A rendering of the disputed BNSF-Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) Railyard.
The controversial BNSF Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) railway project, one that would have placed a high-volume transport facility servicing the Port of Los Angeles (POLA) right next to West Long Beach communities and schools, was dealt a setback today when Contra Costa County Superior Court found that the environmental impact report (EIR) lacked adequate analysis, instructing the POLA to conduct a new EIR.
In a 200 page ruling, Judge Barry P. Goode found the EIR to be inadequate, with the biggest concerns stemming from the review’s take on air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, noise and traffic impacts. It found that a flawed approach was used to measure noise —the rail yard was to be a 24-hour operation seven days a week—as it only measured “average” noise impacts, not taking into account that they would be happening at all hours, violating local noise ordinances.
The ruling also concluded that the EIR underestimated traffic impacts and provided misleading figures on how the project would impact air quality. Goode’s ruling seemed to validate the lawsuit’s claim that the report omitted basic information, with analysis being based on “distortions of predicted impacts.”
The decision comes nearly three years since the Long Beach City Council voted unanimously to direct the city attorney’s office to file a lawsuit against Los Angeles City and its port, challenging the EIR. Other groups joining the city in opposition to the SCIG rail project included the Long Beach Unified School District, the state’s attorney general and the South Coast Air Quality Management.
In a statement, City Attorney Charles Parkin said the city was relieved that the finding will force the project’s backers to explore other avenues to mitigate impacts on West Long Beach.
“We are relieved that the court heard and understood our concerns about the impacts of the SCIG project, which would significantly increase air pollution in an area where residents already face too many health hazards,” Parkin said. “With this ruling, the Port and BNSF must re-examine opportunities to avoid the project’s effects on public health and quality of life in West Long Beach and neighboring communities.”
Had it been approved, the rail-yard would have routed thousands of diesel trucks and miles of diesel trains next to schools, daycare centers, parks and residences on a daily basis.
By 2035, it’s estimated that upward of two million truck trips per year and the unloading of 1.5 million shipping containers annually would have taken place at the facility, with the pollution caused by the uptick in traffic impacting a portion of Long Beach already inundated with smog, soot and other air contaminants from the 710 Freeway and the Port of Long Beach. Seventh District Councilman Roberto Uranga who represents the West Side, said the announcement will allow his constituents to “breathe a little easier now.”
“As the representative of the district most impacted by port-related transportation and emissions, I stand with my residents and the organizations that joined the city in the suit in thanking Judge Goode for his ruling,” Uranga said. “Although our work is not done, we can now celebrate our hard work.”
The City of Long Beach has a child asthma rate that is nearly twice that of the county average, with 15 percent of Long Beach children being affected by asthma compared to 8 percent in the rest of the region.
A separate study performed by the University of Southern California monitoring 1,700 children in Southern California over a decade and published 2004 showed that Long Beach had the highest levels of elemental carbon, a marker of diesel exhaust and the third highest concentration of nitrogen dioxide, a known asthma trigger, out of the 12 communities surveyed.
The study linked smoggy air to lung damage in children, noting that six percent of Long Beach children had less than 80 percent of their lung function, a figure far higher than the other communities surveyed. A study released by the university earlier this month showed that since stiffer policies on pollution took hold last decade, lung development has improved in the region, as harmful pollutants plummeted.
With today’s ruling, the Port and City of LA will have to carry out a new EIR that re-examines opportunities to avoid the project’s effects on public health and quality of life on West Long Beach and neighboring communities, according to the release from a Contra Costa County Courthouse.
“This is a huge win for Long Beach, and in particular our Westside residents who would have been dramatically impacted by this proposed project,” said Mayor Robert Garcia after today’s ruling. “The health of our children and the protection of our environment have been at the forefront of our concerns. My thanks to my predecessor Mayor Bob Foster for fighting to protect our residents and to City Attorney Charlie Parkin, Assistant City Attorney Mike Mais, and our entire legal team for this historic win for our West Long Beach neighborhoods.”
Garcia was serving as the city’s first district councilman at the time the lawsuit against the project was initiated in 2013. The outrage that followed the Los Angeles City Council’s vote to approve the project led protestors from Long Beach and other communities to initiate a 24-hour hunger strike outside then Mayor Antonio Villaragosa’s home. The group’s slogan read: “You can go days without eating but cannot survive more than a few minutes without breathing”
The Port of Long Beach (POLB) applauded today’s ruling, noting that it started its Green Port Policy, as it wanted to be a good neighbor to those communities impacted by its operations. It added that it will continue to work on programs that will benefit the West Side of the city’s quality of life by buffering residents from its activity and to continue its efforts to keep port activity on or nearest to the port.
“We support on-dock and near dock rail projects because these projects take trucks off the roads, relieve congestion and protect the environment,” said POLB CEO Jon Slangerup. “Now, with the resolution of this issue behind us, the Port can continue to focus on its $4 billion capital improvement program while building the Green Port of the Future.”