Friends of Riverside’s Hills came into being 13 years ago because a group of local residents observed repeated and egregious violations of the codes regulating development in Western Riverside County by both developers and local government agencies.
Our mandate was simple: to ensure that the local and state rules designed to preserve and enhance the quality of life of the residents of the area were followed. Riverside may not have an ocean to attract people, but it does have parks and trails that highlight its natural beauty.
Friends of Riverside’s Hills is a small 501(c)3 charity with no paid staff. As such, we can only focus on projects that violate important environmental and quality-of-life protections, or have other serious legal problems. When a project comes up, Friends focuses on whether or not the appropriate environmental regulations are being taken into account, rather than taking a position on the merits of the project.
When rules are being violated, we suggest changes that would help the project conform to the relevant regulations, lessening its environmental impact and, where possible, creating a benefit for the community.
NO INTEREST IN DELAY
The Perris Valley Line project, proposed by the Riverside County Transportation Commission to extend Metrolink train service from Riverside to Perris, was this kind of project — one that had some serious problems that could be corrected. Friends of Riverside’s Hills has no interest in delaying this project.
We have always been (and still are) very keen to reach a settlement that would avoid further delay. Throughout the long approval process to adopt the Environmental Impact Report we pointed out in great detail issues that needed to be addressed, but the response of the RCTC was always the same — that our concerns were not valid, and that the EIR had more than satisfied all of the legal requirements. It is this attitude of the RCTC, proved wrong by the court’s decision, that has delayed the project. RCTC’s outraged response to the decision shows that it still believes that it can do no wrong. It is a sad day when a public body that is supposed to serve the public good holds such a view.
An example of our concerns is RCTC’s position regarding the safety of the hundreds of UC Riverside students who cross the railroad tracks every quarter at the start of their hike up to the big “C” on the side of Box Springs Mountain using the Big “C” Trail (as it is called on Google Earth).
Metrolink trains are much faster and quieter than the freight trains that currently use the line.
This represents a serious public safety issue. The RCTC’s response was that this issue was not their concern because the students were trespassing every time they cross the tracks. Fortunately, this irresponsible view was not upheld by the court, but if RCTC can get its way and ignore the court’s ruling, nothing will be done to mitigate this concern — until, one suspects, a student is struck by a train.
The California Environmental Quality Act, which governs lawsuits such as Friends of Riverside’s Hills’, is an easy target for the powerful to attack, but it allows for small watchdog groups like Friends to ensure that commonsense environmental regulations are enforced. Friends has neither the time nor the money to file frivolous suits, and we never gain financially from winning.
Our lawsuit against RCTC was motivated by the agency’s failure to consider issues such as pedestrian crossings over or under the tracks, trails along the tracks, wildlife impacts, air pollution, and noise pollution.
Now that our belief that the EIR was inadequate has been validated by the court, it is unfortunate that RCTC continues to act as if it is too powerful an agency to be subject to CEQA, the state law established to protect all California residents.
Len Nunney, secretary of Friends of Riverside’s Hills, wrote this commentary on the organization’s behalf.
– See more at: http://www.pe.com/opinion/local-views-headlines/20130609-opinion-obey-environmental-law-and-metrolink-extension-can-proceed.ece#sthash.ZKhtWBlu.dpuf