10:01 PM PDT on Thursday, August 25, 2011

BY ALICIA ROBINSON
STAFF WRITER
arobinson@pe.com

Riverside officials decided this week to drop their lawsuits against expansion projects at Los Angeles-area ports after 2 ½ years of slogging through the courts and at least $350,000 in legal costs.

Riverside first sued the cities and ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach in 2009, claiming officials didn’t adequately study the environmental and transportation impacts of expanding cargo terminals.

An estimated 44 percent of cargo containers entering the United States come through the two ports. Much of the cargo is loaded onto trains that pass through the Inland area, where Riverside officials say they cause pollution and create traffic jams by blocking rail crossings for hours daily.

Riverside’s suits sought a container fee to pay for transportation upgrades, such as railroad overpasses that would keep trains from blocking automobile traffic.

After lower courts ruled against Riverside in the Los Angeles and Long Beach cases, the city appealed. An appellate court earlier this month rejected Riverside’s arguments in the Los Angeles case, so officials opted not to pursue it and to abandon an appeal of the Long Beach ruling.

With three court decisions against the city, “I think it was three strikes and we’re out,” Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge said Thursday.

Loveridge said regional cooperation to help Southern California ports has become more urgent in light of plans for a major widening of the Panama Canal.

The canal project would give better access to ports on the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, potentially siphoning commerce from the Pacific Coast.

“I think it is time for us to join the region (in) working on enhancing the two ports,” Loveridge said. “Our lawsuits were slowing that down.”

Port of Long Beach officials will not comment until they have been formally notified that Riverside has withdrawn its suit, spokesman Art Wong said.

Los Angeles Assistant City Attorney Christopher Bobo said in a written statement that city officials are pleased.

“The court’s ruling and the Riverside City Council decision not to pursue further litigation … benefits the regional economy and results in more jobs for Californians,” Bobo said.

What the suits have cost Riverside taxpayers is unclear.

City Attorney Greg Priamos estimated the city spent between $350,000 and $450,000 on outside legal counsel for both cases, and “a considerable amount of staff time” was dedicated to them, though he declined to put a dollar figure on the in-house work.

Riverside is not required to pay Long Beach’s or Los Angeles’ legal fees, Priamos said.

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