CA: San Dimas lawsuit over light rail parking project could mean train skips this station

An environmental lawsuit filed by the city of San Dimas threatens to drastically alter service on the 9.1-mile L-Line (formerly Gold Line) buttress extension, creating a strong possibility that light rail will skip the station in that town if the dispute delays local construction.

In a surprise move, the City of San Dimas filed a lawsuit on August 26, 2022, against the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, claiming that an environmental review of a proposed parking area next to the future station was inadequate. The city asks the court to stop the work.

While environmental lawsuits are common in major development projects, this one comes 2.5 years after the start of five-year construction, so late that any delays would limit the operation of the new line, officials say.

Habib Balian, CEO of the Construction Authority, was asked by Board Member and Mayor of Pomona, Tim Sandoval, at the authority’s board meeting on Wednesday, September 28, about what’s going on. would pass if the contractor’s deadline to build the parking lot in San Dimas was not met.

“So we’re giving up any chance of having the station completed in time for the metro to open,” Balian replied. Balian’s agency also spoke to LA Metro, the county transit agency that will operate the Glendora extension to North Pomona after its completion in January 2025.

“They’re ready to run the system and bypass San Dimas station for as long as needed,” Balian said.

The Construction Authority is battling delays, lawsuits and anything else that will keep the train from stopping on opening day at the four new stations: Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona. The council clarified that the lawsuit would only affect the San Dimas station.

Construction Authority project and planning manager Christopher Burner wrote a letter Aug. 29 explaining the ramifications for LA Metro due to the lawsuit.

In the letter, Burner laid out a scenario to prepare June Susilo of LA Metro, assistant general manager of program management: If the litigation drags on, he writes, or the court battle even slightly delays the construction of a parking lot which is crucial for the station to open, Metro should run the train to other stations – but not stop at San Dimas station.

“Therefore, the Building Authority intends to hand over the line to the Metro in early January 2025 so that the Metro can begin its scheduled operations in mid-2025, although initial operations are likely to skip San Francisco station. Dimas,” Burner wrote.

The letter goes on to say that the building authority will reprogram the train controls to bypass the San Dimas station and then reprogram them into the system “once the San Dimas parking lot is complete.”

Despite the city’s objections, the Construction Authority board voted on Wednesday to move forward with condemnation of the 2.5-acre property, an existing Park & ​​Ride parking lot near Ave. San Dimas and Railway Street, which will be used to expand parking from 170 spaces. at around 275.

The Authority will use eminent domain to purchase property from the city to build a project “for greater public use.” Construction Authority officials said eminent domain is needed to keep the project on schedule.

The city’s lawsuit says a supplemental environmental impact report does not address the increase in traffic on surrounding roads once train riders begin to park there, nor does it adequately assess the safety of pedestrians or cyclists. Further, the lawsuit indicates that the aesthetics of the new parking lot were not fully considered.

At the town hall in June 2021, 30 residents spoke about the station parking project. Of those, five supported the project and 25 had concerns, Burner told his board. He said the Authority had responded to the comments in a supplemental environmental review, approved by its board in July 2022.

Burner’s letter reminded LA Metro that the city opposed a previous layout using the San Dimas City Yard as a parking lot because it would cost more than $20 million to purchase land for a new urban construction site. Instead, the city suggested using the existing Park & ​​Ride parking lot to build the station car park. The city and building authority agreed to the change.

“I can’t explain why they (the city of San Dimas) have taken the position they have,” Burner said.

“We went through a long and expensive process to do what they asked of us, including a thorough environmental review. Now they have taken legal action,” Balian said in an email response.

In a letter opposing the sentencing dated Sept. 21, San Dimas Special Counsel Douglas J. Evertz of the law firm Murphy & Evertz wrote that the building authority cannot prove that the project is for the greater public good or that the acquired land is even necessary for the project.

Evertz’s letter also says the building authority “did not make an adequate offer for the purchase of the property” and “did not negotiate in good faith with the city.”

However, Brad Kuhn, the Construction Authority’s real estate solicitor, said the agency did a value assessment of the property in November 2021 and then contracted for a second appraisal.

Evertz said he was confident he could overturn the conviction and win the case. He also said the city had put a “reasonable settlement plan” in writing with the building authority. A settlement conference is scheduled for next week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, he said.

In an emailed response Wednesday, San Dimas City Manager Chris Constantin wrote that the city is “committed to working with the Gold Line to find a reasonable and common sense resolution to our community’s concerns. We are hopeful that common sense will prevail.

Kuhn seemed to indicate that there was a chance that the two parties could reach an agreement, thus avoiding disruptions in the operation of the line in 2025.

“Yes, we will work with the city in good faith and we have a settlement conference next week,” Kuhn said.

The L line connects East Los Angeles to Union Station in Downtown Los Angeles, Chinatown, Highland Park, Pasadena, Monrovia, Duarte and Irwindale – and currently terminates at Azusa, Azusa Pacific University. The 12.3-mile extension from Azusa to Claremont was originally budgeted at $1.4 billion, but two years later it was increased to $2.1 billion – but that’s only just joined Pomona. The extension was to reach Claremont and Montclair, but the project ran out of money.

SCNG writer Javier Rojas contributed to this article.

©2022 MediaNews Group, Inc. Visit Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Jose P. Rogers