Court Approves Final Settlement of Class Action Snow Removal Price Fixing Case in Truckee/ Tahoe

TRUCKEE CALIFORNIA, August 1, 2019 - The Nevada County Superior Court has entered a final order approving the settlement of a class action that alleged Snowtech, Inc. and Waltman Construction, Inc. – which merged in March 2017 to form Elements Mountain Co. – engaged in an almost decade-long conspiracy to fix the price of snow removal services sold to residents of Tahoe Donner, in Truckee, California.

The settlement provides substantial compensation to any person who purchased snow removal services from Snowtech or Waltman during any snow removal season beginning with the 2008-09 season and continuing through the 2016-17 season. A person who purchased snow removal services from Snowtech or Waltman during each of those seasons will receive a total of $390 in vouchers redeemable for snow removal services or a lower cash amount. Elements Mountain Co., moreover, is barred from raising snow removal prices in Tahoe Donner for the next three years (until the 2022/2023 snow removal season). The total value of the settlement, depending on the level of class member participation in the settlement, could well exceed $3,000,000.

No objections were received to the settlement, and only 20 out of over 8,000 potential class members opted out. Based on this response and the significant value that the settlement provides to victims of the conspiracy, the Court held that the settlement is “reasonable, adequate and fair to all members of the certified class.”

Mark L. Lasser of Lasser Law Office, a Truckee/ Tahoe attorney and resident who represented the class noted, “We believe this case sends an important message that no one is above the law, the antitrust laws must be respected, and will help to promote fair competition in the snow removal services market in Truckee/ Tahoe in the future.”

Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein LLP, who served as co-counsel in the class action lawsuit, stated, “This is a solid result. The settlement ensures that victims of the defendants’ conspiracy are well compensated for the injuries they suffered; and it sends a clear message that claims of illegal price-fixing will be aggressively pursued.”

The case is captioned: Cramer et al. v. Elements Mountain Co. et al., No. TCU17-6880

Copy of the Complaint can be found here.
Copy of the Final Order can be found here.
Copy of the Settlement Agreement can be found here.

Barlow Tenants Sue Landlord for Woeful Failure to Implement Legally Required Flood Protections

SANTA ROSA, July 3, 2019—Nine businesses filed suit today in Sonoma County Superior Court, alleging that the owners of The Barlow—before, during and after the flooding that occurred in late February of this year—woefully failed to implement legally required flood protections, causing Plaintiffs millions in losses.

The plaintiff businesses are: Community Market, Crooked Goat Brewing, Friedeman Wines, Two Dog Night Creamery, Scout West County, Tamarind Clothing, The Nectary, Victorian Farmstead Meat Company, and Fern Barn. The named defendants are Barney Aldridge and three companies owned and controlled by Mr. Aldridge: Barlow Star, LLC; Sebastopol Industrial Park, LLC; and Highway Partners, LLC. The Barlow is a high-end commercial development located in Sebastopol, California.

As alleged in the complaint, The Barlow’s development permit, the City of Sebastopol’s Municipal Code, and Plaintiffs’ leases all required the defendants fulfill detailed obligations before, during, and after any flood, so as to protect the plaintiffs and other businesses in The Barlow. Centermost were defendants’ obligations related to a system of flood barriers, drains, and sump pumps. If the landlord fulfilled these obligations during flooding, only a small amount of water would enter plaintiffs’ businesses and any that entered would be quickly drained away before rising to any depth.

In late February, heavy rains caused the nearby Laguna de Santa Rosa to flood. When this occurred, the Complaint alleges, it became clear that the defendants were completely unprepared to meet their obligations. Among the facts detailed in the Complaint, defendants had less than a tenth of the necessary personnel on site to install the flood barriers and those there were untrained. Defendants further lacked the necessary equipment to install the barriers, started the process of installation way too late, and installed the barriers incorrectly. As further detailed, the defendants failed, in advance of the flood, to make sure that the flood barriers were properly maintained, stored, labeled or staged and failed to ensure that the system of drains and pumps inside the plaintiffs’ businesses were in working order.

As a result of these failures, the complaint alleges, the plaintiffs suffered massive physical damage to their property, continuing loss of business, and harm to their business values. The complaint further alleges that defendants exacerbated and increased these injuries by punishing plaintiffs for engaging counsel and falsely claiming that the defendants did everything required to protect plaintiffs from flood damage. On May 23, 2019, the City of Sebastopol issued a report that confirms many of the Complaint’s allegations.

