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MTS Lawsuit Over Doorway Creates Hassle For San Ysidro Passengers

MTS Lawsuit Over Doorway Creates Hassle For San Ysidro Passengers
MTS Lawsuit Over Doorway Creates Hassle For San Ysidro Passengers
MTS Lawsuit Over Doorway Creates Hassle For San Ysidro Passengers GUEST:Amita Sharma, investigative reporter, KPBS News

Businesses catering to the traveling public usually make company is a high-priority but a fight over a doorway at a transit point at the San Diego Mexico border is toughening travel for people each week. The dispute has triggered accusations of racism. Amita Sharma said it raised questions about a public agency is using the land and money. It is not right. They have to be open. She's talking about double doors behind the building. The entryway was blocked after a lawsuit was filed. She has to walk down a flight of stairs to catch her bus. I am disabled and it is very hard to go all the way down and all the way back. Seniors have come to rely on the doorway to go from the bus terminal behind McDonald's to the trolley station in front. Not only did hundreds of thousands of members of the traveling public and the public walking South across the border use it without any problem but so did MTS staff. The Metropolitan transit system sued the McDonald's building owner to shut the doorway permanently. Grand Central partner says the suit is less about a doorway and more about choking off business in his building. They have sought to isolate our building. The isolation started after MTS leased the property around the McDonald's building in late 2012 to a company called SYPS. The company was to provide ticket and retail booths as well as make other improvements. One of them included building a bathroom at the station. It looks like is a place for you would be the animals in a zoo. The bathroom is supposed to be enclosed and the company put the stalls and what looks like a cage and users must pay $.50. Because this is in a border community it is very different. I don't think they will try to voice this in another county. I think it is disrespectful. They called the bathroom a valuable amenity and built as the same standards as other public restrooms. The public transit agency was supposed to receive more than half of the profits on the lease and to date is received nothing. The lawyer blames zero profit on competition. She declined to record a interview but she says Grand Central is renting space to bus carriers that would be paying rent to the only leaseholder and ultimately MTS. She argues that Grand Central West is pushing for the door to remain open because it makes a property more valuable not out of compassion for elderly or disabled passengers. She says they allowed the door to be built more than a decade ago because Grand Central West was constructing an elevator in the back of the building and needed access. MTS never signed off on a permanent doorway. She says even if seniors and the handicapped had use the entryway there's no reason for Grand Central West to take the property right of from MTS without permission and compensation. Grand Central West has countersued MTS and the leaseholder. Taxpayers are covering the legal fees in the case. Joining me now is Amita Sharma. It is good to be here. We heard from Angelica Maria Flores Dias in your report that closing the store has made things very hard for her. Can you describe her new route? Before she would by her ticket in to the doorway just feet away and she would be on the bus terminal ready to catch the bus. Now she has a turnaround for the ticket vendor, return to the first floor, and walk around the building. The day that we were there she took the Eastside route . I've been their four times at the transit center and I've seen several passengers who don't know that route and and up walking on the west side of the building and that's a pretty rough path. There are a lot of wild cattle there and offering or soliciting passengers for rides and it's a steeper walk so if you are disabled or handicapped it slightly uphill. How many people would you say are affected by this? There are hundreds of people who go through the San Ysidro Transit Center each day. I would say hundreds of people each week are affected. How does MTS say leaving the doors harms them? They say that it's a property right issue. By extension it affects taxpayers. The doorway is 6 inches away from MTS property and just because the land is publicly owned, that doesn't mean it is there for the public to use. MTS is it allowed to decide how to use it because Grand Central West is taking that away from them. They say the public just can't simply walk across MTS property taxes that Grand Central West building. The lawyer for MTS has said that what Grand Central West has done is taken MTS property right from them without permission and without negotiation and without compensation. Grand Central West said that door has been used for years by the public and by MTS employees and at the end of the day, MTS itself to that property just outside that disputed door through eminent domain for $1.3 million of public money and now suddenly has a problem with the public using the property to get to that door. He things MTS shut the door because they see Grand Central West as a threat. What kind of a threat? Business competition for MTS is leaseholder which is partly owned by Greyhound. There are bus ticket lenders at least base inside the building. If that were the case of presumption is that those vendors would be leasing space from MTS is leaseholder outside of Grand Central West building on MTS property. So what is at stake in the lawsuit? If yes Grand Central West, they see a public agency has shown insensitivity and indifference are the travelers who happened to be poor and Mexican by cutting off access to a doorway that previously made life easier for senior and disabled travelers or just passengers who have a lot of luggage to carry. Grand Central West causes a puzzling policy. For MTS it is a matter of whether it is okay for letting someone cut a hole in the wall. Moving on to the other aspect of your story, CPS is a bathroom spilled at this facility are substandard. MTS counters that they're the same everywhere. Were you able to verify that? The bathroom is in a cage and the stall doors don't extend to the bottom of the Four so when people are using the bathroom you can see their pants and clothing one-stop at the ankles. I checked with the city of San Diego and was told that there are bathrooms like that overseen by the city. MTS compared the facility to one and sauna Monica but the example that they offered was not in a cage. It was surrounded by walls and no one can look inside. Id have an open top with a canopy roof. It wasn't quite the same. The argument that Grand Central West Steve Padilla made was it is shameful bathroom. One the MTS only sees fit to put in a community that is about 95% Mexican. What about charging for the bathrooms? There have been places across the state where municipalities or public agencies charge for using restrooms. I think in this case, what people find objectionable is the fact that you've got the stalls in a cage and then you are charging people to use them. Is adding insult to injury. Another aspect of the story is that MTS was supposed to receive 65% of profits from SYPS but have a received that money. You spoke to councilmember David Alvarez who was on the board of the MTS about this. What did he have to say about the deal? He says is fallen short of its original goals. He says he's monitoring the contract closely to see if there are any violations that -- and to see if they can get out of it. So David Alvarez supports reopening the door. What possibility is her that this will happen? Well, lawsuit has been filed. A counter lawsuit has been filed. Whether both sides come to a negotiation table to hash this out remains to be seen. It is not clear.

