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Big Names in Financial District Making Lawsuit Noises Over Regional Connector Construction Plan

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The Source reported late yesterday that the Metro Board of Directors has pushed a hearing for the Downtown Regional Connector rail line's environmental impact report to March to allow "more time to discuss construction techniques and impacts with the business community along Flower Street in downtown Los Angeles." The news followed a Streetsblog post from earlier in the day that hinted at possible complications for the project. Now we've turned up a letter showing that a group including the private California Club, real estate groups Thomas Properties Group and Hines, and the Westin Bonaventure hotel has raised major objections to the way the project will be constructed. The letter, dated February 14, 2012 and signed by attorneys for those groups, appears to be laying the groundwork for a lawsuit against Metro for failure to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The Regional Connector light rail, which is set to run through Downtown and link up the Expo, Blue, and Gold Lines (creating one-seat rides from Santa Monica to East LA and Long Beach to Azusa), has been humming along relatively smoothly since its inception, even releasing its EIR early.

The group is concerned about traffic impacts along Flower Street, where Metro plans to use a "cut and cover" construction technique. From the letter: "In particular, the use of cut and cover construction in the Financial District, instead of the use of the tunnel boring machine ("TBM") method, which is being used for virtually all other portions of the line, is highly impactful and consequently violates the California Environmental Quality Act (Pub. Res. Code §§ 21000 et seq.; 'CEQA'). The result of the proposed use of the cut and cover method can only be further delays and costs for the Project." It concludes that Metro "still has the opportunity to avoid these substantial impacts and the risk and delays of CEQA violations by incorporating TBM into the remaining blocks of the Project."

Last January, businesses along Central Avenue in Little Tokyo convinced Metro to tweak the plan--the agency rerouted the line around the corridor and found a different site at which to store the boring machine that will work under Second Street. The Flower Street group seems to want similar consideration, stating in the letter: "While future plans for the development of other districts in the downtown area, e.g., Little Tokyo, should certainly be encouraged, at the same time it must be recognized that the Financial District and its substantial infrastructure already exist and serve as a key economic driver for the entire region," adding, "Damaging the vitality of the downtown core will hinder, not promote, economic renewal in the whole area. As such, it is puzzling that [Metro] should focus its priorities elsewhere along the line."

This is not the first time a group of Downtown stakeholders has objected to the Regional Connector plans. Last fall, a mysterious group called the Community Connector Coalition, apparently led by billionaire Eli Broad, sent a letter to Metro requesting major changes that would help serve Bunker Hill. The other members of the group were never revealed (except for Angels Flight president John Welborne), so we have no idea if there's any overlap between the groups.

Meanwhile, the idea of suing Metro over the Regional Connector must pain at least one member of this current group. Thomas Properties Group (which owns City National Plaza and is a partner on the huge Wilshire Grand overhaul) is headed by Jim Thomas, a well known advocate for transportation infrastructure investment in Southern California and the founder of the advocacy group Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic. Sympathetic as Thomas Properties might be under normal circumstances, there is only so far they are willing to go. As the letter explains: "The Affected Property Owners are willing to work with [Metro] to find ways to make TBM effective and affordable. What they are not willing to do -- and what CEQA does not require them to do -- is to shoulder a huge economic burden of adverse project impacts when there are feasible methods that can be incorporated in the Project to avoid these impacts."

Regional Connector Letter
· Regional Connector final environmental study to be considered by Metro Board in March [The Source]
· Final Regional Connector Rail Line Report Released Early [Curbed LA]
· Eli Broad on Regional Connector Subway Line: Change It All [Curbed LA]