DOWNTOWN — A coalition of Westside homeowners were disappointed Tuesday when a Los Angeles Superior Court judge dismissed all challenges to an environmental study for the Santa Monica portion of the Expo Light Rail line project.
In the decision, Judge Thomas McKnew countered each of the objections raised by the Neighbors for Smart Rail in a lawsuit filed March 5, 2010, which argued that the Environmental Impact Report for the second phase of the Expo Light Rail line was inadequate because it did not address the traffic impacts of several at-grade crossings in West L.A.
At issue was the proposed line’s traffic impacts on major roads like Overland Avenue, Westwood Boulevard, Pico Boulevard and Olympic Boulevard in the neighborhoods east of the 405 Freeway.
The chosen route would cross each of these busy streets.
The suit specifically targeted the methodology of the report, accusing the Expo Authority of an “abuse of discretion,” meaning that it either proceeded unlawfully or could not support its decisions with substantial evidence.
Neither was the case, McKnew noted.
“Expo carefully made its decision concerning the project with its environmental consequences in mind,” he wrote in the decision.
The Expo Authority not only fulfilled its obligation in the FEIR, it exceeded them in some instances by including additional analysis of its findings juxtaposed against certain state standards, McKnew continued.
Other objections, including a potential slowing of emergency response vehicles, reduced parking and excessive noise, were all mitigated within the report, and fell within the realm of the law.
In a statement released by Michael Eveloff, president of one of the NFSR member organizations, Tract 7260, the group vowed to appeal the trial court’s decisions.
“While NFSR would have preferred to prevail at the trial court level, NFSR has always believed that the issue would be resolved at the appellate level as either side was certain to appeal the trial court’s decision,” the statement reads.
The group remains dedicated to preventing what it sees as a project that will result in gridlocked traffic, danger to children and an impediment to first responders.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a proponent of the project, portrayed the court win as the last major hurdle for the project.
“Opponents of this project are a minority of the people who live in the Expo corridor and have tried every way they could to try and slow this project down and kill it,” Yaroslavsky said. “This was there last best hope to get the judge to overturn the work that has been done.”
The project is still on track for completion in 2015, said Councilmember Pam O’Connor, partially because progress was made even as the court battle raged on.
Between the day the lawsuit was filed and its conclusion Tuesday, the Expo Authority ran a Request for Proposal process and chose between two design firms so that the project wouldn’t be delayed, O’Connor said.
On Feb. 3, 2011, the Expo board approved the selection of Skanska/Rados, a joint venture firm, as the Phase 2 design-build contractor, according to Gabrielle Collins, spokeswoman for Expo.
“We anticipate that the design-build contract will be awarded in March,” she wrote in an e-mail.
After the contract is awarded and the design-build team has had time to mobilize, the Expo Authority will begin the final design process, and begin constructed later this year, Collins wrote.
Phase 2 of the project is expected to cost $1.5 billion, and extend over 7 miles from Culver City to its terminus in Santa Monica.