A news conference was held in Palms on Monday morning with elected officials and transit officials urging the California Supreme Court to allow construction to continue on the second phase of the Expo Line light rail.
A group that has sued the project has filed a motion asking for a stay in construction. A decision by the Supreme Court is expected within weeks.
“We believe we will win the ultimate decision in this case,” said County Supervisor and Metro Board Member Zev Yaroslavsky. “But we want the court to understand the impact of their decision.”
Yaroslavsky and other officials said that shutting down work on the project would cost at least $90 million and result in the loss of 817 construction jobs.
“This is a stunt that could kill the project,” Yaroslavsky said, citing the likely cost of re-doing environmental studies and the resulting delays. He added that the threat of a shutdown was sufficient that in addition to filing a motion to prevent a shutdown, officials wanted to hold a news conference to clarify what's at stake.
“To stop this project a year after we started it is just crazy,” Yaroslavsky said.
The first phase of the Expo Line between downtown Los Angeles and Culver City opened earlier this year. The second phase between Culver City and Santa Monica began construction last year, with grading and bridgework activity increasing in recent months up and down the 6.6-mile alignment.
The background: Neighbors for Smart Rail sued the Exposition Line Construction Authority in 2009, alleging the final environmental impact studies for the project's second phase were inadequate. In particular, the group alleged that traffic impact studies were flawed because future traffic conditions were used instead of existing ones.
The case has been heard in both Superior Court and the Court of Appeals and both courts ruled against Neighbors for Smart Rail. Neighbors for Smart Rail then appealed the case to the California Supreme Court, which agreed to hear it, defining this issue (case summary here):
This case includes the following issue: Under the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Resources Code, ? 21000 et seq.), is a public agency required to evaluate a project's potential traffic and other impacts using a baseline consisting of the existing physical conditions in the affected area during the period of environmental review, or may an agency elect to evaluate the impacts of a project only against projected future conditions?
In the past, the group has called for the line to be built underground in the area near Cheviot Hills and the Westside Pavilion, citing concerns that crossing gates will harm traffic on streets such as Overland Avenue. The group's website also says that the project can't be built “right,” it should be killed in favor of the Westside Subway Extension.
The Neighbors for Smart Rail website says that the group “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.”
Yaroslavsky also noted that many people in the area surrounding the future second phase of the Expo Line voted for the Measure R sales tax increase in 2008 that is funding the project. He said that those who support having the Westside connected to the regional transit network far outnumber the relatively few homeowners who have been fighting the Expo Line for 20 years — and he noted that the lawsuit ultimately will not result in the Expo Line being built underground.