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Health and environmental justice advocates railroaded by LA City Council

Adrian Martinez

Posted May 8, 2013

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For a City Council that has gotten many things right, it was hit by a train of misinformation in its approval of BNSF’s Southern California International Gateway railyard project today.  After hours of testimony on this matter, the City Council voted 11-2 to approve this rail expansion project that concedes it has disproportionate impacts on low income communities of color. 

Several entities appealed the decision of the Port of Los Angeles to approve this BNSF railyard project.  Included in that list of Appellants is the City of Long Beach.  Mayor Foster of Long Beach gave really compelling testimony about the fact that this project harms west Long Beach residents with little to reduce that harm.  James Johnson, councilmember for the most impacted Long Beach district, was given a whopping one minute to present his concerns.  In his one minute though, he pointed out the hypocrisy of pushing forward a project without providing a basic level of community protection like similar port projects have had. 

Dr. Barry Wallerstein from the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) also provided excellent testimony on the failures of this project to actually include sufficient commitments to protect the public from harmful air pollution, including potential violations of federal clean air standards.

NRDC’s allies in this fight, including East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, Coalition for a Safe Environment, Communities for a Better Environment, Coalition for Clean Air and many others, gave amazing testimony about the absurdity of this project. Mark Lopez of East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice made a poignant inquiry asking why the City would approve a 50 year lease with a project that promotes environmental racism. 

In the end, the council was persuaded by grandiose claims of this project improving air quality and reducing traffic. Too bad they were sold snake oil. 

SCIG won’t make the air cleaner. The comments from the SCAQMD show why it is false to say that the SCIG would make the air cleaner. The air will be cleaner whether SCIG is built or not, thanks to changes in state and federal law that have nothing to do with SCIG.  Despite this, the Port of Los Angeles and BNSF railways, claim this project makes the air cleaner.  It defies logic to put a million new truck trips and thousands of new train trips in a community and say that the air will be cleaner. Besides, why would SCAQMD take the unprecedented step of opposing a project, if it actually made the air cleaner?

SCIG won’t reduce traffic. Any traffic taken off the I-710 will just take another route into the local community. If SCIG would really make a major reduction in 710 traffic, CalTrans wouldn’t be spending more than $30 million in environmental review to try to expand it. The Port and BNSF claim that trucks would get to go to the SCIG instead of traveling up the 710 to BNSF’s Hobart Yard. However, the Port’s EIR shows that traffic at BNSF’s Hobart Yard is expected to increase in the future; that traffic will travel from the Ports up the 710 to Hobart, resulting in an increase of truck traffic on the 710, not a reduction. They provide no evidence of a committment to reduce operations at Hobart in a way that takes trucks off the I-710 if SCIG is built.   

It is a sad day in Los Angeles, but this battle may move to court where this will get hashed out in a rational process with a neutral arbiter.  The letter from NRDC, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice and the Coalition for Clean Air stated it well:

Our bottom line is this: would you want your children or grandchildren to live next door to the SCIG, when this polluting project can be made so much better? This is a moral issue of whether the City should place the interests of a multi-billion dollar railyard company over the interests of children, veterans, and low-income communities of color who live near the SCIG site. We urge you to side with those who you are elected to serve and vote to send the SCIG EIR back to the Board of Harbor Commissioners to make the project better.  

Today, the City Council sided with the multi-billion dollar railyard company, and for this reason, I’m disappointed with our elected leaders who made this foolish decision.  

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janet gunterMay 8 2013 09:01 PM

The City Council spends zero serious time evaluating anything!! Not sure any members even have the skill set for that! Their vote was a fait accompli before they ever sat at that table this morning. God could have appeared before them requesting opposition... and they would have voted as they did. Unfortunately, it will continue to take legal action to force responsible, prudent decisions in LA. Cynical?....perhaps. But, many reasons for it. I'm grateful that at least this issue will be heard in a court of law. There are other very important safety issues that have no legal opportunity for that. Only through legal action will there be a chance to defeat it. Thanks for your efforts, Adrian.

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