Fight Over LA Rail Extension Hits 9th Circuit

     LOS ANGELES (CN) — An attorney representing a Little Tokyo shopping complex opposed to a downtown Los Angeles light-rail extension urged the Ninth Circuit on Monday to halt construction on the project pending a ruling on its appeal.
     The shopping center Japanese Village Plaza sued the Federal Transit Administration and Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority more than three years ago over a new 1.9-mile line that will serve historic districts, including Little Toyko, in downtown Los Angeles.
     Los Angeles Metro says the $1.55 billion project will reduce transfers and travel time for 90,000 passengers each day.
     But the shopping complex claims noise from underground drilling and boring will annoy local residents and disrupt its business.
     Japanese Village Plaza and Westin Bonaventure Hotel, which challenged the project in a separate complaint, appealed the case to the Ninth Circuit after U.S. District Judge John Kronstadt granted summary judgment to the agencies.
     Japanese Village Plaza attorney Robert Crockett urged the Ninth Circuit on Monday to reverse the ruling, arguing that authorities had failed to properly analyze negative impacts of noise, vibration and traffic congestion.
     The attorney said the court should remand the case with instructions to order the Federal Transit Administration to cease funding and support for the project until an environmental analysis is corrected.
     He also requested a stay that would prevent LA Metro from construction in Little Tokyo that involves injecting grout into the ground.
     Circuit Judge Kim Wardlaw noted that that the grouting issue was a new one, and asked Crockett why it had not been raised before.
     “If their first foray into our project was to start with tunneling, well, we would object to that,” Crockett replied. “Or if it was the insertion of some big device, we would object to that. It’s just that grouting is the first thing. That’s why we sought the stay.”
     Westin attorney Christopher Sutton said the court should remand the case and order a “full environmental analysis” of all the impacts on the hotel.
     But Justice Department attorney Erica Krantz said the plaintiffs’ claims were outweighed by the government’s interest in completing the rail line for the public.
     She said the extension will add a “critical missing link” to LA’s public transportation system and would “allow a one-seat ride across the county.”
     She added, “It will add new stations, decrease transfers, improve air quality and reduce traffic congestions, and move those transit customers efficiently through one of the densest parts of Los Angeles.”
     While the 1.9-mile extension will not be “without temporary annoyance” to businesses along the route, Krantz said the Federal Transit Administration and Los Angeles Metro had complied with environmental requirements under the National Environmental Policy Act.
     Krantz urged the court not to grant a stay, citing the “extreme” costs of delay.
     She said the agencies have offered to relocate people at the Japanese Village if the noise bothered them — but noted that sound levels during construction would be at about the same level as air conditioners.
     Circuit Judge Stephen Reinhardt and visiting U.S. District Judge Ronald Whyte joined Wardlaw on the panel, which did not indicate how or when it would rule.

%d bloggers like this: