COLORADO AVE — As many observers expected, a coalition of Westside homeowner groups has filed a lawsuit challenging the thoroughness of the environmental study recently approved for the Expo Light Rail line that transportation officials hope will connect Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles by 2015.

In a suit filed March 5 against the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, the group Neighbors for Smart Rail argues the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for phase two of the project, which covers the link from Culver City to Downtown Santa Monica, is inadequate because it failed to analyze the traffic impacts of several at-grade crossings in West L.A.

The planned rail line would cross Westwood Boulevard and Overland Avenue at-grade before crossing the I-405 freeway near Pico Boulevard. In Santa Monica the rail line would travel down Colorado Avenue to reach its final stop at Fourth Street.

Mike Eveloff, the president of Tract 7260 Association, one of the homeowners’ groups that signed on to the suit as a plaintiff, said the challenge isn’t an attempt to stop the rail line.

“We’re not an anti-rail group,” he said. “Our lawsuit exclusively has to do with the fact that the environmental impact report was fatally flawed,” he said.

Among its deficiencies, he said, was a failure to analyze the proposed rail line’s traffic effects on major thoroughfares like Overland Avenue, Westwood Boulevard, Pico Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard in the neighborhoods east of the I-405 freeway where the line crosses several busy streets. The law suit alleges the EIR is inadequate under California’s Environmental Quality Act.

In a response to the lawsuit on Friday, the Expo Authority said it conducted “extensive environmental studies” and “intends to defend the project vigorously.”

“Given the long and careful planning history, and the urgent need for traffic relief, we are extremely disappointed that a small faction of the community seeks to delay the extension of a project that has the overwhelming support of the communities on the Westside,” the statement read.

Mayor Pro Tem Pam O’Connor, who also sits on Metro’s board, said the lawsuit was “not unexpected.”

“When you do a schedule you realize that there are complications that may arise,” she said.

Darrell Clarke, president of the group Friends 4 Expo Transit, said overturning an EIR in court is always difficult, and in this case will be even more challenging because Expo planners have long assumed they would be sued and accordingly took special precautions.

“It’s a big hill to climb for a plaintiff, particularly under these circumstances,” he said.

Eveloff, though, said he expects a judge to overturn the EIR at a trial that he said should take place within six months.

“I expect that the judge will look at it and say the EIR did not adequately disclose the impacts,” he said. “At that point we expect that the decision makers will see what their true alternatives are.”

In addition to Tract 7260, the other groups involved in the litigation are: the West of Westwood Homeowners’ Association, the Westwood Gardens Civic Association and the Cheviot Hills Homeowners’ Association.

nickt@smdp.com

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