in exchange for Boyle dropping his opposition to the gondola?

“Fortunately,” Boyle said, “that never came up in the four conversations I had with him.”

McCourt spokesman Brin Frazier did not respond to a message asking which people McCourt had spoken to about the gondola project, or at least how many people.

While several government agencies vote at the polls, Boyle said he would not participate this time.

“My hope is that elected officials do their job and do their due diligence and if they have problems, they will address them,” he said. “That depends on them.

“It's not a battle we're going to fight.”

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