The Metro Green Line light rail expansion to Los Angeles International Airport could face an expedited environmental review if an Assembly bill recently sponsored by Assemblyman Mike Feuer (D-Los Angeles) is successful.

Feuer’s proposed legislation, Assembly Bill 1444, would affect light rail projects like the Green Line expansion as well as other area transportation initiatives.

“This bill would create thousands of desperately needed jobs and give commuters and residents environmentally sound transit options as alternatives to sitting in stopping traffic,” the assemblyman said.

AB 1444 would provide treatment for light rail projects similar to that which was given to developers of the proposed Farmers Field, the downtown Los Angeles football stadium. Under AB 900, the Jobs and Economic Improvement Through Environmental Leadership Act of 2011, projects like the proposed stadium are permitted to be fast-tracked for environmental review but will still be subject to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

CEQA is a landmark state environmental law created in 1970. It requires state and local agencies within California to follow a protocol of analysis and public disclosure of environmental impacts of proposed projects and adopt all feasible measures to mitigate those impacts. Because of CEQA, environmental protection is mandatory in every state and local agency’s decision-making process regarding development.

Feuer is also the author of Measure R, a 2008 transportation ballot initiative that was passed overwhelmingly by Los Angeles County voters. The measure increased the county’s sales tax by one half cent for 30 years in order to pay for transportation projects and improvements.

AB 1444 would extend Measure R by another 10 years, which could raise billions of dollars for transportation projects.

Mar Vista resident Ken Alpern, co-chair of the transit advocacy organization the Transit Coalition, is in favor of the sales tax extension.

“Overall, I support Mike Feuer’s bills to both extend Measure R sales taxes for at least another 10 years, and to allow these projects expedited environmental review, because they ensure that the vetted, consensus-supported Measure R projects will be planned and built in a cost-effective way to please the voters, taxpayers and commuters of Los Angeles County,” Alpern said.

City Councilman Bill Rosendahl said while the bill needs more review, he strongly supports legislation that will enhance light rail and reduce gridlock.

“This is music to my ears,” said the councilman. “I’m in favor of anything that can get these Measure R projects moving.”

Feuer’s proposal comes at a time when elected leaders in Los Angeles have been lobbying the federal government to expedite light rail initiatives that are in the pipeline, including the Green Line and the Metro Crenshaw/LAX light rail line, which will encompass South Los Angeles and stop at LAX.

Mayor Antonio Villariagosa has visited Washington, D.C. on several occasions to ask the federal government for assistance in fast-tracking rail projects like the Crenshaw/LAX and Green lines.

Fourth District County Supervisor Don Knabe was more circumspect than Alpern and Rosendahl about Feuer’s proposed legislation.

“We’re still in the process of receiving all of the information (on AB 1444),” said the supervisor, whose district includes LAX. “The voters are going to have to take a look at this and decide what they want to do.”

The potential of seeing pending traffic initiatives, such as freeway improvements dislodged by AB 1444 is something that worries Knabe. “My concern would be that projects as they exist today might pushed aside,” said the supervisor, who voted against Measure R.

Some environmental organizations, such as the National Resources Defense Council, are concerned that any additional changes to CEQA could irreparably damage the landmark environmental statute.

Andy Shrader, an environmental advocate, feels this is not the time to expedite environmental review.

“A struggling economy is no reason to fast track anything. If anything, as short-sighted corporate threats to our environment multiply, we should be strengthening CEQA and the Environmental Protection Agency,” asserted Shrader, a former member of the Mar Vista Community Council.

“The whole purpose of CEQA is to ensure each project receives a thorough vetting to be certain all potential environmental impacts are disclosed and addressed so that there are no surprises.”

Alpern, a co-chair of the Mar Vista Community Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said fast tracking environmental review should not be a part of all rail initiatives.

“I do not favor expediting the environmental review for all projects,” he said. “Just those vetted and agreed to by the voters in Measure R.”

Rosendahl said environmental oversight is important, but he feels that there is also an environmental component to reducing traffic congestion through the use of light rail.

“I don’t want to short circuit environmental review,” Rosendahl said. “But whatever we can do to get people out of this gridlock is in our best interest.”

Light rail advocates like Alpern and elected leaders such as Rosendahl and Knabe have been pushing federal officials to permit the Green Line extension to go all the way into LAX property.

Many of the largest cities in the nation have rail lines extending into their airports. Currently, the Green Line runs from Norwalk to Redondo Beach with a stop at Aviation Boulevard in Westchester, not far from LAX.

“Getting the Crenshaw Line and the Green Line to go into the airport is one of my highest priorities,” said Knabe.

Feuer submitted AB 1444 at the request of Metro.

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