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Court deals setback to Port of L.A. rail yard planned near poor neighborhoods

Emotions ran high in March 2013 during a public hearing for a $500-million rail yard planned near low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods in west Long Beach.

Emotions ran high in March 2013 during a public hearing for a $500-million rail yard planned near low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods in west Long Beach.

(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

A California judge ruled Wednesday that the Port of Los Angeles and a national railroad company failed to adequately assess the environmental impacts of a $500-million freight yard they want to build next to low-income, mostly minority neighborhoods.

Barry Goode, sitting in Contra Costa County Superior Court, held that the port and the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Co. violated the California Environmental Quality Act in their analysis of the Southern California International Gateway project, which has been planned for more than a decade.

The ruling will likely stall an important goods movement project for the region, but could benefit residents of west Long Beach who live, work and go to school next to the project site, an area already hard hit by pollution from port operations.

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As a result of Goode’s decision, the project will need a new environmental impact analysis to proceed -- a review that might result in additional measures to reduce emissions, noise and traffic in nearby communities.

“This victory has been a long time coming,” said Morgan Wyenn, a Natural Resources Defense Council attorney. The “ruling is an opportunity for the city of Los Angeles to go back to the drawing board and incorporate real improvements and cleaner technology that will protect the communities that are burdened with this toxic air.”

The lawsuit was filed in 2013 by a variety of plaintiffs, including the NRDC, the California attorney general, Long Beach, the Long Beach Unified School District, the South Coast Air Quality Management District, East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice, the Coalition for Clean Air and the Coalition for a Safe Environment.

In a prepared statement, port officials said the ruling will delay the project and deprive the region of many environmental benefits as wells as important rail infrastructure needed by the growing ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The officials added that they will study the decision and discuss their next steps with Burlington Northern and the Los Angeles Harbor Commission.

If built, the 153-acre facility would be located in Wilmington next to California 103, between Sepulveda Boulevard and Pacific Coast Highway and east of Alameda Street.

The huge staging center for trains hauling cargo from the harbor is predicted to handle up to 8,200 trucks a day and the equivalent of 2.8 million 20-foot shipping containers a year by 2035.

The yard is bordered by industrial uses except for the east side, where there are schools, playing fields, parks, housing for homeless veterans and low-income, largely minority residential neighborhoods in west Long Beach.

Health studies indicate that the area has disproportionately high rates of asthma and respiratory illness -- especially among children -- related to emissions from diesel trucks and port operations.

Follow @LADeadline16 on Twitter for transportation and aviation news.

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