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Lawsuits Against City Of L.A., BNSF Railway Consolidated

By Samantha Mehlinger - Staff Writer

August 13, 2013 – In order to expedite the case through the state court system, the City of Long Beach agreed to consolidate its lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. (BNSF) over BNSF’s proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) rail yard project with six other suits. The consolidation was finalized on August 6.

The city’s suit has been combined with suits levied by the following entities: the Long Beach Unified School District; Fast Lane Transportation Inc. (under which five other trucking companies are also included); the South Coast Air Quality Management District; California Cartage Company, Inc.; and local nonprofit organizations East Yard Communities For Environmental Justice (based in the City of Commerce) and Coalition for a Safe Environment (based in Wilmington).

The city filed suit on June 5, contending that the City of L.A. and its harbor department neglected to follow state law as it relates to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

The proposed SCIG project would be built adjacent to Westside Long Beach and nearby homes and schools. The suing parties contend that environmental concerns such as increased diesel emissions were ignored by the city and BNSF in the final environmental impact report (EIR).

According to Long Beach Assistant City Attorney Michael Mais, prior to the consolidation, representatives of the cities of Long Beach and Los Angeles, and BNSF, discussed a potential settlement. “CEQA requires that you have a settlement meeting. We did have that and it didn’t result in any settlement or concrete offers,” he explained.

“It was fairly premature, because when we did that, the cases were not consolidated. From the standpoint of BNSF and the City of L.A., I would think that for them to be serious about settling, they would want to settle with all the parties,” Mais added.

Mais said the next step following the consolidation is to “try to work out a briefing and hearing schedule with the judge.” Mais does not anticipate that a hearing before a judge will take place until September.

In the meantime, the suing parties will prepare an administrative record that includes the EIR and all related documents to determine the project’s compliance with CEQA.