Metro responds to Regional Connector legal challenges

UPDATE: The court hearing has been moved to Friday, July 19, at 8:30 a.m.

There are currently three state and three federal lawsuits being pursued against Metro challenging the environmental studies for the Regional Connector project, the 1.9-mile underground light rail line that will tie together the Blue Line, Expo Line and Gold Line in downtown Los Angeles. The three state lawsuits and three federal lawsuits have not been consolidated, but are proceeding separately in the same courtrooms before the same state and federal judges, respectively.

With a hearing on the state cases scheduled Tuesday in Department 15 of Los Angeles Superior Court, Metro has released the following statement about its motion to have the cases dismissed:

Downtown L.A. property owners Japanese Village Plaza, Bonaventure Hotel and Thomas Properties Group filed separate lawsuits against Metro last year claiming that Metro’s Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report (EIS/EIR) for the Regional Connector Project does not satisfy the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) or the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). CEQA requires state and local agencies to identify the significant environmental impacts of their actions and, if feasible, avoid or mitigate those impacts.

Contrary to the claims of these property owners, Metro took an extra step toward fulfilling the goals of CEQA by preparing an EIR even though the California Legislature included a provision within CEQA that exempts projects such as the Regional Connector from the requirements of CEQA.

Although Metro continues to vigorously defend the sufficiency of its EIS/EIR in the litigation brought by these three property owners, Metro has also filed a motion to dismiss the CEQA lawsuits based on a statutory exemption. The particular exemption provides that CEQA does not apply to “[f]acility extensions not to exceed four miles in length which are required for the transfer of passengers from or to exclusive public mass transit guideway or busway public transit services.” With its adoption of this exemption, the Legislature has conclusively determined that certain public mass transit projects should not be subject to the burdens of CEQA compliance, including CEQA litigation.

The Regional Connector project meets the requirements of this exemption, as the 1.9-mile rail connection is planned to transfer passengers through downtown Los Angeles between Metro’s fixed guideways comprising the Metro Gold, Blue and Expo Lines, creating seamless light rail travel to destinations throughout Los Angeles County.

CEQA requirements include public participation, informed decision-making, and mitigation of environmental impacts. Metro fulfilled all of these goals when it prepared its EIS/EIR for the Regional Connector Project. As part of this rigorous environmental process, Metro engaged the public and project stakeholders in an extensive public outreach process that resulted in numerous project changes in direct response to community concerns, including re-aligning the Project to minimize construction impacts in Little Tokyo.

The EIS/EIR process also resulted in the adoption of dozens of mitigation measures, including those for traffic control, noise and vibration and maintenance of property access during construction. The environmental document identifies measures that will minimize the project’s construction impacts to both residents and business owners.

Metro’s motion that seeks dismissal of these three CEQA lawsuits based on a statutory exemption in no way diminishes the value of the public process that led to the Project’s approval. That process resulted in changes to the project that are important to the community, and it resulted in the mitigation of environmental impacts. The Metro Board is committed to those project improvements and mitigation measures.

In summary, given the Legislature’s specific determination that projects like the Regional Connector are not subject to CEQA’s requirements, Metro should not be subject to costly litigation from these property owners. Metro has therefore asked the court to dismiss the CEQA lawsuits. In doing so, Metro is not seeking to repeal or change the project approval; all of the conditions of the project approval will remain in place. Nor is Metro seeking to avoid the requirements of CEQA or otherwise diminish the scope or application of CEQA. In fact, Metro has already undertaken a substantial and costly effort to prepare the EIS/EIR for the Regional Connector Project. Metro’s reliance on the statutory exemption under CEQA is a reasonable and prudent effort to avoid additional and unnecessary litigation costs.

Metro remains committed to working within the established legal framework to ensure that the Project moves forward in fulfilling the will of Measure R voters in improving rail connectivity through downtown L.A. and the entire L.A. County region.

