Council OKs port rail yard but lawsuit is threatened

The Los Angeles City Council on Wednesday approved a controversial rail yard near the Port of Los Angeles, setting the stage for possible court challenges, alleging violations of environmental and civil rights laws.

The proposal to build a staging center for trains hauling freight from the largest harbor complex in the nation has raised questions about environmental justice, particularly for nearby minority and working-class neighborhoods of west Long Beach, which could be affected by the project.

Council members approved the Southern California International Gateway and certified its environmental analysis, saying the $500-million project would boost efficiency in the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, create jobs, and provide mitigation measures to improve air quality in surrounding communities.

“We are at a beginning point to make things better,” Councilman Ed Reyes said. “If we don’t move now, two, three, four years, we could lose our competitive edge.”


Council members pointed to improvements at other West Coast ports and the current widening of the Panama Canal, which could allow the largest container ships from Asia to bypass the West Coast and deliver goods to ports on the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico.

The planned freight yard would be built by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. in Wilmington next to California 103, between Sepulveda Boulevard and California 1 and east of Alameda Street. The 153-acre project would be capable of handling up to 2.8 million 20-foot shipping containers a year by 2035 and 8,200 trucks a day.

Railroad and harbor officials say the facility will be the greenest of its type in the nation and employ the cleanest diesel trucks, cranes, yard hostlers and locomotives available. Truck traffic, they say, would be dramatically reduced on the Long Beach Freeway and mitigation measures would cut noise, light and air pollution in nearby communities.

Prior to the vote, David Pettit, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, appeared before the council and threatened to sue over possible violations of state civil rights laws and the California Environmental Quality Act.

Pettit said after the hearing that the NRDC and other environmental groups also are considering filing an administrative claim with the U.S. Department of Transportation, alleging violations of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Opponents contend the project will make life worse in neighborhoods that have already been seriously degraded by port operations. Research shows that residents in the area, particularly children, now have abnormally high rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses, including lung cancer.

They point to the project’s environmental impact documents, which state that there will be significant unavoidable environmental impacts that would fall disproportionately on low-income communities.



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