July 24, 2012
Those of you following Metro’s proposed light rail extending from Culver City to Santa Monica will be interested in knowing that Metro passed a major hurdle on April 17, when the California Appeals Court upheld its environmental impact report for the project.
The case, Neighbors for Smart Rail v. Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority, 205 Cal.App.4th 552, involved the second phase of the construction of the light rail along the Exposition Transit Corridor connecting Culver City with Santa Monica. Metro, the lead agency for the project, prepared an environmental impact report (“EIR”) for the project as required by the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”).
All EIRs use an environmental baseline to analyze the environmental impacts of a project. However, Metro found that the population and traffic levels in 2009 (when the EIR was prepared) did not provide a reasonable baseline for determining the environmental impacts for the light rail project, which would not even begin to operate until at least 2015 at the earliest. For this reason, Metro used a future baseline to determine the environmental impacts of the light rail project, projecting the population and traffic levels in 2030 based upon scientific data. The Neighbors for Smart Rail challenged Metro’s EIR, contending that the baseline was a “hypothetical.”
The Appeals Court sided with Metro, finding that, “when supported by substantial evidence, use of projected conditions may be an appropriate way to measure the environmental impacts that a project will have on traffic, air quality and green house gas emissions.” The Appeals Court further stated that using the 2009 conditions as a baseline would have provided no practical information with which to evaluate the environmental impacts of the light rail project, as the traffic patterns and air quality would be different by the time the project became operational.
The practical result of the court’s decision is that Metro has won the latest challenge to the Exposition Transit Corridor. Although the Neighbors for Smart Rail filed an appeal with the California Supreme Court on May 29, 2012, Metro is one step closer to breaking ground on Phase 2 of its light rail project.