Q & A:
On the Front Lines of
Subway Construction in the Miracle Mile
An interview with Mindy Lake and Michael Cortez,
members of Metro’s Construction Relations Team
After almost two years of advanced utility relocation (and a couple more to go at Wilshire and Fairfax), the main event will begin soon at La Brea and Wilshire as preparations are made for underground subway construction. The Purple Line extension from Western Avenue to La Cienega Boulevard is a massive and complex endeavor. The multi-billion dollar, nine-year construction project through one of the most densely populated urban corridors in the country is fraught with potential impacts on nearby residents and businesses. It is the job of Mindy Lake [below right] and Michael Cortez [below left] to serve as a liaison between Metro and the community and help ensure that the mitigations implemented during the subway work go as well as possible.
Lake and Cortez talk about their jobs, the proper way to make a complaint about subway construction, and Metro’s Eat-Shop-Play program to support local business during the building process. They were interviewed June 8, 2015. The interview has been edited for length.
Q: What exactly are your jobs?
Lake: My official title is Senior Construction Relations Officer, Section One, West Segment. Which, in plain English, means I handle construction-related issues for the Purple Line Extension for the area west of Hauser Boulevard to La Cienega Boulevard, which includes the Fairfax station and the La Cienega station.
Cortez: And I’m the Senior Construction Relations Office for the East Segment. I cover everything east of Hauser to Western, which includes the La Brea station, the Crenshaw staging yard, and the tie-in to the station at Wilshire and Western.
Q: Mindy, what are your qualifications for this job?
Lake: Over 25 years of community activity and activism stemming back to the mid-1980s in this neighborhood, particularly west of Fairfax: from organizing the first Neighborhood Watch to being a founding member of Mid City West Community Council. I was also the co-chair of the Wilshire Division’s Community-Police Advisory Board for four years. I was born in the neighborhood and went to schools here. I’m basically a dyed-in-the wool community person. I took this job because I thought I had the qualifications to understand the needs of this community – and I thought I could be helpful to Metro with this transformative construction project.
Q: Michael, what are your qualifications?
Cortez: I have over 11 years experience working in the public sector. I worked many years for the Community Redevelopment Agency in the Hollywood and Central region. Prior to that I worked for two elected officials. I was born and raised in Canoga Park. I was president of my neighborhood council and engaged in community activism in the Valley. I believe in the importance of community engagement in the planning process all the way through to the construction of a project.
Q: Now that that a principal contractor –a design-builder in Metro jargon – has been engaged, how do you two specifically fit into the construction process?
Lake: We liaison with all of the entities connected to subway construction. We work with Metro’s project management; we work with community relations; we work with the community; we work with the design-builder and the sub-contractors still working on utility relocations. Our job is to keep an eye on what’s going on so that we can deliver that information to the community – and be available when there are issues or complaints. We try to stay out in front of everything so that we can anticipate if something might create a problem for the community.
Q: It seems that one of the problems Metro sometimes had keeping the noise disturbances under control during nighttime utility relocation work was the large number of sub-contractors involved. Each contractor had to be educated on proper noise mitigation methods. Will it be easier for you to control this problem now that you are dealing with only one main contractor for the actual subway construction?
Lake: Absolutely. I think the challenge with the utility relocation sub-contractors was that what we asked of them was so much more than they were accustomed to providing. It required us to really stay on top it. We had a heightened degree of mitigation measures we were implementing. It was a learning curve for them and a trust issue for us. We had to work very closely with them to make sure the understood the community they were working in.
Q: Speaking of which, how do you find this community to work in?
Cortez: I would say I’ve been able to work well with the community. I’ve started to build relationships with various organizations. I go the community council meetings. I meet with folks individually. I want people to have a face they know during the construction process. Here in the La Brea area I’ve been introducing myself to all the businesses. I am available to them and try to keep them informed. Like Mindy, I respond to anyone who contacts me by phone or email in 24-hours or less.