“The defendants’ conduct alleged in the Complaint represents the worst kind of selfish business practices,” said the plaintiff’s attorney Stuart G. Gross of Gross & Klein LLP. “Barney Aldridge and his companies ignore their explicit legal obligations to keep plaintiffs’ businesses safe from flood damage. Then, in an effort to save their own skin, they punished any tenant who stood up for themselves and spread a ridiculous narrative that they had done everything possible to protect their tenants. Given how badly the plaintiffs’ businesses were damaged, this created the false impression that these business could not properly be protected and so are less valuable. These plaintiffs are anchors of The Barlow and the broader community. They are owed better.”

The lawsuit is titled Crooked Goat Brewing, LLC, et al. v. Barlow Star, LLC, et al., No. SCV-264744 (Sonoma Superior Crt.).

Copies of the Complaint can be found here.

District Court Orders Caltrans to Prepare a Full Environmental Impact Statement of Its Proposed Project in Richardson Grove State Park

San Francisco, Calif.— Environmental plaintiffs represented by Gross & Klein LLP one another major victory in their fight against Caltran’s controversial proposal to expand Highway 101 through the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Part. Judge William Alsup of the Northern District Court of California, in a scathing order, ruled that Caltrans must a prepare from scratch a full-Environmental Impact Statement (“EIS”) of the proposed project, rather than correct the more circumscribed Environmental Assess (“EA”) it had previously prepared.

This most recent order by Judge Alsup follows his previous decision from May 2019 in which he found that the agency’s EA, omitted consideration of key elements of the proposed project and thus failed to take the “hard look” required under the National Environmental Policy Act (“NEPA”). His most recent order enjoins Caltrans from doing any further work on the proposed project until it has satisfied the rigorous requirements of a full EIS.

This represents the sixth time in eight years that plaintiffs represented by Gross & Klein have attained rulings that stop the project.

“Caltrans may not see the value of these ancient redwoods, but thankfully the court does,” said Peter Galvin, co-founder and director of programs of the Center for Biological Diversity. “This strong ruling should convince Caltrans to abandon this destructive project once and for all. Long live the ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove.”

In his forceful order, Judge Alsup found, “After eight years of litigation, the Court is convinced and so finds that Caltrans has been bound and determined from the outset, regardless of the source, to arrive at a FONSI [(Finding of No Significant Impact)] and thus avoid the scrutiny of an EIS….Caltrans never gave the fair “hard look” required by NEPA but resorted to cherry picking the science to arrive at a preordained conclusion.” Judge Alsup sent the project back to the agency with a specific order: “At long last, the Court now orders that Caltrans stop trying to skate by with an EA/FONSI and that Caltrans prepare a valid EIS. Please do not try to systematically minimize the adverse environmental consequences and to cherry-pick the science.”

“It’s taken almost a decade, but today we have won what we have long sought: a court order mandating that Caltrans do a real and meaningful environmental review, said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC). “The ancient redwoods of Richardson Grove State Park are now protected from bad science and bulldozers.”

Plaintiff David Spreen remarked, “I hope Caltrans will take a fresh look at this project. Businesses, residents, and politicians along the North Coast corridor have made it clear that the HWY 101 Last Chance Grade section is far more important and needs to be prioritized by Caltrans now. Times have changed. Let's move forward.”

The case is titledBair, et al. v. Caltrans, et al., No. 17-6419-WHA (N.D. Cal.)

A copy of the order can be found here:

State Court Victory in Richardson Grove Case

Eureka, Calif.—Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Kelly Neel ruled in favor of environmental plaintiffs represented by Gross & Klein LLP in the latest salvo in the nearly decade-long effort to prevent the widening of Highway 101 through old-growth redwoods at Richardson Grove State Park. As a result of this court decision, Caltrans is not allowed to physically alter the proposed project area and that the agency would need to get court approval before moving forward. Plaintiffs include the Environmental Protection Information Center, Center for Biological Diversity, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, Friends of Del Norte and four private citizens, Bess Bair, Trisha Lee Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin, and David Spreen. Plaintiffs Bair and Lotus both have generational family ties to the creation of the Park.

In her decision, Judge Neel found that Caltrans avoided public scrutiny by failing to solicit public comment on a significant piece of new information—a report from an arborist hired by Caltrans. In doing so, Judge Neel highlighted that the public and other agencies were deprived of their right to provide comment and feedback, something “essential” to the law.