14 replies

  1. No wonder things take forever to get built if they get at all. And this is a project that benefits the whole city.Amazing.

  2. Hopefully this can get sorted out and construction can begin soon. How will the travel time between union station and 7th st when the connector is open compare to how it is now when you transfer to the red line?

    • Sebastian;

      The project’s environmental study says that trip times would be 12 minutes between Union Station (currently serving the Gold Line) and Pico (the current Blue and Expo station) and 10 minutes between Pico/Aliso (currently Eastside Gold Line) and Pico (Blue and Expo).

      The big benefit is not having to transfer to get through downtown — i.e. no running from the Gold Line to the subway at Union Station and no running from Blue/Expo Lines to subway at 7th/Metro.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  3. Shameful! I would think the Village Plaza and Westin Bonaventure would be really excited about having stations right next to their establishments, but I guess they want to keep gouging people for overpriced parking…

  4. mark johnston,

    Measure R is a County Wide measure, therefore the funds should be used to benefit the entire County of LA, not just the City of LA. The Regional Connector is a project solely within City of LA. Why should the City of Torrance residents have to pay for something that benefits none of us?

    • The reason it’s called “Regional Connector” is because it benefits anyone in the region taking rail into Los Angeles — quicker and more frequent trains through downtown L.A. — the region’s number one job center — without having to transfer. I’m guessing there are people in Torrance who work or visit DTLA.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  5. So sad that lawsuits and NIMBYism holds up most, if not all, major public transit infrastructure projects. Too many lawsuits and third party objections hold up projects that can potentially benefit an entire region. It’s this hyper-individualistic (“me”) mentality makes an infrastructure projects move at a glacial pace in the United States. Meanwhile, the rest of the developed and developing worlds are passing us by.

  6. Re: Tommy’s comment on the Village Plaza and the Westin Bonaventure:

    Well, remember how, at one time, that big casino hotel next to the Artesia station had a gate leading from its parking lot to the station? And how they evidently decided that keeping Metro riders out of their parking lot was worth more to them than getting Metro riders into their gambling hall, and had everything welded shut?

    Not to mention LAWA, which is supposed to operate in the public interest, is evidently doing everything they can to prevent MetroRail from ever providing a single-seat, all-rail ride between Union Station and LAX.

    Then there were the naysayers, back in the late 1980s, who swore up and down that paying of potential Blue Line riders to drive the freeways would be more cost effective than actually running the line to benefit a supposed tiny handful of people foolish enough to take a trolley ride through Watts and Compton (a tiny handful that proved big enough to necessitate expanding the platforms by 50% at every intermediate station, in order to accommodate 3-car trains!)

    Let’s face it: just because Angelinos and the occasional Orange Countian like myself are climbing over each other to ride Metro Rail doesn’t mean that Southern California isn’t still full of trolley- and subway-haters.

  7. Tommy,

    I don’t think it’s so much that they don’t want the connector, rather they are concerned over the impacts of the construction on their properties/tenants for the few years before its operational. Bonaventure is concerned about construction outside of sleeping guest’s rooms at night, for example.

  8. I think this is because Thomas properties and the Bonaventure, first didn’t get the station they wanted and then they didn’t get the type of construction they wanted on those several blocks. When this is all said and done, Metro needs to go after them for the legal fees. And the Village ? Metro first went underground instead of at grade at Alameda and then secondly, modified the route in the station plaza area of Second/Alameda. What more do these people want? How about a lot more visitors/shoppers for their area who don’t have to come by car. What is wrong with these folks?

  9. @George H:

    This is about system integration and connectivity. A trip from the South Bay by Green Line / Blue Line can continue into the Gold Line to Pasadena and beyond or East LA and beyond without having to make any transfer.

    Pasadena will be connected to Santa Monica by a single train trip. Right now you have to transfer twice onto and off the subway to connect between the Blue/Expo Lines and the Gold Line.

    The physical location is in downtown LA but it unites all the light rail lines in the region that spread out to most of the County.