When the Culver City Council voted at the Sept. 11, 2023 meeting to exempt the reconfiguration of the downtown MOVE project from the California Environmental Quality Act, the stance that ‘those rules don’t have to apply to this,’ was met with swift action by local environmental activists. A GoFundMe campaign from the Friends of MOVE CC met their $10,000 goal in less than a week, and lawsuits are being prepared to challenge that CEQA exemption.
In screening the success of the pilot project last year, data collected by the city showed that sales tax revenue in the corridor had boomed, both walking and biking had significantly increased, and more people were using public transit. But pressure from downtown businesses pushed in the other direction, saying that the project had cut into numbers rather than increasing them, and insisted the council to bring back the traffic lane.
While the city-owned parking garages are all accessible from roads minimally changed by the MOVE project, a privately owned parking garage sits near the center; a lack of cars for that specific business may have translated to a lower profit margin. While the Downtown Business Association holds that ‘virtually’ all downtown businesses are opposed to the bike lane, but it puts the DBA information in conflict with the city’s data.
They can’t both be correct. But the council has chosen to vote with the businesses, and against its own information.
The majority of speakers on the item were in favor of a CEQA study, and against the move to merge the bus and bike lanes together, but several also indicated that they knew the council’s vote was a foregone conclusion.
At last Monday’s council meeting, David Metzler offered that a video (that he had shared with the council) showed how much more dangerous the road was in 2019, specifically for pedestrians. The MOVE project made the road safer, so why dilute it?
According to Ed Casey, reading a letter from attorneys at the law firm of Alston & Bird, the exemption in CEQA Section 15301 the city was attempting to use, which provides exemptions to changes in existing facilities “involving negligible or no expansion of existing or former use,” was not applicable to the MOVE project. “That phrase, ‘former use,’ was added only to account for vacant properties that were recently vacated… Clearly that exception does not apply to the proposed project.”
Darrel Menthe, the Executive Director for the Culver City Downtown Business Association offered that “business owners hope the changes can be made before the upcoming holiday season,” assuming that the project goes unchallenged.
While sources have offered that Alston & Bird is not the law firm that will be representing the Friends of MOVE CC, challenges are now being prepared.