Brown’s AEG Bill Could Help Westside Subway Avoid Lawsuit Delays

I know I promised that we weren’t going to cover the fight over the Westside Subway routing debate until there was actual news, but the Subway won a huge victory earlier this week, and almost nobody noticed.

Changes to CEQA to protect Farmers Field from lengthy environmental challenges will also apply to the Westside Subway.

In paragraph 7 of the Daily News article on the signing of new CEQA legislation, Senator Alex Padilla (D-Van Nuys) notes that a new law will allow for expedited legal review for any lawsuits filed against the subways environmental documents.

That’s right, Assembly Bill  900, the companion bill to  SB 292 which gives Farmers Field protection against legal chalenges, provide the same protection to ANY project costing more than $100 million.  Thus, any lawsuit filed under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) against the Westside Subway will go directly to the Court of Appeals and be heard within 175 days.  I’m sure the Expo Construction Authority is jealous.

“The subway is a natural from a job-creation standpoint, from an investment standpoint, from an emission reduction and air quality standpoint,” said Senator Alex Padilla, the author of SB2 292, to the Daily News.

The reaction of the Beverly Hills School District, which has filed lawsuits concerning public records request before the environmental documents are even released, was not a happy one.  The School District has been gearing up for a legal challenge against the Subway’s environmental documents because they assume the Environmental Impact Report will claim that a route running underneath Beverly Hills High School will be safer and carry more passengers than a route that doesn’t run under the high school.

I spoke with Aaron Curtiss with the public relations firm Sitrick and Company who emailed me an official response from the School District, “Taxpayers are being asked to spend billions of dollars on a subway designed to serve Southern California for the next century, and a public project of this magnitude deserves careful, deliberate review in a transparent process. The Westside Subway Extension is too important a project to shortchange future generations.”

I expect we’ll be hearing a variation of this argument a lot in the coming years.

  • Jakewegmann

    “The Westside Subway Extension is too important a project to shortchange future generations.”

    No, it’s too important of a project for it to be delayed by years and for it to go overbudget by hundreds of millions and for its ridership to underperform by thousands of daily riders just because some hysterical people with some money and hopped up on nonsensical fears can launch a lawsuit and tie it up in the courts.

  • Anonymous

    Hence the reason I am very happy AEG led the push to expedite lawsuits concerning mega-projects. Do you know it will be 2.5 years since the approval of the FEIR of Expo Phase II that we’ll have a final ruling from the Appelate court (expected ruling on the Appeal is scheduled for May 2012). The project was approved in February 2010. This is very good news for the subway, and I think this will affect any potential lawsuits with the Crenshaw Line. Though, unfortunately, it passed after the lawsuits were made on the Expo Line and Gold Line Foothill extension.

  • Joel Epstein

    Smart piece and idea that I wish I’d written about first.  ;o)  Kudos.  Now, from your mouth to the Legislature’s and Courts’ ears.

  • Juan Matute

    Here’s a question I have: can those who would benefit from the subway (a group of transit riders), together as a class, file a complaint/suit against another party (e.g. BHSB, NFSR) for damages in delaying the transit facility?

    Can torts be used to provide balance to misuse of CEQA?

  • Jerard Wright

    My initial guess is no, unless any party has a direct contractual tie to the subway or transit project in say a Development who’s EIR and loan funding plan is based on that project being built and in operation by a certain timeframe.  Though to my cynical and sarcastic way of thinking this wouldn’t be a bad idea.

  • Guest

    Padilla is actually wrong.  I actually read the text of the legislation as it passed the houses and it requires that the expedited review process to be made known and approved by the governor well before the process can be initiated.

  • Guest

    For those who don’t want to read the long text of the bill (http://www.aroundthecapitol.com/billtrack/text.html?bvid=20110AB90093CHP), Latham & Watkins, writing from an albeit biased perspective, gives a pretty good breakdown of most of the provisions: http://www.lw.com/Resources.aspx?page=FirmPublicationDetail&publication=4354

    “[T]his modest bill does not apply to any project that already has an environmental impact report (EIR) in circulation.”