Q: Let’s talk about complaints. If residents or businesses are having issues with dust, noise, construction traffic, or any other subway related problems, what is the proper way to get Metro’s attention?
Lake: We have are hotline phone number, 213-922-6934, which can translate into an immediate, real-time response if its an urgent construction related matter. Or we can be reached by email. [See below.]
Q: What determines urgency and prompts a real-time response?
Lake: My definition of urgent, for example, would be if you were experiencing an extraordinarily loud construction disturbance at night or your driveway was blocked by a truck during construction. You would call the project hotline; go through the menu options; indicate that it is urgent; a live operator will come on the line; you tell them where you are located and what the issue is; they would call or text me or Michael; and we would respond right then and there.
Q: And then you or Michael would contact someone at the construction site to find out what’s going on?
Lake: Yes. Or, in my case, I live in the Miracle Mile, right here in the construction zone, so, often I’ll just go to the site to investigate the problem.
Q: That was a big mistake, wasn’t it? Moving into the Miracle Mile when you took this assignment? You didn’t put much distance between yourself and your job.
Lake: (Laughing.) It speaks on some level to either my insanity or my commitment to this project. I think it’s the only fair way, that when I say to someone that I know what you’re going through, that I can be perfectly honest.
Cortez: When there is a complaint or problem, we sit down with the contractor and discuss the situation – and remind them to continue to implement our mitigation efforts.
Q: So, simply put, the best way to complain is to call the project hotline: 213-922-6934.
Lake: It’s been a very effective method. The response time is excellent. Michael and I are on top of it. We also cover for each other if one of us is indisposed.
Q: The Miracle Mile Residential Association has a keen interest in supporting small businesses and restaurants. Obviously, the enterprises located closest to the staging sites at La Brea and Fairfax are going to be economically impacted by subway construction. Metro has created a marketing program called Eat Shop Play to promote these businesses to help counteract any damage to their bottom line. What sort of response have you been getting from Miracle Mile business owners?
Lake: Once they wrap their heads around the idea of what we’re doing – and understand that this is something we’re providing to them at no cost – they are quite engaged. They have to grasp the potential construction impacts; right now they’re not really feeling it. So, we’re trying to be pro-active and educate them. Once we get through that process, they are very interested in participating. We’ve had very positive responses.
Q: Have you gotten many Miracle Mile businesses to participate in the program?
Cortez: Yes, so far almost 50 businesses in the La Brea, Fairfax, and La Cienega areas.
Q: I know you promote the Eat Shop Play program online, but will you promote it in other media outlets – like local newspapers?
Lake: Yes, we’ve also bought pole banners for Wilshire Boulevard. We’ll also advertise on billboards and bus shelters. Our official launch for the program is July 1st. That is why we want to reach out to all of our community partners. We want to get word out.
Metro Purple Line Extension
24-hour telephone: 213-922-6934
Mindy Lake (west segment; Hauser Blvd. to La Cienega Blvd.):
Michael Cortez (east segment; Hauser Blvd. to Western Ave.):
Metro Purple Line Extension links:
“Sleepless in the Miracle Mile” Update:
The MMRA collected nearly 800 signatures in our petition campaign to stop nighttime subway construction in the Miracle Mile. Although we have not yet succeeded in stopping all nighttime work (which we continue to oppose) our well-publicized campaign did motivate Metro to limit or rearrange nighttime construction to minimize complaints.
Now that a prime subway contractor has been engaged – Skanska, Traylor and Shea (STS) – officers of the MMRA are meeting regularly with representatives of Metro, STS, the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, and the Los Angeles Police Commission (which issues permits for nighttime construction).
The MMRA is adamant that the community have a direct voice in how subway construction in general is conducted in the Miracle Mile, including: the selection of haul routes; sound mitigation at the staging yards; loss of public parking; and protecting our small business and restaurants.
The residents of the Miracle Mile welcome the Purple Line subway extension. The MMRA will work closely with all parties involved to help manage the impacts on our community – while continuing our efforts to stop the noise disturbances of nighttime work.