Peter Galvin, Co-Founder of the Center for Biological Diversity stated, “We urge Caltrans to finally abandon their deeply misguided and destructive plan to widen Highway 101 through Richardson Grove State Park. Our ancient redwood trees are too important to pave over.”

“Caltrans has continued to view public opinion and opposition to the Richardson Grove Project as something that they can bulldoze through,” said Tom Wheeler, Executive Director at the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Four times, courts have returned the project to the agency, finding that their slapdash work violates the law.”

“It’s time for Caltrans to abandon this project,” said Stuart G. Gross of Gross & Klein, “but if they won’t, we’ll take them to court and beat them again.”

In 2010, Caltrans issued its Final Environmental Impact Report for the Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project. In 2014, the First District Court of Appeals found that Caltrans had violated CEQA by failing to take a hard look at the project’s impacts to old-growth redwoods. After this decision, Caltrans attempted to cure its deficiency by hiring an arborist to examine project impacts. The arborist’s report, which presented new scientific data, including an untested rating system to predict impacts to tree health from project activities, was shielded from public comment through its release as part of an “Addendum” to the original CEQA documents. This added significant new information to the EIR without providing public notice and consultation with agencies.

The Court stated that “the rating system devised by the arborist may or may not rest on sound scientific footing. Without review and critique by others with expertise in the relevant fields, this footing remains untested. Peer review is essential to sound science.”

The lawsuit is titled, Bair et al., v. Caltrans, et al, Case No. CIV170543 (Humboldt Sup. Crt.).

A copy of the order can be found here:

Federal Court Again Halts Destructive Caltrans Project Through Ancient California Redwoods

SAN FRANCISCO— Conservation groups and Humboldt County residents, represented by Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein LLP, have won a federal court victory halting Caltrans’ controversial Richardson Grove highway-widening project. The project would needlessly harm ancient redwood trees in California’s iconic Richardson Grove State Park along Highway 101 in Humboldt County. The U.S. District Court in San Francisco struck down the Caltrans plan in a 26-page order issued late Friday afternoon.

 “We’re elated that the court rejected Caltrans’ misguided and deeply destructive plan,” said Peter Galvin, co-founder and director of programs at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The ancient trees and wildlife of Richardson Grove are too important to pave over.”

 "For too long, Caltrans has pushed this unpopular project at the expense of the taxpayers and the environment," said Tom Wheeler, executive director of EPIC. "EPIC hopes that Caltrans focuses on road projects that are actually a priority, like Last Chance Grade."

 The highway-widening project could damage the roots of more than 100 of Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, including trees up to 3,000 years old, 18 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall. Caltrans has pursued this project solely to incrementally improve passage for heavy, oversized commercial trucks, with trailers up to 53 feet long.

 In an order setting aside Caltrans’ inadequate environmental review and approval for the project, Judge William Alsup found that the agency failed to address four main issues: the roots of several ancient redwoods would risk suffocation due to increased paving in their root zones; construction within their structural root zones has the potential to impact or topple trees; heavy oversized trucks are more likely to collide with trees in the grove and the damage to redwoods could be more severe; and noise impacts from more and larger trucks rumbling through the park will be much worse than Caltrans is admitting and would diminish public enjoyment of the grove.

 Judge Alsup stated that “all of these old-growth redwoods have lived many times longer than our nation has existed,” and “if we were today considering building a major highway through a grove of ancient redwoods, almost certainly the public would demand that the grove be spared and that the highway bypass the park.”

 The court will next take arguments on whether Caltrans must prepare a new environmental assessment or provide a more thorough Environmental Impact Statement. Judge Alsup noted that studies cited by Caltrans were not provided to the public and that mastering Caltrans’ incomplete and confusing administrative record has been “awful” and “resembled decoding hieroglyphics.”

“This is the third time that a court has struck down Caltrans’ approval of this proposed project,” said Stuart G. Gross of Gross & Klein LLP. “If Caltrans is going to propose a construction project in the midst of 3,000 year old redwoods, it needs to adequately and accurately assess the project’s environmental impacts. It appears incapable of doing so and should reconsider doing the project at all.”

 Background

 Richardson Grove State Park, where tourists often first encounter large redwoods when heading north on Highway 101, is home to one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwood trees in the world. The park has essential habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the northern spotted owl, and its creeks support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead trout.

 Caltrans first proposed the project in 2007, claiming the widening is needed to accommodate large-truck travel. But Highway 101 through Richardson Grove is already designated for larger trucks and does not have significant safety problems. The agency cannot demonstrate that the project is necessary for safety or would benefit the local economy.

