Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Residents and Environmental Groups Oppose Mid-County Parkway Project in Riverside County

In Riverside County, a proposed highway project is facing opposition from locals and environmental groups. The Riverside County Transportation Commission (“RCTC”) approved the Mid-County Parkway EIR last month, allowing the project to proceed to the next stage. This freeway would be an entirely new road connecting the I-215 in Perris and the SR-79 in San Jacinto, and would span about 16 miles. More information can be found in the complete Environmental Impact Report.

A lawsuit was swiftly filed by environmentalist groups, who are questioning the necessity of the proposed freeway, in light of the wildlife sanctuaries that would be threatened by its construction. The lawsuit names at least two endangered species that can be found in the San Jacinto Valley, which would be directly impacted by the project.

Residential and commercial properties could also be affected by the project, which may be acquired by the State through the use of eminent domain. The Press Enterprise reports that almost 400 people may be displaced in order to build the Mid-County Parkway and the RCTC is preparing residents for potential property takings:

“We’ve been very proactive in explaining the potential right-of-way impacts of the project,” Standiford, [John Standiford, RCTC deputy executive director] said. “We will comply with state and federal laws regarding acquiring right of way.”

The lawsuit against the project further alleges that construction of the 6-lane freeway, is, in addition to not meeting standards for eco-friendliness, is not cost-effective, and will discourage public transportation development. In addition, it claims that future traffic forecasts for the area found in the EIR are overstated.

According to the project website, there is a pressing need for an east-west freeway, as none currently exists, because it’s considered an effective solution for Riverside County’s traffic concerns.

Monday, March 16, 2015

The SR 710 Environmental Study Reveals Important Impacts on residents of Los Angeles County

On March 6, 2015 Caltrans District 7 released the Draft Environment Impact Report for the SR 710 project.  This long awaited study considered five alternatives for reducing traffic congestion, and determined that the most effective option would be a freeway tunnel bridging the existing gap between Alhambra and Pasadena.

The Los Angeles Daily News reports that locals hold strong opinions regarding the proposed alternatives for improving transportation in this area.  A group called the 5-City Alliance is supporting the light rail option, claiming that a freeway tunnel which focuses more on improving conditions for vehicles like cars and trucks, will not ease traffic as well as the implementation of public transportation. Light rail, however, will have cultural as well as aesthetic impacts. This excerpt from the above-referenced Daily News article describes possible effects of the light rail on nearby property owners:

“…impacts from the light-rail train include the displacement of 15 businesses along Mednik Avenue south of the 60 Freeway; acquisition of 58 full properties in Alhambra, East L.A., Monterey Park, Pasadena and South Pasadena; and the relocation of 73 businesses and the displacement of 645 employees.”      

The SR 710 EIR study explores several alternatives as possible means for improving the traffic conditions in the area. The first one is the Transportation System Management/Transportation Demand Management (“TSM/TDM”) which is a series of improvements to streets, intersections and existing equipment such as traffic signals. There is also the required no-build alternative. The remaining three alternatives would have the most impact. These are the Bus Rapid Transit Alternative, the Light Rail Alternative and the Freeway Tunnel Alternative.

According to the EIR, the four alternatives other than the no-build, would have land use impacts ranging from 16-47 temporary construction easements and acquisition of land ranging in size from .6 to 1.5 acres.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the freeway double decker tunnel is the most expensive option, with a $5.6 billion price tag. A slightly more cost effective alternative is a narrower double decker tunnel where north and southbound traffic move in opposite direction on each level.  The light rail cost is approximately half of that of the larger tunnel, but it’s also the option that would take the longest, at an estimated six years to build.

Friday, January 30, 2015

State May use Eminent Domain To Allow The Public Access to a Beach in Northern California

A property in Northern California is the subject of a dispute over an easement for public beach access, which could possibly lead to eminent domain proceedings:

“The State Lands Commission may use powers never employed in its 77-year history, seizing private land for public use to end a battle between surfers and billionaire venture-capital investor Vinod Khosla, who has been locking a gate at his beach property along California’s Pacific Coast.

Beach-goers are seeking entry to a portion of the property known as Martins Beach, a destination for surfers, while the homeowner holds the position that the beach is on his property, which is privately owned, and he has no obligation to the locals who want to use it.

The property’s owner, Vinod Khosla, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur, filed suit a few years ago to deny access to local surfers to 89 acres of coast which he claims is private property, and which includes Martins Beach. Mr. Khosla’s position is that no right of way is in place to allow the public use of the beach, and as the owner of the property he would be burdened with hiring employees to manage it. A gate that permits access to the beach was intermittently left open by the property owner when he purchased the real estate in 2008 until it was finally completely shut a few years later. In 2014 the court ruled in favor of beach-goers when it ordered the gate on Mr. Khosla's property to remain open.

The State of California has a duty to maintain access to the natural resources from which residents and visitors derive pleasure and enjoyment. On this basis, the state is in negotiations with Mr. Khosla to purchase an easement that would allow public use of his property to access the beach.

Eminent Domain may be used by the state to acquire the right of way if Mr. Khosla does not reach an agreement with state authorities. To prevent the acquisition of his property, or an interest in it, Mr. Khosla would have to argue that providing surfers beach access is not within the definition of eminent domain, which is to say the taking of private property for the greater public good.  At one time, the California Coastal Commision threatened Mr. Khosla with a fine of over $10,000 a day as long as the gate was locked and public beach access was denied.