The Honorable James C. Chalfant of Los Angeles Superior Court today agreed to postpone the trial regarding Los Angeles County Flood Control District's Big Dig project in Hahamongna Watershed Park in Pasadena to allow the parties to develop a comprehensive settlement of the disputed issues. Yesterday the judge issued a 29-page tentative decision in favor of the Arroyo Seco Foundation (ASF) and Pasadena Audubon Society (PAS) in their lawsuit against the County. The tentative ruling finds that the Flood Control District's environmental impact report is inadequate in several key areas.
Rather than contesting the judge's decisive ruling, Senior Deputy County Counsel Michael Simon asked for a postponement of the trial until July 30 to allow the County to get together with ASF and PAS to develop a comprehensive settlement agreement. Judge Chalfant asked ASF/PAS attorney Mitchell Tsai if his clients agreed to a postponement, and Mr Tsai responded that they did.
"The tentative decision is detailed and decisive," said attorney Tsai. "It finds that the Flood Control District failed to provide the public with a meaningful opportunity to comment on the revised program and the alternatives available as a result of the Flood Control District downgrading its required flood control capacity standard at Devil's Gate Dam. In addition, the tentative decision finds that the Flood Control District's environmental mitigation measures failed to specify performance standards for the required habitat mitigation areas."
Tim Brick, Managing Director of the Arroyo Seco Foundation, stated, "We agreed to the postponement because it has never been our intention to stop the County's sediment removal program. Our goal has been to minimize the negative aspects of the project, such as noise, dust, traffic and air pollution, and to ensure that the resulting Hahamongna management program is ongoing and protects the unique environmental values of the area. We want the County to treat the Arroyo Seco like a river and to implement nature-based solutions that will serve our region well as we face climate change and the challenges of nature. We have assurances from Mark Pestrella, County Public Works Director, that the County will work hard to develop a settlement along those lines and that all our concerns are on the table."
Laura Solomon, President of the Pasadena Audubon Society, stated "The Pasadena Audubon Society is gratified that the court recognizes that the County has failed to work transparently with the public, despite their frequent claims to the contrary. We hope that the County will do its job to protect the land, the birds, and the people by shrinking the size of the permanent footprint of the project, using the cleanest trucks possible to move the sediment, and truly restoring the Hahamongna basin, especially the nesting habitat they have destroyed."
The Flood Control District proposes to remove 1.7 million cubic yards of sediment and debris in the reservoir behind Devil's Gate Dam in a program critics has dubbed "The Big Dig." The sediment has accumulated over many decades. The removal program would involve as many as 425 diesel truckloads daily for four or more years and the destruction of 70 acres of prime habitat in the alluvial canyon at the base of the San Gabriel Mountains.
If the environmental groups and the County cannot develop an agreement in the next six weeks, Judge Chalfant will hear oral argument regarding the tentative ruling on July 30. If he finalizes the tentative decision, he will issue a writ ordering the Flood Control District to revise and recirculate the Project's environmental impact report and set aside or vacate the Project's approvals. All project activity would then cease pending revision and recirculation of the Project's environmental document.
"The winner today is Hahamongna and all those who are determined to protect and save it for future generations," said ASF's Tim Brick.
Judge Chalfant's Tentative Ruling Can Be Found Here: Tentative Ruling