The Los Angeles City Council requested a comprehensive study of vehicle traffic and transit needs around Dodger Stadium on Friday to in part assess a proposed gondola that would take people from Union Station to the stadium.  

The motion, approved in an 11-2 vote, bars the council and city agencies from approving any permit applications connected to the gondola until the traffic study is complete. The $500 million project, which would ferry people between Union Station and Dodger Stadium, still needs approval from a host of regulatory agencies.

The proposed 1.2-mile aerial cable car would ferry people from Union Station, across neighborhoods and highways, to events at Dodger Stadium in Elysian Park. The privately funded project was conceived by businessman Frank McCourt, the billionaire former LA Dodgers baseball team owner and current part owner of parking lots around the stadium.

The motion will still allow agencies to continue reviewing applications for any permits, land use changes, and entitlements tied to the gondola proposal. Those applications, along with the merits of the proposal, would have to be reviewed and approved by city agencies like the Department of City Planning, the LA Fire Department, and the General Services Department before the project gets city clearance to move ahead. 

When the motion was introduced in January, it originally said the city would indefinitely pause any consideration of the proposed gondola – called the LA Aerial Rapid Transportation project – pending recommendations from the traffic study. LA City Councilmember Eunisses Hernandez, who introduced the motion, told LA Public Press she changed the language of the motion to make its intent clearer. While the city can review applications related to constructing a proposed $500 million stadium gondola, it’s barred from approving any permits or land use changes, according to Hernandez.

“After reading the motion we initially drafted, for me it wasn’t clear enough what process we wanted to take,” Hernandez told LA Public Press. “The amendment clarifies that the city cannot take any action on approving or issuing permit clearances, land use changes and other general plan amendments until that traffic study is done.”

Hernandez’s First Council District includes Dodger Stadium and communities like Highland Park, Elysian Valley, and Westlake.

Residents, business owners, and park advocates have fiercely opposed a project they say will, among other things, snatch up public park space, displace residents, and lead to development that would decrease affordable housing in the area.

Last month, the gondola proposal cleared a crucial regulatory hurdle when the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) board approved the project’s environmental impact report.

Metro can give final approval to the project only after other regulatory agencies, including LA City Council, have reviewed and endorsed the gondola proposal.

Hernandez said in the interview Zero Emissions Transit, the nonprofit owner of the gondola proposal, can submit applications for permits and items but the city won’t take any action on them until the council reviews recommendations from the traffic study.

Zero Emissions Transit spokesman Nathan Click (who previously served as communications director for California Gov. Gavin Newsom) said in a statement the organization was pleased with the vote.

“We are grateful the motion was clarified to ensure the project will continue processing,” the statement said. “City agencies have been diligently involved from day one ensuring the project meets city standards, and we look forward to that continued collaboration as the project moves forward.”

Tany Ling, a Chinatown homeowner and member of the Stop The Gondola Coalition, said in an interview she felt optimistic after the vote but cautious about assuming the traffic study would lead officials to deny the proposal.

“The people we’re up against are wealthy and powerful and aren’t going to let this drop so easily,” Ling said outside council chambers after the vote. “Do I wish [the council] just killed the project, of course, Any delay is good, but does give the other side time to do more wheeling and dealing.”

Dozens of Ling’s coalition members filled the council chambers Friday and held signs reading “Protect Chinatown” and “Real Transit Solutions Now.”

Councilmembers John Lee, who represents the twelfth district, and Tim Mcosker, who represents the Fifteenth District, voted against the measure. Council President Paul Krekorian, the Second District representative and also a Metro board member, abstained from voting.

Councilmembers Monica Rodriguez (Seventh District) and Kevin De Leon (Fourteenth District) were absent from the vote. 

The motion approved Friday also directs city staff to offer recommendations for solving vexing traffic issues around the stadium by looking at how venues like the Rose Bowl, Hollywood Bowl, and Universal Studios handle vehicle traffic and large crowds.

It’s been more than three decades since the city studied traffic alleviation around the stadium. Transit officials released the Dodger Stadium Transit Access Study in 1990, assessing various transit options for getting fans to stadium events, including an automated train, a light rail line, and a gondola tramway. 

While the automated train was projected to carry up to 18,000 people per hour, the gondola was estimated to carry up to 2,800 people per hour and cost $15 million (or about $34 million in 2024 dollars) to build.

In a statement, Hernandez said the city doesn’t have an accurate assessment of traffic issues or transit needs around the stadium and shouldn’t assume the gondola would solve them.

“The communities that surround Dodger Stadium already bear the burden of the traffic congestion and increased pollution that stems from an increasingly year-round schedule of events at the stadium,” the statement said. “We owe the public a real analysis of the issues and evidence-based solutions before the city takes up a project that has not demonstrated a credible funding plan or provided a guarantee that taxpayers won’t be on the hook for this project.”

The regulatory hurdle faced by gondola sponsors

In February, the Metro board voted to approve the project’s environmental impact report (EIR), a mandated statement outlining the gondola’s potential impacts to residents and the natural environment.

Though it approved the EIR, the gondola proposal needs approval from the LA City Council, the California Department of Transportation, the Federal Highway Administration, the California State Park and Recreation Commission, and the California Transportation Commission, according to Metro.

But two of those agencies refuted that chain of regulatory responsibility.

A Federal Highway Administration spokesman told LA Public Press the agency isn’t required to review any potential airspace agreement for the gondola because the line would pass over a section of Highway 110 that is state, not federal, property.

The federal agency said the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) would be responsible for that section, but CalTrans spokesman Eric Menjivar said in a statement the state agency isn’t part of the review process for the gondola. 

Metro didn’t respond to a request for comment on the discrepancy by the time of publication.

The California State Parks and Recreation Commission said in a statement it will review the gondola and that any project approval requires a revision to the general plan for LA State Historic Park, which gondola structures would be built on. When that process begins, the agency would host a hearing on any changes and offer other opportunities for the public to weigh in, the statement said. 

Ling, the Chinatown resident, said her coalition members will continue their opposition to the project. 

Ling, who lives across the street from the proposed Broadway junction for the gondola, said her concern is heightened because the current route would have the gondola pass just twenty-feet from her rooftop.

“I lost sleep over it, and had a lot of trouble going to sleep for three years,” Ling said. “It really gets to you. I don’t want to move. I chose where I live for a reason.”