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Retailers Opposing L.B. Boulevard Rail Route Dealt Setback in Court

December 31, 1987|CHRIS WOODYARD | Times Staff Writer

LONG BEACH — A group of merchants has lost another round in its legal fight to stop construction of Los Angeles County's first light rail line on a route fronting their businesses on Long Beach Boulevard.

The 2nd District Court of Appeal backed a lower court's decision that the county Transportation Commission, which is building the 21.5-mile line from Long Beach to Los Angeles, adequately prepared its environmental impact report on the project.

In a 33-page opinion, the appellate court ruled Dec. 24 that the commission received enough environmental information from Long Beach city planners to decide where the rail line should go. It also ruled that a longer construction period than originally estimated does not require a new environmental report and that the current report adequately shows how the line would affect business and traffic.

About 100 boulevard merchants, calling themselves No Slo Transit, sued the commission and the city in April, 1985. They expressed fears that the $752-million high-tech trolley line would disrupt their businesses during construction and cause widespread traffic congestion.

Superior Court Judge Charles S. Litwin ruled last year that the county Transportation Commission "proceeded in a manner required by law" when it approved building a two-mile stretch of the line along the boulevard.

The appellate court backed Litwin's ruling, finding that the commission had properly considered all environmental impacts before approving the route.

No Slo Transit's leader, Bob Lee, who owns property along the boulevard, expressed disappointment about the latest decision but said he would not comment about a possible appeal until he talks with the group's attorney. "I just think it's a sad day for us," Lee said.

He said No Slo Transit's members, mostly small-business owners, oppose the light rail line because they consider it little more than a throwback to the Red Cars of the 1920s.

Traffic Jams Feared

"I saw the Red Cars and I sat on Long Beach Boulevard for 39 years," said Lee, a former used-car dealer. "I saw a million and one run by that didn't have a single (passenger) on them."

A fellow plaintiff, Ron Frank, said the light rail line could create traffic jams when it crosses such crucial east-west streets as Willow and Anaheim and Pacific Coast Highway. Construction of the line could discourage customers from patronizing boulevard shops, Frank added.

"The construction impact is something the merchants fear the most," he said.

The Transportation Commission's Long Beach representative said the court action has showed the need to work with merchants.

John Higgins, a community relations specialist with the commission, said he has "looked at every driveway along the boulevard" to make sure that construction won't block access.

Signs, Leaflets Planned

He said signs will be posted and leaflets distributed to inform potential patrons that businesses are open when construction starts in six-block sections along the boulevard.

Higgins, who works in a trailer on the boulevard at Willow Street, said he has met with business and property owners to reassure them.

Some car dealers are worried about the effects of the rail line on Long Beach's dwindling Auto Row, he said. "They're afraid steel wheels and rubber tires don't mix."

Merchants are likely to be most affected sometime after February, when sidewalks are narrowed and driveways could be blocked, Higgins said. Construction on the center divider, where the tracks will be laid, is not likely to begin until July, he said.

The work is expected to take 18 months. The rail line is scheduled to open in 1990.

Although the business group may disagree with the route, the appeals court said the Transportation Commission took the proper steps in arriving at its decision.

"Findings are required only for environmental impacts; they are not required for policy decisions," the court said. "Further, once the required findings as to environmental impacts have been made, a public agency may still adopt a project with adverse environmental consequences, provided it either adopts mitigation measures or finds that overriding considerations justify the project. . . ."

No Slo Transit said the Transportation Commission should have been told that the city Planning Department had recommended another route. But the court said that even if the commission had known of the recommendation, "we are satisfied that the staff document would not have added anything new."

The business group also noted differing estimates of how many people would ride the rail line, but the court ruled that the environmental report cannot be invalidated because of "disagreements among experts."

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