LOS ANGELES — The Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority will move full steam ahead with the second phase of a rail line into Santa Monica in light of a court decision handed down Tuesday that rejected a neighborhood group’s lawsuit against the project.
The Second District California Court of Appeal sided with Expo against the community organization Neighbors for Smart Rail, which sued to stop progress on the second section of the 6.6 mile line on environmental grounds. The second phase will connect Culver City to Santa Monica.
The group, which lost both of its court contests to date, has already declared its intention to take the case to the California Supreme Court.
Neighbors For Smart Rail challenged an environmental document for the project because estimates of the project’s impact on the traffic and air quality were based on conditions that planners expected to find almost 20 years in the future rather than what existed when the document was drafted in 2009.
In doing so, the group leaned heavily on a series of appellate court cases that rejected the use of future conditions as a baseline for an environmental impact report.
The Second District California Court of Appeal discounted that argument entirely, saying that an analysis of how the light rail line impacts existing traffic and air quality conditions would “yield no practical information” given that the train won’t even begin running until 2015 at the earliest.
“An analysis of the project’s impacts on anachronistic 2009 traffic and air quality conditions would rest on the false hypothesis that everything will be the same 20 years later,” according to the decision.
The ruling came as a surprise to Terri Tippit, founder of Neighbors For Smart Rail.
“NFSR strongly disagrees with the determination because we feel it’s inconsistent with the appellate court’s decision,” Tippit said. “This puts the courts in conflict.”
The group thought it had a “slam dunk” case given the other appellate courts’ rulings in a 2010 case in Sunnyvale, Calif. and a 2011 case in Madera County, Calif. that held that using future baselines violated the California Environmental Quality Act.
But, in the court’s decision, the judges stated that they disagreed with the reasoning in both of those cases.
With multi-million dollar development projects based on the existence of a light rail line already in the planning stages, like Santa Monica’s own Bergamot Transit Village, the only recourse is to go to the California Supreme Court, Tippit said.
“What they’re forcing us to do is to go to the California Supreme Court, because it needs to decide what the law is,” Tippit said.
The first phase of the $2.4 billion project stretches from Downtown Los Angeles to Culver City. It opens for passengers on April 28, according to a release from Expo.
The second phase, which is the focus of Neighbors for Smart Rail’s lawsuit, consists of seven stops, three of which are in Santa Monica.
Current modeling projections estimate that by 2030 the line will transport 64,000 riders daily.