 Litigation against the Richardson Grove project has been successful in both state and federal court. This is the third federal lawsuit challenging Caltrans’ violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, due to inadequate evaluation of the environmental impacts of cutting into or paving over tree roots.

 A state court ruled in May 2018 against a Caltrans motion to dismiss the state lawsuit. The 2010 federal lawsuit was filed by the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Friends of Del Norte, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, and longtime local residents Bess Bair, Trisha Lee Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin and David Spreen.

 In 2012 the federal court issued a temporary injunction stopping the project, citing numerous errors in Caltrans’ mapping and measurement of affected old-growth redwoods and use of faulty data. Previous legal challenges blocked construction and forced Caltrans to rescind all project approvals in 2014. The agency reapproved the project in 2017, claiming it had made significant changes. However, Caltrans still proposed to cut into tree roots, threatening the stability and viability of old-growth redwoods.

 The lawsuit is titled, Bair et al., v. Caltrans, et al, No. 17-6419 (N.D. Cal.).

 A copy of the Summary Judgment Order can be found here: http://www.grosskleinlaw.com/s/Richardson-Grove-Federal-Court-Summary-Judgment.pdf

Stuart Gross Named a 2019 Super Lawyer in Business Litigation by Thompson Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO, February 1, 2019: Thompson Reuters has named Gross & Klein LLP partner Stuart Gross to its list of Super Lawyers in Northern California in the area of Business Litigation. The designation of Super Lawyer is given only to attorneys who “have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.” Thompson Reuters has namedStuart a Super Lawyer every year since 2013, and designated him a Rising Star each of the previous three years.

See Stuart's listing here.

Stuart Gross Named a 2018 Super Lawyer in Business Litigation by Thompson Reuters

SAN FRANCISCO, February 1, 2018: Thompson Reuters has named Gross & Klein LLP partner Stuart Gross to its list of Super Lawyers in Northern California in the area of Business Litigation. The designation of Super Lawyer is given only to attorneys who “have attained a high-degree of peer recognition and professional achievement. The selection process is multi-phased and includes independent research, peer nominations and peer evaluations.” Thompson Reuters has namedStuart a Super Lawyer every year since 2013, and designated him a Rising Star each of the previous three years.

See Stuart's listing here.

Herring Fishermen Reach Settlement With PG&E That Will Force PG&E To Address Massive Historical Contamination In The San Francisco Bay and Waterfront

SAN FRANCISCO, September 28, 2018 – Federal Judge William H. Orrick (N.D. Cal.) entered a consent decree, yesterday evening, between PG&E and the San Francisco Herring Association (“SHFA”), represented by Stuart G. Gross of Gross & Klein LLP. The consent decree resolves claims brought by SFHA, in 2014, under the federal Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, as well as California state public nuisance and negligence law, related to contamination of areas offshore of the Marina and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods of San Francisco, where herring spawn.

SFHA alleged that PG&E’s operation of manufactured gas plants (“MGPs”), in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, at two locations in the present day Marina neighborhood and at one location in the present day Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhood, resulted in the massive contamination of offshore areas with MGP waste and that onshore MGP waste deposits caused continuing deliveries of contaminated groundwater to the Bay. The MGP waste contains high levels of toxic chemicals, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons (“PAHs”), which studies resulting from the Exxon Valdez and Cosco Busan oil spills have shown are particularly toxic to herring eggs and larvae.

The 98-page consent decree has a 10-year term during which PG&E will be required to conduct extensive sampling and monitoring offshore and along the Bay's perimeter at locations, depths, and using methods that the consent decree specifies in detail. The consent decree contains aggressive action trigger levels for both groundwater and offshore porewater and establishes a detailed mechanism of monitoring and enforcement of PG&E's compliance by SHFA.

In addition to requiring PG&E pay for the costs of addressing the contamination, the consent decree requires that PG&E pay: the cost of establishing a panel that will adjudicate SHFA challenges to PG&E’s compliance with the consent decree; SFHA’s fees and costs incurred in the litigation; as well as another $4.9 million in payments. Those $4.9 million in payments include:

  •  $1.8 million, which will be used to permanently retire commercial herring permits, substantially reducing the fishing pressure on the Bay’s herring stock;

  • $1.2 million, which will be used by the Estuary and Ocean Science Center, in Tiburon, to conduct eelgrass restoration and research programs in San Francisco Bay, including a project to study the restoration of eelgrass beds that have been destroyed as the result of illegal boat “anchor-outs” in Richardson Bay, offshore of Sausalito;

  • $1.2 million, which will be used by the California Coastal Conservancy, to advance its project to remove creosote pilings and restore natural habitat at the former Terminal Four wharf in the vicinity of Point San Pablo in Richmond; and

  • $400,000, which will be used to pay SFHA’s costs incurred in monitoring PG&E’s compliance with the consent decree.

