Judge Backs City of Long Beach in Rail Yard Project Suit; Port of LA & BNSF Sent Back to Drawing Board

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When our former editor Brian Addison first joined the Streetsblog team (parent of Longbeachize), one of his first pieces he wrote openly criticized a rail yard project dubbed the Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) that was to be built in West Long Beach by rail giant BNSF.

Not only was the 153-acre project massively detrimental to the overall health of the Westside, it was at first widely endorsed. In fact, Long Beach’s main paper of record, the Press-Telegram, endorsed the project in what Addison called “a sadly misunderstood and ill-grounded editorial”—and in turn, he became one of many leaders of the anti-SCIG as well as the first journalist to bring to question the project. He wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And wrote. And wrote some more.

“It is very hard for me intellectually to accept that you value the life of a kid on this side of the city border more than you do a kid in my city.” – Former Mayor Bob Foster

In what is nothing short of spectacularly large news, the City of Long Beach—which filed a lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles after the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) Harbor Commissioners and the LA City Council unanimously approved the project—has had Superior Court Judge Barry P. Goode rule in favor of the stance that SCIG “failed to perform adequate environmental analysis before approving the massive SCIG rail yard project adjacent to many residents and businesses located in West Long Beach.”

The ruling requires that POLA complete a new EIR to reduce the negative impacts from the project. BNSF persistently claimed, despite direct proof in their own EIR, that the SCIG project would actually benefit West Long Beach residents. As more and more evidence came to light through the work of 20-plus nonprofit and community groups, as well as Addison’s work that showed the contrary, outrage ensued.

Then-Mayor Bob Foster was outright vitriolic in his outspokenness against the project, with one of his quotes–“It is very hard for me intellectually to accept that you value the life of a kid on this side of the city border more than you do a kid in my city”–finding itself on every major newspaper in the country, even on the pages of the New York Times.

A rendering of SCIG as proposed by BNSF and approved by POLA and the City of LA.
A rendering of SCIG as proposed by BNSF and approved by POLA and the City of LA.

Then-7th District Councilmember James Johnson became one of the leaders in the charge against SCIG after discovering that BNSF and POLA was not holding any of its community meetings within West Long Beach itself, forcing to hold his own public meeting given it was the neighborhood that would have been vastly affected by the project. He was also the sole councilmember to speak during the Los Angeles City Council meeting when the project was formally up for final vote.

“Los Angeles has taken the wrong approach,” Johnson said when speaking with Addison in 2013. “Long Beach has shown time and time again that green growth can bring jobs to our region while improving, not degrading, our neighborhoods. I thank Mayor Foster for his leadership and my Council colleagues for standing with me to protect Long Beach families, including nearby veterans, students and children.”

The massive win also stands as fuel against other impactful projects, such as the 710 expansion (which finds opposition amongst the same groups that dissented against SCIG due to questionable EIRs).

Mayor Robert Garcia, who publicly backed the lawsuit when he was serving the 1st District as its councilmember, issued the following statement:

“This is a huge win for Long Beach, and in particular our Westside residents who would have been dramatically impacted by this proposed project. The health of our children and the protection of our environment have been at the forefront of our concerns. My thanks to my predecessor Mayor Bob Foster for fighting to protect our residents and to City Attorney Charlie Parkin, Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais, and our entire legal team for this historic win for our West Long Beach neighborhoods.”

  • neroden

    This seems to have been a sloppily designed project. The goal was to replace an endless flow of trucks going back and forth between the port and the railyard 20 miles away. Great idea. Unfortunately they proposed to replace it with a flow of trucks going between the port and a railyard 5 miles away.

    The solution has been understood for a long time: “on dock rail”, where the containers go directly from the ships to the trains without any trucks involved. I’m not sure why this wasn’t proposed in the first place.

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