Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Examining the Metrolink Perris Valley Line lawsuit settlement

A Metrolink locomotive.
Case closed. Friends of Riverside Hills, a local Riverside group responsible for stalling the Metrolink Perris Valley line extension project has agreed to withdraw its case in a $3 million settlement, RCTC officials reported July 10th. With that, the project can move forward with groundbreaking to take place by this fall or winter. The extension is set to open by 2015.

The Perris Valley Line is long past due. The rail line promises to ferry commuters living in or around the Perris and Moreno Valley areas to jobs in downtown Los Angeles and points in between via the Metrolink 91 Line, eliminating the need to drive or take a connecting express bus to downtown Riverside. Now that this trivial CEQA lawsuit is out of the way, public officials can finally move on with this environmentally friendly transit alternative.

That's the good news.

Lots and lots of cash.Now let's take a look at the $3 million settlement and where that taxpayer money is headed. According to the Press Enterprise, RCTC agreed to pour more than half of the cash toward protecting the environment, by establishing a $900,000 land conservation fund which would be used to develop trails and/or acquiring open space. An additional $650,000 will be used to provide for multi-modal pathways and trails in the area. If RCTC can work together with other public entities in the region and designate these new open spaces and trailways as a countywide regional park, this portion of the settlement would benefit the community as whole and would be certainly considered a fair deal for the public. Otherwise this will be a $1.5 million handout to the opposing party.

$132,000 of the pot will be spent to minimize train noise and vibration. Of course, something like this should be addressed and regulated through reformed CEQA law in lieu of the courts, but keeping noise levels down by placing noise reduction materials under the tracks through the UC-Riverside area is somewhat of a fair trade. Overall, this portion isn't bad.

The rest of the settlement handouts is not so pretty. Over one third of the pot--$1,005,000 to be exact--will be set up for homeowners to tap into for various home improvements in the name of countering noise pollution. Residents can apply for up to a whopping $15,000 per dwelling--for window treatments and another $500 for trees. Google "Noise Minimizing Window Treatments" and you may find that products offered in the marketplace do not add up to $15,000 for an entire house. RCTC must examine each applicant clearly to minimize the waste. Any unspent funds will be allocated to the land conservation fund.

The last portion is perhaps the icing on the cake. It is the $250,000 in public money that went to the attorney who represented Friends of Riverside Hills during this lawsuit...

It's now safe to say that exploiting CEQA loopholes is all about the money and demonstrates how current environmental law can be abused. Public entities must therefore do what ever they can do in their power to close up these loopholes at the state level and stop the wasteful madness in the courtroom.

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