L.A. City Council Votes to Approve Controversial SCIG Rail Yard

This story was updated at 5:12PM with quotes from the council meeting

In an 11-2 vote–the two dissenters being 8th District Councilmember Bernard Parks and 9th District Councilmember Jan Perry–the Los Angeles City Council voted today to take the final step foward in approving the controversial Southern California International Gateway (SCIG) project.

Despite months of protests from residents and officials in the project-adjacent Long Beach, the Council approved BNSF Railway’s $500 million near-dock rail yard citing “cut-throat”‘ competition from other North American ports looking to take advantage of the widening of the Panama Canal. The vote drew around 500 people, who filled the council chamber and a nearby room at Los Angeles City Hall.

The project offered what was a deeply contested final Environmental Impact Report (FEIR) with rail giant BNSF–the funder and operator of the rail yard–stating it would benefit air quality, while several community organizations–including the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Coalition for Clean Air, and the Natural Resources Defense Council–as well as the City of Long Beach providing evidence that West Long Beach citizens near the project will suffer from increased noise and air pollution.

That same FEIR, following a passioned plea from Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster to consider otherwise, was unanimously approved by the Port of L.A.’s Board of Harbor Commissioners before it was handed to the City Council.

“[SCIG] is a good and sound environmental project [that will] create actual green jobs,” said Harbor-area councilman Joe Buscaino, and take about 1.5 million trucks off the road.

Approved with today’s vote were environmental findings necessary for the overall project’s approval, a lease agreement to allow BNSF to build on port property as well as a 50-year permit to construct and operate the facility. Before the vote today, Natural Resources Defense Council lawyer David Pettit told the council he planned to filed a lawsuit if the project was approved, saying the rail yard could constitute violations of the state Environmental Quality Act and civil rights law.

“Frankly, these communities deserve better,” Foster told L.A. City Council during public comment before the vote. He reminded the Council that the two cities have
successfully collaborated on port projects in the past, but the BNSF project was different. “[This project] is shockingly close to homes.”

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Brian Addison has been a writer, editor and photographer for more than a decade, covering everything from food to politics to urban transportation and housing. In 2015, he was named Journalist of the Year by the Los Angeles Press Club and has since garnered 12 nominations and an additional win for Best Political Commentary. Born in Big Bear, he has lived in Long Beach since college. Brian currently serves as a columnist and editor for the Long Beach Post.