SFHA President Matt Ryan observed, “PG&E knew about this contamination for years and did nothing about it, all the while it was harming the herring stock on which fishermen and wildlife depend. This settlement forces PG&E to finally deal with it, while also forcing PG&E to pay for programs that will help the herring stock and the fishermen who have been harmed.”

 SFHA’s attorney Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein commented, “This settlement sends the message that companies who pollute the Bay, no matter how long ago they polluted it or how powerful they are, will be held responsible. San Francisco Bay’s herring fishermen are true stewards of the resources on which their livelihoods depend, and Gross & Klein is honored to have assisted them in this success.” 

Gross & Klein LLP also represents SFHA’s co-plaintiff, who will continue to pursue his claims against PG&E, including those concerning contamination of terrestrial areas of the Marina and Fisherman’s Wharf neighborhoods.

Gross & Klein LLP also represents various homeowners and property owners in the Marina neighborhood, in separate cases concerning contamination of their properties. To the extent those cases have not already been separately resolved, Gross & Klein will continue to pursue those cases.

Herring permit holders interested in learning more about the herring permit retirement program can email a request for information to: Herring.Permit.Retirement.Program@grosskleinlaw.com.

The lawsuit is titled, San Francisco Herring Association v. PG&E, No. 14-4393 (N.D. Cal.).

The Consent Decree is available here.

Tahoe Donner Residents Sue Snow Removers for Almost Decade-Long Snow Removal Price Fixing Conspiracy

TRUCKEE, CALIFORNIA December 21, 2017 - Two Tahoe Donner homeowners have filed a class action that alleges, for almost a decade, Snowtech, Inc. and Waltman Construction, Inc. – which merged, in March 2017, forming Elements Mountain Co. – engaged in a brazen conspiracy to fix the prices of snow removal services sold to residents of Tahoe Donner, one of the nation’s largest homeowner’s association, located in Truckee, CA. As a result of this conspiracy, Tahoe Donner residents allegedly paid artificially inflated prices for snow removal services, for years. 

The Complaint, filed in Nevada County Superior Court, alleges that Snowtech and Waltman would agree, each year, to set the prices charged to Tahoe Donner residents for the upcoming season. They are further alleged to have worked closely to ensure that neither offered Tahoe Donner residents any better snow removal services than the other. 

Included in the body of the complaint are emails allegedly between Snowtech’s Matthew Warren and Waltman’s Jamie Legare (aka Jamie Waltman), in which the agreement to fix prices are memorialized in detail. One such email reads, in part, “Price – we have agreed that the minimum price in TD [Tahoe Donner] will be $625.” Another refers to actions to be taken “in the interest of placating homeowners on pricing” and to “give the perception that there is a little bit of competitive pricing happening in TD [Tahoe Donner].”

As alleged in the complaint, part of the defendants’ scheme to create the false perception of competition was to include “price match guarantees” in solicitations sent to Tahoe Donner residents. As there was no actual competition between these companies, which dominated the market for of snow removal services in Tahoe Donner, the “guarantees” are alleged to be classic examples of false advertising. Because these “guarantees” were also included in these companies’ contracts with residents, the price-fixing conspiracy is alleged to be in breach of these contracts. 

Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein LLP, who represents the plaintiffs and proposed class with co-counsel, stated, “As alleged in the complaint, Snowtech and Waltman explicitly agreed to fix the prices charged to Tahoe Donner residents for snow removal services. That’s illegal, and for good reason. Free competition is a lynch pin of our economic system; and these companies are alleged to have tossed that pin out.” Gross continued, “This was not a case in which companies on the ropes resorted to illegal price-fixing as a last ditch effort to survive. Rather, as alleged in the complaint, the illegal conspiracy was hatched to cynically prevent ‘money from being left on the table.’ Engaging in lawful competition is not leaving money on the table.”     

The Complaint alleges ten claims against Elements, as well as against Jamie Legare, Joanne Waltman, and Matthew Warren, including violations of California’s Cartwright Act – which forbids price-fixing – as well as unfair competition, false advertising, and contract laws. 

