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Cerritos’ High Priced Law Firm Not Ready for Prime Time in WSAB Light Rail Lawsuit

March 30, 2023

By Brian Hews

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In January of this year, a public records request by Los Cerritos Community News revealed that Cerritos filed a lawsuit against Metro for unnecessarily delaying the construction of the popular WSAB Light Rail Line that will run from Artesia to Union Station.

In a twist of irony – Cerritos has refused to provide public documents to LCCN several times – Cerritos alleged a California Public Records Act violation due to Metro’s non-response for documents related to the construction of Cerritos’ preferred underground “cut and cover” WSAB station in Cerritos.

In the lawsuit, the city alleged that a recent study showed Cerritos’ underground option “is not cost-prohibitive” compared to Metro’s above-ground option – despite Metro’s study completed by its consultants and that Metro is withholding public documents.

But the study Cerritos was looking for can be found online, making the lawsuit moot.

That study estimated Metro’s preferred above-ground option would cost a minimum of $246 million, with the Cerritos underground option tabbed at a minimum of $398 million, or $152 million in additional taxpayer dollars.

That study also estimated maximum costs at $687 million for above-ground and $1.1 billion for the cut and cover option, a difference of $413 million dollars…. just for one Cerritos station.

PAGES FROM a September 2022 Gateway Cities COG meeting that can be found online at https://www.gatewaycog.org/media/userfiles/subsite_9/files/committees/2022/board-of-directors/BOD%20October%202022%20Presentations.pdf

When LCCN sent a request for comment to Cerritos’ high-priced Pasadena-based law firm of Colantuono, Highsmith, and Whatley asserting the deliberative process privilege applied, CHW refused to comment to LCCN.

The deliberative process protects certain pre-decisional, internal agency information, such as recommendations and analysis, from disclosure during litigation. The documents Cerritos was demanding clearly fell under the deliberative process.

A pre-trial hearing was set for March 14, 2023.

In the interim, LCCN obtained the response from Metro to Cerritos’ lawsuit listing seventeen affirmative defenses, of which one was the deliberative process.

The response indicated the fallacy of Cerritos’ complaint, affirming Cerritos failed to state a cause of action, meaning Metro is questioning the legal basis for the lawsuit.

Metro also slammed Cerritos for waiting too long to file the lawsuit and acting unethically during the process.

Metro also claimed it was immune from liability under specific government codes that protect public entities; that Metro acted in good faith at all times; that documents Cerritos asked for were exempt from disclosure under the state’s Public Records Act, the California Constitution and the state’s Evidence Code.

Metro asked for the complaint to be dismissed and reimbursement for its legal fees.

At the pre-trial hearing on March 14, 2023, Cerritos’ law firm filed a “Notice of Continued Trial Setting Conference” with the court, basically saying the firm and Cerritos were not ready for trial, a common delay practice.

The next pre-trial conference is scheduled for May 16, 2023.