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How Legal Challenges Are Affecting Work On 4 LA Rail Lines

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We all want more transit lines in LA, right? Well, not all of us. There are now at least four legal attempts to stop, stymie, or redo subway and light rail projects in LA. While the Gold Line extension into the San Gabriel Valley is currently court challenge-free, it endured at least half a dozen lawsuits (by the same property owner) before they were all settled. The latest legal news comes in regard to the Expo Line, which is now open to La Cienega, opening to Culver City this summer, and under construction to Santa Monica. A group of homeowners in Cheviot Hills sued to put the light rail underground (which would be cost-prohibitive)--they lost their initial case, lost their appeal, and are now attempting to have the state supreme court hear their argument that Metro violated the California Environmental Quality Act by mucking up their environmental studies, Streetsblog reports. The group argues that Metro considered traffic impacts for 2030, but should have looked at present-day traffic. The supreme court could choose not to take the case, leaving the homeowners (known as Neighbors for Smart Rail) without really any other options, or they could take it. If NFSR wins, Metro would have to do another environmental impact report (a lengthy process) and likely put a stop to work. There are dozens of workers already digging up sewer lines, clearing the Expo right of way, and starting to construct stations, but NFSR is digging in with hopes of stopping all that (for whatever reason). A judge previously ruled that NFSR would have to pay Metro's legal fees, but Metro mysteriously tells us they currently aren't owed any fees. Whether that means NFSR already paid up, or doesn't have to pay yet, Metro isn't saying.

Metro tells us "the pendency of a CEQA lawsuit does not prevent the MTA from moving forward with a project." Which makes sense, since Metro officials today are celebrating the start of preliminary work on the Crenshaw Line, a light rail connecting the Green Line to the Expo Line, with a potential future connection to LAX. Activist Damien Goodmon's group, the Crenshaw Subway Coalition, sued the project and the Federal Transit Administration, for approving the project, because they want the entire eight and a half mile line put above- or underground. They object to an at-grade portion in Park Mesa Heights, and want a station in the center of Leimert Park (which will be added if a station can be constructed within the project's $1.75 billion budget).

Goodmon's lawsuit was transferred to a federal court in March at the behest of the FTA, Courthouse News reported. Apparently, Metro is confident enough that they threw a press conference today to announce the start of advanced utility relocation work for the train. Meanwhile, the CSC meets tonight at 6 pm at the DWP facility on Crenshaw to discuss their next moves.

Now, of course there is Beverly Hills's war over the Purple Line extension to Westwood. The school district sued the project last week because Metro intends to tunnel underneath their high school in order to reach a station at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars in Century City. BHUSD believes it's unsafe to tunnel underneath the school and wants to reroute the train to a stop on Santa Monica Boulevard. The city of Beverly Hills also sued--for the same reason, but also for alleged violations of CEQA related to construction near the La Cienega station. The accusations about La Cienega seem like a real stretch (basically they're upset at being inconvenienced over construction, or they claim that's what they don't like), but we're waiting to hear back from Metro if the suits will impact the groundbreaking.

Finally, there's the Regional Connector project, a two-mile underground line in DTLA that will link the Gold, Blue, and Expo Lines together to allow transfer-less trips around the county. Thomas Properties Group, which owns properties above RC's proposed tunnel, doesn't like the construction method Metro will use to dig underneath Flower Street and has sued--Metro and TPG released a joint statement last week explaining things:

Recently Metro has held productive meetings with Thomas Properties Group and the parties are endeavoring to resolve their issues soon. However, any alternate construction method to be undertaken by Metro will require additional technical studies, which will take several additional weeks before an alternate method can be finalized. The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires objections to be filed within 30 days of any decisions or approvals. Given this compressed time frame, Thomas Properties Group has filed a lawsuit to preserve its rights under CEQA. Metro is fully aware of this filing and its purpose and has committed to continue to meet with Thomas Properties Group to seek alternate construction methods. Thomas Properties Group fully supports the Regional Connector as a key component of our public transportation network and the parties are committed to reaching a swift and reasonable resolution of their issues. Meanwhile, Metro blog The Source says that recent legislation intended to fasttrack environmental litigation aimed at large projects will likely not affect projects like the Westside subway.
· Expo Line Phase II Archives [Curbed LA]
· Crenshaw Line Archives [Curbed LA]
· 90210's Way or the Highway Archives [Curbed LA]
· Regional Connector Archives [Curbed LA]