The case is captioned: Cramer et al. v. Elements Mountain Co. et al., No. TCU17-6880

A copy of the complaint is included here.

Fifth Lawsuit Challenges Destructive Highway-widening Through Ancient California Redwoods

SAN FRANCISCO Nov. 2, 2017 — Environmental groups and local residents, represented by Stuart Gross of Gross & Klein LLP, again sued the California Department of Transportation for approving a highway-widening project that would needlessly damage or destroy thousand-year-old redwood trees in California’s iconic Richardson Grove State Park along Highway 101 in Humboldt County.

This is the fifth legal challenge to Caltrans’ approval of the controversial “Richardson Grove Operational Improvement Project.” The project would damage the roots of more than 100 of Richardson Grove’s ancient redwoods, including trees up to 3,000 years old, 18 feet in diameter and 300 feet tall. Caltrans has pursued this project solely to incrementally improve passage for oversized commercial trucks, and continues to rely on inadequate environmental review.

“This ancient grove is special and I cannot let those trees die,” said plaintiff Bess Bair, whose grandparents owned the adjacent Hartsook Inn and worked to preserve Richardson Grove. “Caltrans can’t show any science that cutting into their roots won’t kill these redwoods. The local community does not want this project.”

“My great grandfather Henry Devoy entrusted 120 acres of old-growth redwoods here in 1922 at the inception of Richardson Grove,” said plaintiff Trisha Lotus, who is intent on maintaining her family’s legacy to protect Richardson Grove State Park. “That’s why we’re fighting Caltrans’ plan to cut into their roots, which could compromise their health and could kill these trees.”

“People made tremendous sacrifices to protect our state parks and we can’t let Caltrans’ ill-conceived project and hasty decision threaten the wonders of Richardson Grove,” said plaintiff Jeff Hedin of Piercy, Calif. “Caltrans owes the public a robust and thorough discussion of our environmental and safety concerns. They haven’t done that.”

“We need transportation policies and projects that prioritize both environmental and economic sustainability, and truly represent the most cost-effective safety measures,” said plaintiff and Humboldt County business owner David Spreen. “Caltrans’s Highway 101 Richardson Grove project fails on all counts.”

“Caltrans hasn’t changed or improved anything about this project. It’s the same terrible proposal to damage ancient redwoods in our state park with no benefits to the community,” said Jeff Miller of the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s no compelling traffic or safety reason to destroy these beautiful trees. The project is a non-starter.”

“Caltrans’ priorities are all mixed up,” said Tom Wheeler, executive director of the Environmental Protection Information Center. “Instead of keeping our storm-damaged roads open or fixing the disaster-in-waiting at Last Chance Grade, Caltrans continues to waste taxpayer money to push the disastrous Richardson Grove Project.”

“If Caltrans digs up the roadbed through Richardson Grove, toxic lead left by previous generations will be released into the park and surrounding environment, something Caltrans hasn't yet owned up to,” said Patty Clary of Californians for Alternatives to Toxics. “We can't sit by when so much is at stake with this gem of a park.”

Background

The latest lawsuit challenges Caltrans’ violations of the National Environmental Policy Act, due to inadequate evaluation of the environmental impacts of cutting into tree roots, and the Transportation Act, which requires highway projects with federal funding to minimize harm to natural resources in state parks.

The lawsuit was filed yesterday filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California by the Center for Biological Diversity, Environmental Protection Information Center, Friends of Del Norte, Californians for Alternatives to Toxics, and longtime local residents Bess Bair, Trisha Lee Lotus, Jeffrey Hedin and David Spreen.

Previous legal challenges had blocked construction and forced Caltrans to rescind all project approvals in 2014. The agency quietly reapproved the project in May 2017. Caltrans claims it has made significant changes but still intends to cut into tree roots, a procedure that would threaten the stability and viability of old-growth redwoods. The conservation groups also filed suit challenging the new approval in state court in June.

Richardson Grove State Park, where tourists often first encounter large redwoods when heading north on Highway 101, is home to one of the last protected stands of accessible old-growth redwood trees in the world. The park has essential habitat for threatened and endangered species such as the northern spotted owl, and its creeks support runs of imperiled salmon and steelhead trout.

Caltrans first proposed the project in 2007, claiming the widening is needed to accommodate large-truck travel. However, Highway 101 through Richardson Grove is already designated for larger trucks and does not have significant safety problems. The agency cannot demonstrate that the project is necessary for safety or would benefit the local economy.

A copy of the complaint is included here.