Monday, June 19, 2006
Utilities Do Not Have to Pay for Relocation of Lines During Pasadena Metro Rail Construction, Court Says
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
The Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority is not entitled to reimbursement of costs it expended in moving utility lines while constructing the downtown Los Angeles-to-Pasadena leg of the Metro Rail transit system, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Eight Thursday affirmed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Andria K. Richey’s ruling that legislation requiring the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to pay the costs of relocating utility lines that must be moved because of a transit project extends to the Blue Line Construction Authority.
The Blue Line Construction Authority was established in the 1990s to complete the stalled light rail extension to the San Gabriel Valley. Originally envisioned as an extension of the downtown Los Angeles-to-Long Beach Blue Line, the project was completed as a separate line from Union Station to Pasadena—with extensions to Clairmont and East Los Angeles now planned—after MTA suspended the project due to legal and budget problems, and became the Gold Line.
The authority was made up of representatives of the MTA; the cities of Los Angeles, Pasadena, and South Pasadena; and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments. The implementing legislation required the MTA to transfer all funds programs for completion of the line to the Blue Line Construction Authority, which was dissolved upon completion of the project, when operating responsibility was given to the MTA.
In addition, the legislation gave control of all MTA assets, including real property, related to the project to the Blue Line Construction Authority as trustee pending completion of the project.
The authority, after taking charge of the project, initially told Pacific Bell Telephone Company, Southern California Gas Company, and Southern California Edison Company, that it would pay the costs of moving their lines. But it later notified the companies that it would seek reimbursement totaling about $1.68 million, and sued when the companies would not pay.
Richey granted the companies’ motions for summary judgment.
Justice Laurence Rubin, writing for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judge was correct. The Blue Line legislation, he wrote, contemplated that the authority would stand in the shoes of the MTA with respect to all issues regarding the completion of the project, including financial responsibility for movement of utility company facilities.
Public Utilities Code Sec. 30631(b), Rubin explained, requires reimbursement of utility relocation costs when necessary “in order for the [MTA] to construct or operate” its system. While the “construct” language seemingly applies only when the MTA is directly involved in the project, the justice reasoned, the “operate” language means that “where another entity stepped in to finish the project with MTA funds, some of which the MTA would have used to pay for utility relocation, and where that entity held the project and all of MTA’s assets in trust, returning it all for the MTA to operate when the project was finished,” the statute applies.
It would be “absurd,” Rubin said, to allow the MTA to escape its own statutory obligations or to conclude that the Legislature, in transferring funds that MTA would have used to pay for relocation of utility facilities, intended to allow the Blue Line Construction Authority to complete the project without paying those costs.
Mitchell E. Abbott of Richards, Watson & Gershon argued the case for the Blue Line Construction Authority. Michael M. Berger of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, LLP represented Southern California Edison while in-house lawyers Douglas P. Ditonto and Randall Ray Morrow represented Southern California Edison and Southern California Gas Co., respectively.
The case is Pasadena Metro Blue Line Construction Authority v. Pacific Bell Telephone Company, 06 S.O.S. 3082.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company