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Environmentalists sue Metro in effort to stop gondola ride to Dodger Stadium

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Environmental advocates on Monday, March 25, delivered on their promise to sue Metro for approving planning documents for a proposed gondola project that would provide access to Dodger Stadium.

The Los Angeles Parks Alliance, a group of public space advocates, announced their lawsuit against the transit agency under California’s environmental laws. It urged the court to throw out what they describe as the gondola’s “fatally flawed” final environmental impact report. Metro previously certified the EIR report in February, which represented a significant step forward for the project.

Members of the alliance claim the gondola would significantly impact the land and airspace of Los Angeles State Historic Park, destroy more than 250 trees, displace wildlife and permanently ruin its vistas.

“L.A. Metro’s decision to certify this deeply flawed EIR has left us with no other choice than to plead our case to the court,” Jon Christensen, adjunct assistant professor at UCLA Institute of the Environmental and Sustainability and founder of the alliance, said in a statement.

“The board’s action ignores 20 years of community advocacy that went into building a park in a neighborhood in dire need of green space and recreational opportunities and essentially gifts the public’s land and air rights to a billionaire for an illegal commercial exploitation.”

Metro did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Zero Emissions Transit, the non-profit owner of the gondola project known as Los Angeles Aerial Rapid Transport, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Metro took on the role as the lead agency overseeing California Environmental Quality Act requirements as required by the Public Utilities Code to review for approval all plans proposed for the design, construction, and implementation of public mass transit projects — regardless of whether the transit agency is the project sponsor.

As part of their approval, Metro’s Board of Directors also signed off on a community benefits agreement, placing about 30 conditions on the project. If those conditions are not met, Metro will have the ability to revoke permissions and use of its land.

Highlights of the agreement include calls for an ongoing Chinatown revitalization revolving loan fund to offer low- and no-interest loans, and forgivable loans to local small businesses, entrepreneurs and street vendors. It also establishes requirements for tree replacement parking, local job creation, workforce development, sustainable and affordable housing.

The project will also require further consideration from the city of Los Angeles, Caltrans, the California State Department of Parks and Recreation, and the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health before it comes back to the transit agency at a future date for construction approval.

Former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt proposed the $300 million privately-funded project, which would establish a 1.2-mile aerial gondola, connecting Union Station with Dodger Stadium.

The project would include a station at the southernmost entrance of Los Angeles State Historic Park, as well as pedestrian and landscape improvements. The project would run above Chinatown, Mission Junction, Elysian Park and Solano Canyon.

Though the project was initially estimated at $300 million, updated financial documents show the gondola closer to $500 million.

In 2023, McCourt gifted the project to a new entity, Zero Emission Transit, which is now handling potential building, financing and operation of the gondola.

Metro had stated it would not be providing funding for the project, and assured taxpayer money would not be used. ZET also reiterated it was a privately-funded venture, but opponents say there are no guarantees public dollars won’t be spent.

ZET has billed the project as environmentally friendly and aid in reducing traffic on streets around the stadium and freeways heading there by removing as many as 3,000 cars, leading to a net reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

Last week, Executive Director of ZET David Grannis attended a Los Angeles City Council meeting to discuss the project. He said the project would “reduce car trips, alleviate congestion and improve accessibility to the most visited venue of Major League Baseball.”

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He also described the agreement with Metro as setting a “new standard” for community investments by a transit project.

The alliance, in their lawsuit, contends McCourt has plans for Dodger Stadium parking lots, which he owns, likely to build a retail and entertainment complex similar to that of L.A. Live. McCourt has filed plans with the L.A. City Planning Department for some housing projects around the stadium.

The alliance argues the EIR does not study the impacts of those foreseeable plans, undercutting the claimed benefit of traffic and greenhouse gas reduction. Additionally, the group criticizes the EIR for failing to recognize the use of land and airspace of L.A. State Historic Park.

“This project clearly violates CEQA, but more importantly is being forced on a neighborhood that has had to endure more than its share of projects that don’t benefit the community,” John Given, legal counsel to LAPA, said in a statement. “I believe the court will recognize what our elected representatives on Metro’s Board have not, and correct this egregious abuse of discretion.”

The L.A. City Council approved a motion last week to halt approvals for the gondola project until further studies can be conducted on its potential impacts. Council members voted 11-2 in support of the motion introduced by Councilwoman Eunisses Hernandez, who represents the First District, where the gondola would be located. As part of the action, council members approved $500,000 for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation to hire a consultant to conduct assessments.

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