Thursday, June 13, 2013

Moving forward with the Perris Valley Line lawsuit ruling

Metrolink to Perris.
It is quite evident that the Riverside County Transportation Commission is doing whatever it can within its power to get the Perris Valley Line moving, and the agency has every right to do so given that the rail line is environmentally friendly, the right-of-way is publicly owned, and the majority of the public supports it. Earlier in May, Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters ordered that RCTC decertify the project's EIR within 90 days because of puritanical environmental issues which could be easily resolved. RCTC had a number of options to move foward:
  • RCTC can appeal the judgment at a higher court.
  • According to Len Nunney, the secretary for Friends of Riverside Hills, RCTC can engage in a settlement without having to recompile its EIR.
  • RCTC can lobby the state legislature for CEQA reform
RCTC has basically selected "All of the above." The Commission board voted in closed session at its 6/12/13 meeting to appeal Judge Waters' ruling. RCTC filed the appeals paperwork with the Fourth District Court of Appeals. Even with the appeals papers filed, the two parties remain open to settling the case without RCTC having to redo the Perris Valley Line EIR.

Just days before the meeting, RCTC Chairwoman Karen Spiegel, Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley, and City of Perris Mayor Daryl Busch met with members of the state legislature to lobby for an exemption of the rail line's trivial and construction-related environmental issues from the current legal loopholes in CEQA law. It is without question that the landmark law needs to be amended and made retroactive to counter abusive lawsuits; however, to be fair, fast-tracking projects by granting outright CEQA exemptions is very questionable. During settlement negotiations, RCTC must also ensure that the NIMBY party is not receiving any unnecessary "home improvements" paid for by county taxpayers.

Judicial appeals processes normally take several months from start to finish, but RCTC still predicts breaking ground later this July. It is still early to predict what will happen. This trivial lawsuit in general has one big message for the state: Close up the CEQA loopholes.

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