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Breaking: In Split Decision, California Supreme Court Gives Expo the O.K.

California Supreme Court on NFSR v Expo

It's official, Neighbors for Smart Rail is out of legal options. Earlier this morning, the California Supreme Court upheld rulings by every other court that has looked at the case and ruled that the Expo Construction Authority and Metro did not intentionally violate California environmental laws when creating the environmental documents for Phase II of the Expo Line.

“We are gratified that the California Supreme Court has affirmed the lower court rulings. Today’s decision is a win for taxpayers and the future riders who will soon benefit from a direct connection between downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica,” said Expo Construction Authority CEO Rick Thorpe. “We remain focused on finishing the Expo Line on-time and on-budget in 2015.”

The ruling is doubtless a frustrating one for NFSR. The Supreme Court agreed with their contention that the Expo Construction Authority should have used baseline traffic conditions, not projected future conditions, in its traffic study. However, it also ruled that there was "no prejudice" in the decision to use future conditions and the study provided enough information for the proposed rail line's environmental documents to be approved.

Although we conclude the EIR fails to satisfy CEQA‟s requirements in the first respect claimed, we also conclude the agency‟s abuse of discretion was nonprejudicial. Under the particular facts of this case, the agency‟s examination of certain environmental impacts only on projected year 2030 conditions, and not on existing environmental conditions, did not deprive the agency or the public of substantial relevant information on those impacts. (Environmental Protection Information Center v. California Dept. of Forestry & Fire Protection (2008) 44 Cal.4th 459, 485-486.) We will therefore affirm the judgment of the Court of Appeal, which affirmed the superior court‟s denial of Neighbors‟s petition for writ of mandate.

Expo Phase II is an eight mile extension of the Expo Line from its current terminus in Culver City to near the 3rd Street Promenade in Santa Monica.

Two lower courts and the California Public Utilities Commission ruled that the Expo Construction Authority (Expo) acted properly basing their traffic studies on future conditions instead of current conditions. However, attorneys for NFSR pointed to two cases Madera Oversight Coalition, Inc. v. County of Madera (5th District Court of Appeals, 2011) and Sunnyvale West Neighborhood Assn. v. City of Sunnyvale City Council (6th District Court of Appeals, 2010where state appellate courts ruled that agencies cannot use future conditions as a baseline when evaluating the environmental impacts of proposed projects.

With the last legal dispute seemingly setteled, backers of the Expo Line are hoping that both sides of the issue can now come together to make Expo the best light rail it can be.

"I am hopeful now all parties can work cooperatively to find fair ways to mitigate reasonable concerns regarding construction impacts and enhance station design, the bike path, and other remaining issues," writes Dana Gabbard, a Board Member for the Southern California Transit Advocates and contributor to Streetsblog Los Angeles.

For its part, Metro/Expo seemed unconcerned about the court case. While the Supreme Court refused to order a construction stay while it deliberated, Metro was so unconcerned it hired everything from general contractors to artists to complete the rail line.

Streetsblog will continue to update this story as reaction comes in from today's Supreme Court decision and the actual decision becomes available for public review.

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