A group of Cheviot Hills residents who’s property abuts the proposed Expo Bikeway on the Westside of Los Angeles have filed suit for the second time in two years alleging that environmental clearances given the bikeway were given in error. Their first lawsuit, filed in June 2010, resulted in the City of Los Angeles and Caltrans reversing their original environmental clearance decisions and re-working their studies. The bikeway was granted a second environmental clearance, known as a Categorical Exclusion (CE), in November of 2011.
The second Categorical Exclusion (published here, on Streetsblog) was received no better than the first. Attorney S. Zachary Samuels filed suit again alleging that the new CE is no better than the old one. While the current complaint is not available online, passages appearing on Courthouse News sound word for word identical to ones from the 2010 lawsuit. Named in the suit are the FHWA, who provide the $2.5 million budget for the bikeway, Caltrans, who granted the CE, the City of Los Angeles, who applied for the CE and Metro, who is responsible for building the bike path.
The lawsuit only covers the portion of the bike route in the City of Los Angeles, and not the part in the City of Santa Monica. The 3.85 miles of bikeway would run mostly along the Exposition right-of-way owned by Metro from Robertson Boulevard and Venice Boulevard to Centinela Boulevard and Exposition Boulevard where the path is picked up by Santa Monica.
Details on the lawsuit are sketchy, but based on what appears in the Courthouse News article, we can make some assumptions about the lawsuit’s chances of being successful.
The homeowners say the bike path would run behind their properties and “through what is now green space which serves as a buffer between the I-10 freeway and the plaintiff’s homes and other homes.”
I think this is one of the tougher arguments to make. This is what the land looks like from an overhead shot. The arrow points to the middle of the group of homeowners who are fighting the bike path.
It looks as though the “green space buffer” is about 300 feet wide. The Bike Path throughout the city is usually seventeen feet wide and in this case will mostly be on ground now that is just a dirt path (see picture above.) Even including fencing and drainage and other issues, the vast majority of the green space should remain. Any sound impacts will be more than mitigated by the Metro sound walls.
The bike path should have been studied as part of the Expo Phase Two light rail project, the complaint states.
Because there were no federal dollars allocated for Phase II of the Exposition Light Rail line, the result of splitting the environmental clearances for the bikeway and rail line is that the rail line does not require a federal NEPA review that coud stall or hinder the rail line’s development. In the CE, officials imply that result is a coincidence. It claims the two were separated because they are separate projects.
The CE even states that the bikeway would be built regardless of whether or not the rail line is. However, it is cheaper to build both at the same time, so the existence of the rail construction provides an opportunity to build this completely separate project at a different time.
The plaintiffs aren’t buying the CE’s statements. The court’s decision on whether or not to bundle the environmental documents for the bikeway and rail line could have major impacts because it would most likely require the combined projects to go through a lengthy public process because then the rail line would need federal approval that it currently does not have (or need to have.)
It claims that possible traffic congestion and other environmental impacts were disregarded when the project received funding.
“Other environmental impacts” is awfully vague. The project does not change the lane configuration on any road or highway, so impacts to traffic flow will be minimal.
“The CE fails to provide a consistent, complete and proper description of the environmental setting. The CE lacks meaningful analysis of significant impacts and proper mitigation for traffic, privacy, safety and security, fire and life safety, hazardous materials, construction impacts and others,” the complaint states.
The CE is 53 pages long. The first thirteen pages are basically worksheets where the agency checks boxes. The next forty pages are explanation. Lets break down the concerns stated.
Traffic: Already addressed
Privacy: Physical barriers will be constructed as part of the project to separate the bikeway from people’s property. The community will have a chance to give input before the barriers are selected.
Safety and Security: Physical barriers will be constructed as part of the project to separate the bikeway from people’s property. The community will have a chance to give input before the barriers are selected.
Fire and life safety: I’m guessing the concern here is that people will flee a burning building into their back yard only to be trapped by the aforementioned physical barrier as the flames come towards them. True, the CE says nothing about that.
Hazardous materials: The CE spends less than a page on hazardous materials, although does provide a link to a 2009 report conducted on the area that found the issue to be negligible. The link can be found on page 15 of the CE.
Construction Impacts: Because of the equipment used, noise impacts, air pollution and other impacts should be negligible according to the CE. The project does require the purchase of land from a small group of households (the same ones suing), but that land is not developable because of current sewer easements
Neither the City of Los Angeles nor the Expo Construction Authority could comment for this story because while the lawsuit has been filed, they have yet to be served the papers.
Full Disclosure: Damien Newton is a member of the Expo Bicycle Advisory Committee.