Challenge To Expo Line Extension Fails
A neighborhood group’s challenge to the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the planned extension of the Expo Line light rail system from Culver City to Santa Monica was rejected Monday by the California Supreme Court.
In a split decision, the court ruled that the environmental review challenged by Neighbors for Smart Rail (NFSR) was legally valid, although four members of the court said the review should have contained an analysis of the project’s traffic and air quality impacts near-term.
NFSR’s challenge stated that the Expo Authority’s EIR employed “exclusively” an analytic baseline of conditions in the year 2030 which failed to address impacts on existing environmental conditions in the project area. Also they noted that the EIR did not incorporate mandatory and enforceable mitigation measures for potentially significant spillover parking effects in the areas where stations were planned.
An opinion signed by three justices and authored by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar, stated that the second complaint did not hold up and that the first one did bring up a valid point that agencies should include an analysis of a project’s impact using existing conditions.
However, Werdegar’s statement observed that “Although we conclude the EIR fails to satisfy CEQA’s requirements in the first respect claimed, we also conclude the agency’s abuse of discretion was nonprejudicial. Under the particular facts of this case, the agency’s examination of certain environmental impacts only on projected year 2030 conditions, and not on existing environmental conditions, did not deprive the agency or the public of substantial relevant information on those impacts.”
Three other justices wrote an opinion in which they found that the Expo Authority’s analysis complied fully with the law.
One justice, Goodwin Liu, wrote a “concurring and dissenting opinion” in which he would have rejected the EIR because it failed to assess early impacts on traffic.
“I cannot confidently infer that the EIR’s failure to measure impacts
against a baseline of existing conditions did not deprive the public of relevant
information about the project,” Liu wrote.
But apart from disagreeing that the EIR’s use of a future conditions baseline was without prejudicial effect, Liu agreed with the rest of Werdegar’s statement.
A statement on the NFSR web site said the organization is “confused and disappointed” with the state high court’s ruling.
“NFSR’s attorneys are reviewing this unique opinion to understand what it means and does not mean. As we increase our understanding of the ruling and our options we will have further comments.”
NFSR is a California non-profit organization and is supported in part by West of Westwood Homeowners Association, Westwood Gardens Civic Association, Cheviot Hills Homeowners Association, and Tract 7260 Homeowners Association, as well as others.
The Expo Line light rail project’s Phase One from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City, opened in April 2012.
Phase One and the currently under construction Phase Two from Culver City to Santa Monica follow the original Southern Pacific rail line right of way along Exposition Boulevard. Phase Two is scheduled to open in 2015.