LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Nearly every day, roughly 45,000 people ride the Metro Gold Line.
The light rail runs 20 miles from East Los Angeles to Pasadena, serving 21 stations.
And starting next year, it will extend 12 more miles to Montclair, serving an additional six stations.
But before that happens, one woman from South Pasadena, who did not want to show her face, has a warning.
“Something bad can happen,” she said. “I found that out the hard way.”
The 83-year-old grandmother says in 2012 a man got off the Gold Line in South Pasadena, wandered into her neighborhood and broke into her home, where he robbed and brutally attacked her.
“And he just kept calling me names and hitting me,” she said. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘How many times can a person be hit in the head before they go unconscious?’ ”
That’s when she says her grandchildren arrived and the attacker took off. The woman suffered a concussion, broken nose and a perforated eardrum.
Police quickly arrested Alonzo Johnson, 52, in connection with the attack. Police said Johnson was running to get back onto the Gold Line.
Investigators said Johnson is suspected of committing at least five crimes near Gold Line stations. His ticket from downtown Los Angeles was paid for by a Skid Row charity.
“It’s easy for them to troll when they’re given that opportunity,” the woman said. “It doesn’t take them very long to get from one end of town to the other.”
Since the Gold Line began operation in 2003, police say, it has become a “conduit for criminals.”
“When they could take the bus, they could take a bicycle, but in this case right now they’re taking the train,” Cpl. Bill Earley of the South Pasadena Police Department said.
“We’ve had a huge increase of crime near the Gold Line station and in the general area since it’s opened up,” Earley said.
Police say the problem has exploded in the past year because of Proposition 47, which downgraded many theft and drug possession crimes from felonies to misdemeanors.
Both South Pasadena and much larger Pasadena say they’ve seen double-digit increases in burglaries, robberies and vehicle robberies.
Both departments say easy access to the Gold Line has given easy access to criminals.
A CBS2 news crew was with police when they arrested a man suspected of stealing expensive baby formula and coffee from a South Pasadena pharmacy.
Police said they also uncovered several syringes.
Officers said they found the man on his way to the Gold Line. He, according to police, had a Metro map sticking out of his back pocket.
Police said they arrested the man on outstanding warrants for drug possession, but normally would have to let him go because of Proposition 47.
“I think we’re handcuffed more than the suspects are,” Earley said.
But Metro officials say there’s been no data that shows any increase in crime or that criminals have been taking the Gold Line into South Pasadena.
“This is not an unsafe community by any means,” said Paul Gonzales, a Metro spokesman. “There is … nothing that could support an allegation that the Metro Gold Line brings criminals to South Pasadena.”
Despite what police say, Metro says federal data shows crime has actually gone down near the South Pasadena station.
“It has had a decreasing crime rate since 2007,” Gonzales said.
Regardless, communities like Azusa, where the Gold Line will extend, are embracing it and recently held a dedication ceremony for the project.
Supporters say it provides reliable public transportation, cuts down on traffic and leads to economic development, including in South Pasadena, where numerous shops and restaurants have gone up near the station.
But the grandmother CBS2 spoke with says the Gold Line also has a dark side people need to be aware of.
“We can’t all be prisoners in our own homes, so the only thing one can do is just be careful and cautious,” she said.
The man arrested in connection with the attack on the woman in this piece is awaiting trial.
Meanwhile, Metro says police should focus their frustration on Proposition 47 and leave the public transit system out of it.