BY KAREN SPIEGEL
June 09, 2013; 04:00 AM
‘Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”
One organization that needs to pay heed to the old adage is the Friends of Riverside’s Hills.
Taking NIMBYism to an extreme, this “environmental” organization actually brought a lawsuit to stop a transit project that has been in the works for more than 10 years.
Metrolink, one of Southern California’s biggest success stories, has changed lives by offering an environmentally responsible option for long-term commuters, and a significant number of its riders come from Riverside and San Bernardino counties.
The Perris Valley Line, which would go from Riverside to Perris, would take cars off the freeway, eliminate millions of vehicle-miles traveled each year and create thousands of well-paying local construction jobs. Yet, it is now being threatened as a result of a May 14 court ruling ordering decertification of the project’s Environmental Impact Report.
The issues involve the number of truck trips needed to construct the project, noise, track lubrication, and impacts on those who illegally trespass along the rail right of way. The ruling also jeopardizes $75 million in federal funding and halts progress on a project twice approved by — you — the voters, who supported Measure A, the half-cent sales tax measure.
As our region moves toward encouraging public transit use and reducing harmful air quality emissions associated with vehicle traffic, the “Friends” group remains committed to stopping a 24-mile expansion of rail service that will serve job centers such as Hunter Park, the March Air Reserve Base and UC Riverside.
Nevermind that the train tracks have existed for more than a century and are home to much noisier and disruptive freight trains, the addition of six round-trip Metrolink trains led to unfortunate litigation.
If there is a legal victory for the Friends group, it won’t be shared by everyone. All of Southern California — and especially all of us in Riverside County — should question if anything was gained and how much more was lost. That’s because RCTC, through a multi-year and multimillion-dollar planning effort, made a good faith effort to address local concerns.
The Metrolink project provides schools along the rail tracks with sound walls, constructs new improvements at rail crossings to improve safety and adds attractive new rail stations at major employment centers, all of which will enhance what has been a long-neglected freight rail corridor.
Moreover, RCTC committed to funding quiet zones. In short, the addition of new train service improves the environment much more than it will impact it; a court victory against the project will be a much bigger loss for everyone.
Riverside County’s future will certainly be impacted because we need to establish an effective transit backbone that connects bus, rail and park and rides. The Friends group will argue its concerns can be met; however, much like Lucy pulling the ball away from Charlie Brown before he can kick the football, its demands change just as they are about to be met.
It’s time to ask the Friends about what their organization stands for, and where their litigation proceeds are spent. They have manipulated California environmental law to their advantage and the rest of the region will pay the price.
RCTC has been and remains willing to engage in negotiations for a reasonable settlement with the Friends of Riverside’s Hills. To date, we have been unsuccessful. The future of transit in Western Riverside County is at stake, and we stand ready to have a public and transparent discussion about ways we can move forward for the benefit of our entire community.
RCTC will be in Sacramento pursuing changes in the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to protect worthwhile transit projects from spurious legal challenges. You can also count on us to appeal this court decision in order to prevent the negative precedent that would be set if this project cannot proceed.
Karen Spiegel, a member of the Corona City Council, is chair of the Riverside County Transportation Commission.
– See more at: http://www.pe.com/opinion/local-views-headlines/20130609-opinion-end-obstruction-support-metrolink-extension-to-perris.ece#sthash.K6b6Vbt1.dpuf