A lawsuit filed by a local property owner could upend a plan to locate a critical piece of the Gold Line Foothill Extension in Monrovia and delay the much-anticipated light rail project.
The Metro Gold Line Construction Authority (GLCA) last month that paved the way for a $120 million rail maintenance facility to be built in Monrovia as part of the Gold Line Foothill Extension. The Gold Line cannot progress until a maintenance yard is built somewhere along the new line, which will extend from Pasadena to Azusa.
But a lawsuit filed Feb. 17 by a local property owner who stands to lose his property to the GLCA through eminent domain alleges that the construction authority improperly conducted the environmental review, according to court documents.
Robert P. Silverstein, the attorney for George Brokate, who owns property on Evergreen Avenue inside the proposed project area, said Tuesday that the GLCA "whitewashed" the environmental report for the project area.
"The Gold Line Authority was obligated to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)...," Silverstein said. "We contend that they grossly failed to do so and disregarded all of our objections and our experts reports."
Silverstein said his client does not want to sell his property, which he currently leases to an industrial distribution company. The lawsuit seeks to invalidate an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) conducted by the GLCA and force it to restart the process.
Habib Balian, the construction authority's CEO, said Tuesday that the GLCA followed the law.
"We’ve gone through a detailed process and met all the requirements based on CEQA," Balian said, adding that litigation is not uncommon in large projects like the maintenance yard. "These kind of challenges or actions are pretty typical on a project of this size and to be expected. It's not a surprise," Balian said.
The GLCA will continue to acquire the necessary property to move forward with the maintenance yard while the litigation progresses, Balian said.
The city owns about 50 percent of the 24 acres of land located in the light industrial zone in the south side of the city where the yard would go, and Balian said that land is expected to be acquired by the GLCA some time this spring.
The EIR certified last month determined that the site in Monrovia--bounded by Evergreen Avenue on the north, Shamrock Avenue on the east, California Avenue on the west and Duarte Road on the south--is the "preferred" place for the maintenance facility to be built. Another option was explored in Irwindale, but officials there opposed the yard.
Silverstein said the GLCA did not consider enough alternatives to the Monrovia site.
"We contend that they failed and refused to consider a reasonable range of alternate sites that would have been environmentally superior and would have caused less damage to private property owners…," Silverstein said.
If the maintenance facility must be located at the Monrovia site, Silverstein said his client's property should be "carved out of the project."
Local officials have repeatedly said they support building the maintenance yard in Monrovia because it will expedite the Gold Line and bring about 200 new jobs to the city. The city plans to build a massive mixed-use development, , along the Gold Line right-of-way in anticipation of the foothill extension. Construction on the extension is currently slated to finish in late 2014.
Silverstein's law firm is no stranger to CEQA lawsuits or litigation against Monrovia. The city in another lawsuit filed by Silverstein on behalf of Brokate that alleged city officials violated the Brown Act in its dealings regarding the Gold Line maintenance yard.
And the city had to last year after Silverstein successfully sued on behalf of a hillside resident who claimed the city's first EIR for the preserve was incomplete. A resource management plan for the preserve has still not been developed.