Trans Authority’s Unilateral Design Changes Provoke Suits To Delay Intercounty Rail Line

The prospect of bringing Los Angeles County’s light rail system into San Bernardino County by the previous target date of 2023 has dimmed with the cities of Pomona and San Dimas having initiated legal action against the joint powers authority that is working toward effectuating the $1.5 billion 12.3-mile extension of the project.
The Gold Line is a 19.7-mile light rail line running from East Los Angeles to Pasadena, work toward which began in 1998 with the creation of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority. The Authority was founded with the intention of resuming design, contracting and construction of the Los Angeles-to-Pasadena rail line formerly referred to as the Pasadena Blue Line after the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority had suspended work on it that same year.
The newly formed Construction Authority completed the Los Angeles-to-Pasadena segment, which served several locations including Downtown Los Angeles, Little Tokyo, Union Station, the Southwest Museum, Chinatown, and Old Town Pasadena, in 2003. Thereafter, work was undertaken on an 11.5 mile extension of the line from Pasadena to the Azusa/Glendora border, which reached completion in 2015. That same year, having already completed an environmental impact report for the next logical phase of the project, a 12.3-mile extension from Azusa to Montclair, the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority board rechanneled some $33 million left over from the Pasadena-to-Azusa construction project to immediately begin planning and preconstruction preparations for the next progression of the rail system.
At that point, the projected cost of the line from the western end of Glendora to Montclair was pegged at $1.18 billion. Ultimately, San Bernardino County, through its transportation agency, then known as SANBAG (an acronym for San Bernardino Associated Governments) and now known as SBCTA [for San Bernardino County Transportation Authority] agreed to commit to putting up $55 million of that cost.
Things moved along apace thereafter, but as they did, officials in both San Dimas and Pomona grew alarmed at aspects of the project which they felt represented complications or problems for them and their residents. Both cities, which had been amenable to the original design and footprint of the project as proposed, upon scrutiny of intended changes to the scope and design of the project as it progressed, found certain aspects of those adjustments objectionable. Moreover and more seriously, both took exception to the most recent design changes stipulated by planners without their consent. In October, in order to prevent the project from proceeding to a point of no return, the cities sued the Metro Gold Line Extension Construction Authority, effectively halting further progress on the project. In the four months since, the lawsuits have essentially been put on hold, as the parties carried out a dialogue in an effort to resolve the points of contention. It does not appear that there was any substantial progress toward an accommodation.
The lawsuit filed by San Dimas in large measure revolves around the rail line’s impact on the city’s downtown. Previously, the city accepted the tracks moving through that district at ground level, as was originally proposed. Since that time, however, regulations superimposed on the construction authority by the California Public Utilities Commission removed the option of laying the line at street level. Instead, the authority is now opting to elevate the track through downtown San Dimas over the Bonita/Cataract avenues intersection by means of a 28-foot high bridge, which is to be accompanied by a retaining wall. San Dimas city officials are opposed to the bridge and wall, which they maintain will effectively separate the central area of the city from San Dimas’s west end and present a major visual obstruction both from and into downtown.
The San Dimas lawsuit objects to the design changes within San Dimas unilaterally initiated and incorporated into the project by the Metro Gold Line Extension Construction Authority without consultation with San Dimas, including the rail overpass and further modifications to a parking garage within walking distance from the Walnut Avenue/Arrow Highway San Dimas Gold Line Station, which will eliminate entirely one of the traffic lanes along Arrow Highway. This latter component will reduce traffic flow through the area and cause back-ups, the suit maintains. San Dimas also objects to the project’s eradication of two historic properties along Arrow Highway, including the William T. Michael residence.
The San Dimas suit calls for an environmental impact report on the proposed changes.
Pomona objected to being saddled with design changes that deviated substantially from what it had agreed to in 2013. Without prior consultation with or approval by Pomona, the Construction Authority board in September called for dispensing with a single flyover bridge over Towne Avenue and instead constructing dual bridges, one 100-feet long and the other 125-feet long. That move was meant to alleviate strain on Pomona residents, a construction authority staff report stated, in that it would require less construction time and lessen street closures. Pomona City Attorney Andrew Jared, however, objected to the changes, saying they would entail a steep rise in the rail line and an increase in the elevation of the track platform, visually impacting residential properties north of the railway line, particularly east of Towne Avenue.
Both cases have been assigned to Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Yvette Palazuelos.
The Foothill Gold Line Board of Directors includes Glendora City Councilman Doug Tessitor, an appointee of the City of Pasadena; Claremont Mayor Sam Pedroza, an appointee of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments; Marisol Rodriguez, a representative of Los Angeles Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, an alternate appointee of the City of Los Angeles; Ontario Mayor Paul Leon, an appointee of the City of South Pasadena; Duarte City Councilman John Fasana, an appointee of the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority; Pasadena Vice Mayor Gene Masuda, an appointee of the City of Pasadena; Carrie Bowen, the director of California Department of Transportation District 7, an appointee of Governor Jerry Brown; attorney Daniel Evans, an appointee of the City of South Pasadena; and Ontario City Councilman Alan Wapner, an appointed of the San Bernardino County Transportation Agency.
Queried on the lawsuit and the unilateral action taken without consultation with San Dimas and Pomona that had precipitated it, Leon told the Sentinel, “I can’t give you a response. The last time I heard about it was in closed session, so it’s not something I can talk about. All I can say is I have no comment.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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