An environmental lawsuit filed by the city of San Dimas threatens to dramatically alter service on the 9.1-mile L Line (formerly Gold Line) foothill extension, setting up a strong possibility that the light-rail train will skip that city’s station if the litigation delays local construction.

In a surprise move, the city of San Dimas filed a lawsuit on Aug. 26, 2022 against the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority, claiming an environmental review of a proposed parking area next to the future station was inadequate. The city is asking the court to halt construction.

  • FILE – Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line...

    FILE – Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) overpass, seen here during an event celebrating 50 percent completion of the Gold Line light rail (L-Line) extension project in San Dimas on Friday, June 17, 2022. The project, which started in 2020 during the pandemic, extends the light-rail system into Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona. The state legislators and city leaders are advocating to LA Metro to fund the next extension to Claremont and Montclair. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • FILE – Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line...

    FILE – Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) overpass, seen here during an event celebrating 50 percent completion of the Gold Line light rail (L-Line) extension project in San Dimas on Friday, June 17, 2022. The project, which started in 2020 during the pandemic, extends the light-rail system into Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona. In July and August 2022, state and local leaders are efforting to get funding for the next extension into Claremont, and ending in Montclair. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) overpass,...

    Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) overpass, seen here during an event celebrating 50 percent completion of the Gold Line light rail (L-Line) extension project in San Dimas on Friday, June 17, 2022. The project, which started in 2020 during the pandemic, extends the light-rail system into Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

  • LA Metro trains (L Line, formerly Gold Line) pull into...

    LA Metro trains (L Line, formerly Gold Line) pull into the Del Mar Station in Pasadena with luxury apartments adjacent to the tracks, station, part of transit-oriented development. The LA Metro Board on Thursday, June 23, 2022 passed a motion to create a land-banking program to buy up land near future transit projects in order to prevent high-end projects from going up and property prices rising, something known as gentrification. But cities in Southeast LA County, along the future West Santa Ana Branch (WSAB) light-rail line, object to the land-banking proposal, seeing it as a take away of local control. The proposal comes back to LA Metro Board of Directors in October 2022. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Crews install relocated freight track at Fulton Road grade crossing...

    Crews install relocated freight track at Fulton Road grade crossing in Pomona for the Gold Line (now L Line) extension from Glendora to Pomona on Feb. 10, 2022. The extension of the LA Metro light rail line is funded to Pomona. But not to Claremont and Montclair, as planned. Those two cities began a letter writing campaign in February 2022 to get the governor and state lawmakers to pass along some of the state’s budget surplus for the last leg of the project. If funded, it could be built to Montclair by 2027. (image courtesy of the Metro Gold Line Foothill Extension Construction Authority)

  • Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) station,...

    Construction continues at the San Dimas Gold Line (L-Line) station, seen here during an event celebrating 50 percent completion of the Gold Line light rail (L-Line) extension project in San Dimas on Friday, June 17, 2022. The project, which started in 2020 during the pandemic, extends the light-rail system into Glendora, La Verne, San Dimas and Pomona. (Photo by Trevor Stamp, Contributing Photographer)

While environmental lawsuits are common in major development projects, this one comes 2 1/2 years into the five-year build, so late that any delay would limit the running of the new line, officials contend.

Habib Balian, CEO of the Construction Authority, was asked by Board Member and Pomona Mayor Tim Sandoval at the authority’s board meeting Wednesday, Sept. 28, what would happen if the contractor’s deadline to build the parking lot in San Dimas was not met.

“Then we give up all chance of having the station completed in time for the Metro opening,” Balian responded. Balian’s agency has also spoken to LA Metro, the county transportation agency that will operate the extension from Glendora to North Pomona after completion in January 2025.

“They are prepared to operate the system and bypass the San Dimas Station for as long as necessary,” Balian said.

The Construction Authority is fighting against delays, the lawsuit and anything that will prevent the train from stopping on opening day at all four new stations: Glendora, San Dimas, La Verne and Pomona. The board made it clear that the lawsuit would only affect the San Dimas Station.