    Also, since this is both a state and federal document, there’s no reason City of Beverly Hills or anyone else couldn’t exercises their rights in federal court, where they might have a better shot.

    And by the way, I think this whole conversation about CEQA lawsuits and rail projects is exposing a lot of people on this board as nothing but train goo-goo lovers, and not really environmentalists.  There’s not one environmental organization in the state that applauded the passage of AB 900, and for good reason.  Aside from the backdoor politicking and just nasty way and reason the bill was passed, CEQA, with its many faults, was specifically created to address these massive projects that have a potential impact on the environment to ensure they’re done in a manner that is not harmful, short-term or long-term.  The reality is, must like those who like this and other projects, the people who currently engage in these debates could careless about anything but getting projects built, no matter how dirty or destructive.  I’m just saying, don’t be surprised when those most impacted see things a bit differently.  And know that with your comments, you’re only validating the stereotype of those who are rabidly pro these projects.

  • J. Ryan

    Couldn’t have said it better myself. 

  • John Mirisch

    The AEG bill is yet another example of the special-interest driven poor policy to which we have become accustomed from Sacramento.  This bill was an 11th hour special which sets a horrible precedent and which is grossly unfair.  I wrote about this in greater detail earlier in the month on Huffpost.

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-mirisch/the-farmers-field-saga-hi_b_951203.html

    Granting special CEQA timelines is wrong for massive developer-sponsored projects and it’s equally wrong for massive public works projects.  It totally defeats the purpose of the environmental protections CEQA is meant to provide the general public with.  Granting special provisions for the larger projects is, in fact, diametrically opposed to the spirit of protecting the public, as the larger projects have the biggest potential impacts.  Any CEQA reform should aim to reduce the abuse of the process while not weakening the environmental protections.

    Unfortunately, it’s clear that the bill Brown signed is exactly the kind of of opportunistic legislation that Sacramento has become notorious for, seemingly always putting special interests before the welfare of the general public.  No wonder the disgust with the state legislature is so widespread and at levels that must be close to all-time-highs.

  • Wow, this made my day.

  • LAofAnaheim

    I have no problem with this bill. I actually support expedited legal reviews. Too many times good projects (think of the Expo Line…and the future Westside subway, which I know your city is ready to sue in a moment’s instance if you don’t get your way), have to take years to complete due to lawsuits. We’ll have to wait 2.5 years for the Expo Line lawsuit to finally be decided by the Appelate court. It drives up costs, kills public confidence in public spending/infrastructure. I don’t think of this being special interest, but a much needed legislation reform. Good job to Sacramento!

  • Reluctantpopstar

    As a certified train goo-goo lover (see below), I say with no due respect: shut the hell up and build the damn train.  (It should have been built 30 years ago…)

  • ” I think this whole conversation about CEQA lawsuits and rail projects
    is exposing a lot of people on this board as nothing but train goo-goo
    lovers, and not really environmentalists.”

    I’ve been posting here for a long time and I never said I was an environmentalist. Don’t assume that because someone likes public transportation or bike infrastructure that they also love obstructing progress on environmentally friendly projects like a subway because some owl might be irritated by dust caused by construction.

  • But LAofAnaheim, you’re not a true red-blooded environmentalist! You’ve exposed yourself by supporting a subway project that would actually provide a viable alternative to the automobile to the Westside of Los Angeles, a place more congested than my lungs from breathing in all this crap in the air.

  • Governor Brown said it best when he said there are too many damn regulations. The irony is that the regulations that are supposed to protect the environment are the same ones conservatives use to obstruct progress on transit. Screw ’em.

  • Guest

    Re: The EIR and whether this qualifies:

    The bill also allows EIRs to be re-circulated and re-submitted. That’s how the subway would get around it.

  • Davistrain

    My usual comment about over-detailed EIRs is that if we’d had them 150 years ago, the Transcontinental Railroad would still be under study (harmful to the buffalo herds!  Unfair to native tribes!)

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