BY JEFF HORSEMAN AND PETER SUROWSKI STAFF WRITERS May 23, 2013; 05:23 PM
Local officials are urging lawmakers to help them counter a judge’s decision that has put a planned Metrolink extension on an indefinite hiatus.
Riverside County Supervisor Marion Ashley said he flew to Sacramento on Thursday, May 23, with Riverside County Transportation Commission Chairwoman Karen Spiegel and Perris Mayor Daryl Busch to meet with two Democratic lawmakers from Riverside County, State Senator Richard Roth and State Assemblyman Jose Medina.
Their goal is to revive the $232.7 million Perris Valley Line project that would build 24 miles of track and four stations from Riverside to the southern edge of Perris.
Judge Sharon J. Waters ruled the project’s environmental impact report violates the California Environmental Quality Act. In a judgment released last week, she said all approvals for the report, which is vital to the project, must be rescinded.
The decision was renounced by several local officials, including Ashley, who is the vice-chair of transportation commission’s board of directors.
“We’re just flabbergasted (by the ruling). Outraged is a good word,” he said. “It’s just awfully hard to understand if you’re a normal human being.”
Ashley said the ruling underscores the need to reform CEQA, which regulates the impacts a project can have on the environment. He said one option available to Roth and Medina is trying to make the project exempt from the provisions of the act.
Members of Friends of Riverside’s Hills, an environmental group that filed the suit, said what the officials are doing shows disregard for the rule of law.
“I think it is a source of serious concern when public agencies view themselves as being above the law, which is what this effort suggests,” said Len Nunney, the secretary for Friends.
What the trio of officials is asking of the lawmakers is no easy thing to accomplish, said Chuck Dalldorf, a spokesperson for Roth.
“It’s certainly possible, but it’s highly complicated,” Dalldorf said.
Generally, legislators introduce bills in January or February. This late in the year, the lawmakers would have two choices: they could get a waiver for the already-broken deadlines, which is “challenging to get,” or they would need to amend an already-existing bill to include the Perris Valley Line’s CEQA exemption, Dalldorf said.
The commuter rail project, when started, is expected to take 18 months to complete and see about 4,000 boardings daily, according to John Standiford, the deputy executive director of the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the lead agency on the project.