A legal lesson to be learned from Metrolink Perris Valley Line

The Metrolink Perris Valley Line project received a $75 million federal grant which clears the project for construction within the next two to three weeks, most likely to begin after the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays. Getting to this point was far from smooth sailing. PVL was the target of a trivial CEQA lawsuit. Its $3 million settlement is a hard lesson for state lawmakers. Lawyers are capitalizing by exploiting loopholes in the law which obstruct both infrastructure projects and marketplace growth. We'll get to that in just a moment.

The new Metrolink branch will extend the 91 Line from Riverside to Perris with stops at the Hunter Business Park in Riverside, March AFB in Moreno Valley, the downtown Perris Station Transit Center and southern Perris. The $248 million project would serve a fast-growing region and has the blessing of USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The one question that many folks in the Inland Empire have long been asking is this: When will the line officially open? Officials predict the summer of 2015. Now that the funded project is ready for ground breaking, high occupancy rail travel options between Perris and points west via the I-215 and 91 freeway corridors will soon be a reality.

Prior to this point, the PVL branch faced one obstruction after another. On top of getting public funds and all of the politics that go with them, the line faced an environmental lawsuit which pretty much had nothing really to do about environmental protection and more about exploiting loopholes in CEQA law so that a lawyer and the plaintiff can capitalize on the project.

When the lawsuit was settled for $3 million back in July, we took a look at some of the numbers. To be fair, some of the promises in the settlement were good and officials have the opportunity to ensure that the funding for the new open spaces and trails benefit the entire county. However, significant portions of the agreement were really about the profits. Over one third of the settlement--$1,005,000 to be exact--was to 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 an astounding $15,000 per dwelling--for window treatments and another $500 for trees. Last time we checked, "Noise Minimizing Window Treatments" do not add up to $15,000 for an entire house. In fairness, any unspent funds will be allocated to the land conservation deal. In addition, $250,000 in public money went to the attorney who represented Friends of Riverside Hills during this lawsuit and this lawyer has a history of capitalizing on loopholes in CEQA law.

It gets worse with questionable trivial lawsuits against small businesses, the American Disability Act, and parking spaces for the disabled. We'll analyse this next week. Meanwhile, the PVL delay and its litigation are strong lessons for the public sector. State lawmakers must work together and close up the CEQA loopholes once and for all at the state level and stop the excuse making and 11th hour changes. While we live a in captitalistic society and both CEQA and the ADA are vital laws to protect both the environment and the disabled population, regulations also need to protect both public works projects and the small business marketplace from trivial lawsuits that do nothing except obstruct economic marketplace growth and public transportation infrastructure projects. Lawyers should not be in a position to exploit loopholes in the law for their own or clients' gain. It's long past due for both the state and federal government to close the loopholes in both of these laws and establish fair means to enforce both CEQA and ADA.