LBUSD to Seek Litigation Against Controversial SCIG Project

Continuing the rift between Long Beach agencies and the proposed Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) railyard, Long Beach Unified School District (LBUSD) filed a lawsuit that seeks to properly analyze the impacts of the railyard on West Long Beach students.

The lawsuit follows similar actions taken by the City of Long Beach, who is pursuing litigation against the City of Los Angeles after its city council formally approved the project. During the months before the Los Angeles City Council's vote, our own council as well as three advocacy groups--the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Coalition for Clean Air, and the Natural Resources Defense Council--appealed the approval of the FEIR by the Port of LA Board of Harbor Commissioners.

"Our school district's primary goal is to provide a safe learning environment," said LBUSD Superintendent Christopher J. Steinhauser in a release. "We cannot support a project that would pose any health risk to our students and staff."

According to LBUSD, the suit alleges that that the approved EIR fails to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA); if the court obliges the District, the project could be delayed. The school district has already been outspoken against the project, having appeared before both the Board of Harbor Commissioners and L.A. City Council to denounce the railyard; officials even sought to mediate their issues with the Port per CEQA's mediation process, but the Port ultimately declined to participate in such a process.

The massive undertaking has been met with an equally massive amount of controversy, dividing not just the usually-amicable pairing of Long Beach and Los Angeles, but also dividing those within Long Beach itself: on the one hand, pro-business folk are in support of the project while community groups remain outraged.

The latter group has a plethora of policy analysts--including the Asthma Coalition of L.A. County, Building Healthy Communities, Coalition for Clean Air, Communities for Clean Ports/End Oil, Natural Resources Defense Council and the West Long Beach Association--to back up their concerns that SCIG will actually generate more truck traffic as well as increase net diesel pollution in the area. This stance is a stark contrast to the stance provided by BNSF, the rail giant supporting the yard, which claims that 1.5 million trucks will be removed from local freeways.

According to these opposing groups, the "removal" is true in one sense: trucks as of now travel about 20 miles north on the 710 to the BNSF Hobart Yard while, after the completion of SCIG, trucks will use SR-47 to access the new rail yard about three miles north of the port complex.

Andrea Hricko, a Professor of Preventative Medicine at USC and one of the many professionals studying the effects of SCIG on the nearby Long Beach residents and students in the area nearby, points to transloading as the culprit which actually increases pollution with the building of SCIG.

This trend--noted by John Doherty of the Alameda Corridor Transportation Authority as increasing significantly in Southern California--involves transporting goods in international containers into domestic containers. After discovering that the contents of three 40-foot international containers could fit into two 53-foot domestic containers, goods movement companies realized the amount of money they could save. This is known as transloading and it should be noted that, despite having international goods, once contents are in a domestic container, they're considered a domestic shipment.

This latter point, particularly for Hricko, is important given that BNSF plans on shipping domestic containers to its Hobart Yard and international containers to SCIG. Therefore, advocacy groups say, more trucks will continue up the 710 after transloading while also explaining why BNSF is planning an expansion of Hobart.

The Long Beach Unified School District operates numerous schools on the affected Westside, with the closest school being located only 210 feet away from the proposed project.

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