Thursday, February 7, 2013

Will the Perris Valley Line lawsuit ruling embarrass the state government?

The decision to build an environmentally friendly rail transit line appears to be coming from the bench due to loopholes in state environmental law. A 'no' ruling would encroach the Separation of Powers in the name of puritanism.

Two Metrolink locomotives. The primary function of the judicial branch of government is to interpret both the state and U.S. Constitution and apply law to the facts of cases at hand. Courts have no right to veto or overturn the laws or policies which do not violate constitutional law, even if a judge is against the law. Whenever courts unilaterally impose their own opinions and beliefs onto the law, many Americans dislike that; such activity is legislating from the bench and overreaches their authority of the Separation of Powers written in the U.S. Constitution. This Press Enterprise blog post suggests that the Metrolink Perris Valley Line's fate is in the hands of the courts; a project that should clearly be decided on by a local elected body, that is, the Riverside County Transportation Commission. RCTC has long supported and planned the project.

The Commission rightly followed the rules and prepared the project's mandated environmental impact report, but loopholes in the California Environmental Quality Act have allowed an opposing NIMBY party to exploit "missing" information in the EIR in a lawsuit to stop the entire project. The case was merited to go to trial and is now in the hands of a Superior Court judge. From an impartial judicial standpoint, there's nothing wrong, and to be fair, the EIR for any major project must accurately address potential traffic congestion and pollution impacts. However it is a common fact that a rail transit alternative for the I-215 corridor would reduce congestion and pollution by providing a multi-modal transportation option to single-occupancy automobile travel, thus fulfilling the goals and intents of CEQA which is to protect the environment.

The claims presented by Friends of Riverside's Hills are very puritanical and point primarily to the project's construction, not the finished product. The opposing group claims the EIR underestimates the number of truck trips needed to haul away dirt during construction and the time required to excavate the dirt. RCTC's proposal to remove an illegal trail crossing over the right-of-way is said to be bad for the environment according to the opposing party. Other frivolous claims such as the squealing noise train wheels make when taking sharp turns, engine noises, and construction-related matter were also brought up in court.

It is discouraging that this case was allowed to go to trial. This is an embarrassment to the state government. The legislative branch does have power to avert any negative court judgments against RCTC and the Perris Valley Line. The state should amend CEQA so that bidding construction firms are held accountable for all construction-related environmental and traffic impacts. We the people should not be held responsible if a construction contractor decides to generate too much dust pollution, noise or excessive truck traffic. The law should penalize contractors and their employees if they excessively pollute. The legislature should also close up CEQA loopholes so courts cannot veto or overturn large projects which actually benefit the environment and reduce traffic congestion. The reformed law should also be made retroactive to any transportation project stalled in court over such frivolous EIR claims. Let's get the Perris Valley Line moving.

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