Christopher Burner, the Construction Authority’s chief project and planning officer, wrote a letter on Aug. 29 explaining the ramifications for LA Metro, due to the lawsuit.

In the letter, Burner laid out a scenario to prepare LA Metro’s June Susilo, deputy executive officer of program management: if litigation drags on, he wrote to her, or the court battle even slightly delays construction of parking that is crucial for the station to open, Metro should run the train to the other stations — but not stop at the San Dimas Station.

“Therefore, it is the Construction Authority’s intention to turn over the line to Metro in early-January 2025 so Metro can begin its planned operation in mid-2025, albeit with initial operations likely skipping the San Dimas Station,” Burner wrote.

The letter goes on to say the Construction Authority will reprogram the train’s controls to bypass the San Dimas Station and then re-program them back into the system “once the San Dimas parking facility has been completed.”

Over the objections of the city, the Construction Authority’s board voted on Wednesday to go ahead with condemnation of the 2.5-acre property, an existing Park & Ride lot near San Dimas Avenue and Railway Street, that will be used to expand parking from 170 spaces to about 275.

The Authority will use eminent domain to buy the property from the city to build a project “for a greater public use.” Officials from the Construction Authority said eminent domain is necessary to keep the project on schedule.

The city’s lawsuit says a supplemental Environmental Impact Report doesn’t address the increase in traffic on surrounding roads once train riders start parking there, nor does it adequately assess pedestrian or cyclist safety. Also, the lawsuit says the aesthetics of the new parking lot were not fully examined.

In a town hall meeting in June 2021, 30 residents spoke about the station parking project. Of those, five supported the project and 25 had concerns, Burner told his board. He said the Authority addressed the comments in a supplemental environmental review, approved by his board in July 2022.

Burner’s letter reminded LA Metro that the city objected to a previous configuration using the San Dimas City Yard as a parking lot because it would cost more than $20 million to buy land for a new city yard. Instead, the city suggested using the existing Park & Ride lot to build the train station parking. The city and the Construction Authority agreed to the change.

“I can’t explain why they (city of San Dimas) have taken the position they have,” Burner said.

“We went through a lengthy and expensive process to do as they asked – including extensive environmental review. Now they have brought a lawsuit,” Balian said in an emailed response.

In a letter objecting to the condemnation dated Sept. 21, San Dimas special attorney Douglas J. Evertz of the law firm Murphy & Evertz, wrote that the Construction Authority cannot prove the project is for the greatest public good or that the land being acquired is even necessary for the project.

Evertz’ letter also says the Construction Authority “failed to make an adequate offer for the purchase of the property” and “failed to negotiate in good faith with the city.”

However, Brad Kuhn, the Construction Authority’s real estate attorney, said the agency did an appraisal of the property’s worth in November 2021 and then contracted for a second appraisal.

Evertz said he was confident he could reverse the condemnation and win the lawsuit. He also said the city has put in writing a “reasonable settlement outline” with the Construction Authority. A settlement conference is scheduled next week in Los Angeles County Superior Court, he said.

In an emailed response on Wednesday, San Dimas City Manager Chris Constantin wrote that the city is “committed to working with the Gold Line to find a reasonable and sensible solution to our community concerns. We have high hopes common sense will prevail.”

Kuhn seemed to indicate there was a chance the two sides could reach an agreement, staving off disruptions in the line’s operation in 2025.

“Yes, we will work with the city in good faith and we do have a settlement conference coming up next week,” said Kuhn.

The L Line runs from East Los Angeles to Union Station in Downtown LA, Chinatown, Highland Park, Pasadena, Monrovia, Duarte, and Irwindale — and currently ends in Azusa, at Azusa Pacific University. The 12.3-mile extension from Azusa to Claremont was originally budgeted at $1.4 billion but two years later increased to $2.1 billion — but that only gets the line to Pomona. The extension was supposed to reach Claremont and Montclair, but the project ran out of money.

SCNG Staff Writer Javier Rojas contributed to this article.

California

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