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A company funded by former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has proposed a $125 million gondola lift that would fly customers over Los Angeles State Historic Park from Union Station to Dodger Stadium and activists are weighing in.
A company funded by former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has proposed a $125 million gondola lift that would fly customers over Los Angeles State Historic Park from Union Station to Dodger Stadium and activists are weighing in.
Al Seib

Money(ball)! / Law Talk Crossover: Funicular Fight, Part 1

Or “Crash Course in Environmental Law and Administrative Law”

For those keeping score:

Last time:

Next time, It’s not my Money(ball)! crosses over with Law Talk, as we break down the issues of environmental review, eminent domain, and an ongoing lawsuit as to this project.

And now...Funicular Fight, Part 1

Funicular - noun

  1. synonym for gondola
  2. a cable railroad, especially one on a mountainside, in which ascending and descending cars are counterbalanced.

Technically, the system that was under discussion last time would be a cable car gondola, but it is quite hard to come up with puns relating to the word “gondola.” But let us not get carried away and carry on with the background, and then provide the analysis next time.

As we discussed last time, the LA ART Gondola was initially planned to be completed by the start of the 2022 regular season. I would not begrudge anyone for having enthusiasm for either project until you do some back-of-the-envelope math. Remember that the Dodger Stadium Express still exists regardless of whether either transportation proposal is ever built. As to the Gondola, assuming everything goes to plan when in operation, would transport about double the daily amount of people on the Dodger Stadium Express. In the project's timeline, we left off at the period of environmental review, but you will likely ask the following question: what is an environmental review?

What is an environmental review?

You might hear the term environmental review or environmental impact report (EIR) and think of liberals/environmentalists/Not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) folk opposing certain projects. Again, I am not trying to take a political tack here, but anyone who reads my work can probably discern what I think, feel, and believe. Politics aside, environmental review is the process of reviewing a proposed project and its potential environmental impacts to determine whether the project meets federal, state, and local environmental standards.

As such, I can understand the desire for efficiency in infrastructure projects, but if done poorly, these projects can often have unintended consequences, especially for minority and underprivileged communities. But this essay is not a sociology course. If you want to fully depress yourself, I would recommend supplemental reading into the forming of the highway system in the United States.

As you can see from the above Vox Media, you can see what happens when an environmental review is handled poorly or in a way that does not involve all the stakeholders or those affected by a given project. Getting back on topic, typically in projects such as this one, there is a period for citizens to comment and ask questions about the project. Under the California Environment Quality Act (CEQA, pronounced SEE-KWAH), the process of preparing an environmental impact report goes as follows for proposed projects in California:

First, there’s the notice of preparation (i.e. a project is being considered). Then, comes the public scoping period, which is to inform the public that the agency is considering a project under CEQA and solicit public comment regarding the type and extent of environmental analyses that are to be done.

After the scoping period is concluded, a draft EIR and the technical analyses are created, and the public comments generated during the scoping period are supposed to guide or be included in the draft EIR. The purpose of the draft EIR is to evaluate the potential for environmental impacts associated with the implementation/completion of the proposed project and to provide mitigation measures where required.

There are two periods for public comment during projects under CEQA, the Scoping Period, which starts the draft EIR process, and once the Draft EIR is released for public review. The first period for public comment has already come and gone, as a virtual meeting for the gondola project occurred virtually in October 2020, at the same time as the Third Presidential Debate in 2020. Per LA Art, the Draft EIR is expected to be released during “the summer of 2022,” as there will be two public meetings once the Draft EIR is released.

The Virtual Scoping Meeting for the Gondola Project in October 2020

Below is a two-hour meeting held on October 22, 2020, that was considered outreach for the project. For completeness’ sake, I have located a link to the meeting. If the date seems familiar to you, it was the night of the third Presidential debate, which clearly affected attendance. This meeting was previously set before the debate was set.

The reason that this essay took so long is that I had to sit through this meeting once I finally found a record of it. I watched this two-hour video in its entirety and came to the following conclusions:

  1. It took far too much effort to find this video. In fact, the link that I have provided is unlisted on YouTube. From my perspective, the recording of this meeting has been virtually scrubbed from the internet. Considering the impact of the project on several parts of Los Angeles and the fact that this segment, if built, could serve as the starting point for other gondola routes throughout the city, you would think you would want an easily identifiable record. I am not alleging anything nefarious; it was an annoyance to track this video down and I share my annoyance with you now.
  2. It’s a punchline for shows like Parks and Recreation to make fun of civic participation (although in every trail mix there are some nuts). But the commenters in this forum asked very thoughtful and intelligent questions, such as “If this project has been in the design phase for two years, why can’t you show mockups of the likely final design?” and “Is this project more of a tourist attraction than actual infrastructure?” and “How will you handle privacy concerns when going over residential properties?”
  3. Questions regarding the gentrification of Chinatown were actively and repeatedly raised by commenters pointing out that as proposed, the Gondola, serves as a tourist attraction rather than servicing the community at large.
  4. While there were channels and interpreters for speakers of Spanish and Cantonese - but from what I could tell no one was in the meeting who spoke Spanish or Cantonese.
  5. Postcard mailer notices of the virtual meeting were sent to everyone within a 500-foot radius of the proposed routes, and advertisements were placed in the Los Angeles Times, La Opinion, and the Chinese Daily News of Los Angeles.
  6. If you wanted to comment on the process, you had the opportunity from the night of the meeting to November 16, 2020, which was about 18 months ago. As stated above, the next opportunity to provide public comment is when the Draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) is completed during the Summer of 2022.
  7. An engineer stated that the gondola system could accommodate departures every 30 seconds, citing a similarity with similar methods in ski resorts.
  8. There were fifteen minutes of dead air as the LA ART ran out of material as, once again, this meeting occurred concurrently with a presidential debate. The meeting was previously scheduled before the debate was set, but I have no way to confirm that fact.
  9. I watched a two-hour meeting on civil infrastructure for a city that I do not live in nor plan to live in. Eric clearly does not pay me enough.

After watching the video, I had more questions than answers as to whether the general public had been effectively notified about the project or if anyone had or was going to address the ongoing gentrification and eminent domain concerns concerning any route that would go through Chinatown.

However, litigation arose in the interim, as ongoing concerns about the project causing gentrification in Los Angeles’ Chinatown were documented in the Los Angeles Times back in March 2022, which was how my interest was piqued in the first place.

Currently, the Draft EIR for this project should be released anytime now, which would presumably incorporate or acknowledge the relevant public comments that were inputted during the first period of public comment.

Time to Recess

Next time, we were going to cover the alleged issues of gentrification in Los Angeles’ Chinatown neighborhood and analyze the lawsuit that has been filed as to this ongoing project, but then there was a development that occurred, which merits immediate discussion. See you then.

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