SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Supreme Court rejected a citizen group’s challenge Monday of a planned light rail system from Culver City to Santa Monica, ruling that an environmental review provided the public with sufficient information.
In a fractured decision, four members of the state high court found that the review should have contained an analysis of the project’s near-term impact on traffic and air quality. Six of the seven justices nevertheless agreed the review was legally valid, and one justice would have rejected it.
The Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority approved the rail project even though the review of traffic and air quality impacts relied on a baseline of conditions in the year 2030. The Expo Line segment to Santa Monica is scheduled to start operating in 2015.
A group called Neighbors for Smart Rail, supported by homeowners' groups, challenged the environmental impact in court, arguing that it failed to comply with the requirements of state law.
In an opinion written by Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar and signed by only two justices, the court found that agencies generally should include an analysis of a project’s impact on existing conditions.
But Werdegar wrote that the omission was not significant enough to reject the review because an analysis of traffic impacts in the early years of operation would not have produced “substantially different” information.
Justice Goodwin Liu agreed with Werdegar’s opinion, but said he would have rejected the report because of its failure to assess early impacts on traffic.
“Without knowing how significant this transient impact on traffic congestion might be, how are the public and decision makers to decide whether the short-term pain is worth the long-term gain promised by the light-rail project?” Liu asked.
Three of the court’s seven justices argued in a separate opinion that the rail line’s environmental analysis complied fully with the law.
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