State Supreme Court Debates How Government Agencies Must Analyze Project Impacts

Daily Journal

Nossaman Partner Robert Thornton was quoted in the Daily Journal article "State Supreme Court debates how government agencies must analyze project impacts" regarding the case that could impact how the environmental consequences of large infrastructure projects are analyzed throughout California.  The case centers around a proposal to connect downtown Los Angeles and Santa Monica by light rail.  Phase 1 to Culver City has already been completed, but at issue is Phase 2, the 7-mile segment connecting Culver City and Santa Monica.

The case goes back to 2010 when Neighbors for Smart Rail sued the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority alleging it violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) by relying on projected conditions for 2030 rather than present day to analyze the project's impacts on traffic and air quality.

Representing the Exposition Metro Line Construction Authority in court on Tuesday, Mr. Thornton argued that the agency studied the project in excruciating detail and that the light rail project is "the lynchpin in the region's effort to meet federal air quality standards."  

When asked if the agency could have used both 2015, the expected year of completion, and 2030 as its baseline, Mr. Thornton replied, "You can do both, but our position is as a matter of law, it's not required to do both."  He stated that to understand the effects of the rail line once it's operating, it's reasonable and rational to use the 2030 baseline.

"Any traffic and air quality impacts at 2015 would be less informative," he added.

Justice Goodwin Liu asked if the agency should get to decide what's important for the public to know based on substantial evidence.  "CEQA clearly provides discretion to the agency to make those technical and factual determinations," Mr. Thornton replied.

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