MTS Lawsuit Over Doorway Creates Hassle For San Ysidro Passengers
The dispute has triggered accusations of racism and raised questions about how a public agency is using its land, clout and money.
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Convenience and comfort are hallmarks of smooth travel.

But the credo has taken a hit at the San Ysidro Transit Center.

Every two months, Angelica Maria Flores Dias takes the bus home from the station to Las Vegas following a visit with family in Mexico.

After buying her ticket from the second floor of the McDonald’s trolley station building, Flores would then exit the double doors at the back to the bus terminal. But the doorway was blocked this summer after the Metropolitan Transit System sued building owner Grand Central West.

“It’s not right, they have to be open,” Flores said of the double glass doors.

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Now Flores has to walk down a flight of stairs, and head around the building to catch her bus.

“I’m disabled and it’s very hard to go all the way down and all the way back,” Flores said.

Scores of disabled people like Flores, seniors and children have come to rely on the doorway to go from the bus terminal behind McDonald’s to the trolley station in front. The doorway is near an elevator that helps people dodge — depending on the route they take — what can be a lengthy, jagged walk punctuated by solicitations from people offering rides.

“Not only did hundreds, if not thousands, of members of the traveling public and the public walking south across the border to Tijuana use it without any problem, but so did MTS’ own staff, including their executives,” said Grand Central West consultant Steve Padilla. “So did their own security personnel on a daily basis for years.”

MTS attorney Karen Landers said the public agency allowed the door to be built six inches away from its property more than a decade ago because Grand Central West was constructing an elevator in the back of its building and needed access. Afterward, MTS said, Grand Central agreed to put exit-only fire doors in the wall opening. Landers said MTS never signed off on a permanent doorway for travelers.

“It’s a piece of property that we own and we still have the right to decide how to use it,” Landers said.

Grand Central West partner Miguel Aguirre contends the conflict with MTS is less about a doorway and more about choking off business in his building, because the transit agency views him as a threat.

MTS acquired the property around the McDonald’s building in 2003 through eminent domain for $1.3 million. For years, the goal of a community-vetted plan was to make the building a passenger hub with traveler-friendly businesses on the second floor. It would also have an elevator for the disabled that would lead them to a door at the back of the building outside to an upgraded terminal.

But Aguirre said talks with MTS fizzled. He claims agency officials then turned vengeful.

“The community deserves a voice and deserves to enjoy some of the public investment that we slated to happen there, and not have to compete with big government teaming up with big business to crush the little guys there,” Aguirre said. “They have sought to isolate us.”

Aguirre said the isolation started shortly after MTS leased the property around the McDonald’s building in late 2012 to a company called SYPS — partly owned by Greyhound — without going to bid. MTS said it has no competitive bidding requirements for leases.

The deal with SYPS required the company to provide ticket and retail booths, as well as make other improvements. MTS was supposed to receive 65 percent of the profits each year. To date, MTS has received nothing.

“It has not been a winner for MTS,” said MTS board member David Alvarez.

Landers blames the zero profit on Grand Central West and the doorway. She said the company is renting to bus carriers that would otherwise be paying rent to its own leaseholder and, ultimately, MTS.

And Grand Central West consultant Padilla believes that competition may be the true reason for the dispute. He argues MTS has switched roles. He said that it is not behaving like a public agency whose job it is to serve its constituents, not inconvenience them. Instead, he asserts the agency is acting like a private land developer.

“I think Grand Central West is simply in their way,” Padilla said. “I think they don’t have a lot of regard and respect or even understanding of the long and dignified history of that border community.”

A bathroom built by Metropolitan Transit System leaseholder SYPS at the San Ysidro Transit Center is shown, Oct. 18, 2016.
Amita Sharma
A bathroom built by Metropolitan Transit System leaseholder SYPS at the San Ysidro Transit Center is shown, Oct. 18, 2016.

One example, Padilla cited, is the bathroom SYPS promised to build for passengers.

Drawings show the bathroom was supposed to be enclosed. But the company put the stalls in what looks like a cage and users must pay 50 cents. Padilla called the restrooms a sign of institutional racism.

“It looks like a place you’d feed the animals in a zoo,” Padilla said. “I really do believe that because this is in a border community, the attitude is very different. I don’t think they would foist this substandard facility in other parts of the county. I think it’s disrespectful. I wouldn’t want my grandmother in here using the restroom so people could see her pants around her ankles.”

MTS described the bathroom as a “valuable amenity” that was built to the same standards as some other public restrooms making it easier for security checks and maintenance.

Meanwhile, Grand Central West has countersued MTS and its leaseholder SYPS. MTS is paying for the leaseholder’s legal fees in the case.

MTS board member Alvarez said he hopes there’s a way for the door to be reopened for passengers to use freely without litigation.

“It will require negotiation,” Alvarez said.

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