By Cassie MacDuff, The Press-Enterprise
The Inland Empire scored a couple of big victories last week.
The president signed a bill that will enable Ontario to pay $120 million in airport fees to Los Angeles, a key to L.A. handing over control of Ontario International Airport.
The Public Utilities Commission rejected a gas pipeline that would have disrupted major streets and quiet neighborhoods from San Bernardino through Reche Canyon.
These were David and Goliath fights I sometimes despaired that the region could win.
The airport legislation enables Ontario International Airport to transfer passenger fees collected at ONT to Los Angeles World Airports. Normally, such fees can only be used on the airport where they’re collected.
Without the legislation, the long, drawn-out battle for local control of ONT could have been for naught. How would Ontario pay L.A. to reimburse what LAWA spent on ONT?
Now, LAWA can keep $50 million in ONT passenger fees it already has collected, and ONT can forward LAWA $70 million in fees to be collected over the next 10 years.
Rep. Ken Calvert, R-Corona, introduced the legislation back in January. But like many bills in our deadlocked Congress, it looked like it might die before the session ended this summer.
Calvert and Rep. Norma Torres, D-Pomona, smartly folded the bill into the Federal Aviation Administration reauthorization, a must-pass for Congress to prevent FAA funding from running out and the nation’s air traffic control system from shutting down.
Congress passed the FAA reauthorization Wednesday and President Barack Obama signed it into law late Friday.
Before that victory lap was taken, the California Public Utilities Commission killed a massive pipeline project that sparked outcry from the San Bernardino Mountains to the valley floor.
So Cal Gas and San Diego Gas & Electric claimed they needed the 63-mile pipeline from Adelanto to Moreno Valley to ensure natural gas supplies for Riverside County, San Diego and Imperial County.
The proposed route cut through the National Forest, across the San Andreas Fault, through San Bernardino’s most heavily traveled corridors and most affluent neighborhood, requiring an 8-foot trench and months of disruption.
The plan upset environmentalists, industrialists and just plain folk who live and drive along the proposed route down the Cajon Pass, along Kendall Avenue by Cal State San Bernardino, across the 40th Street shopping corridor, down Valencia Avenue (the city’s last affluent neighborhood), zigzag south to rural commute route Reche Canyon Road and across land planned for World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley.
“The current plan will disrupt the primary bus corridor between San Bernardino and Loma Linda and will make for extremely hazardous driving and pedestrian (conditions),” wrote Verdemont resident Mike Cohen.
“You are running this line between the San Andreas and San Jacinto faults,” Cohen wrote, raising the specter of a gas explosion like the 2010 San Bruno disaster.
Another resident, Larry Conley, wrote: “My concern is that the pipeline under 1100 psi is being buried under (residential neighborhoods) when it could have been routed through unpopulated areas and be much safer.”
The route had the “greatest impact on the human environment,” San Bernardino Community Development Director Marc Persico wrote.
At public meetings, gas company officials seem to brush off the concerns, people who attended told me.
For example, they rejected a route along a flood control channel and couldn’t say why the San Andreas Fault didn’t concern them but a small fault near the channel did, San Bernardino Councilman Jim Mulvihill said.
“There was a lack of any kind of understanding of the areas they’re going through,” said Mulvihill, citing the Kendall/University Parkway intersection used by 20,000 CSUSB students and neighbors daily.
The very same route was torn up for construction of a bus rapid transit line from Cal State to Loma Linda. This would have torn the streets up again.
After the multi-year bus project, municipal bankruptcy and the Dec. 2 mass shooting, hasn’t San Bernardino suffered enough?
In the end, it wasn’t the neighborhood disruption or traffic concerns that killed the project. It was simple economics. There are cheaper ways to accomplish the stated goal: making sure there’s enough natural gas for customers in case of an unforeseen event.
The utilities have relied on contracts with El Paso Natural Gas for 50 years a cost of less than $20 million a year, with no disruptions, Commissioner Mike Florio said. The proposed pipeline would required $120 million annually from SoCalGas and SDG&E customers.
“There’s a long history here of adequate service,” Florio said. “So it simply doesn’t seem sensible to me that at a time when we’re looking at decreasing reliance on fossil fuels, including natural gas, that we would spend $620 million on a pipeline system that just moves gas around and doesn’t increase the supply.”
He and the other commissioners want to take a broader view of how to ensure natural gas supplies, not approve one pipeline at a time.
So Cal Gas wouldn’t say whether it plans to appeal the decision or propose a new route for the pipeline, releasing a statement that the company remains concerned about supply reliability and believes “new infrastructure” is the best solution.
The CPUC has been under fire lately for its handling of the San Bruno disaster and the Aliso Canyon leak. But its decision in this case served the Inland communities well.
“It’s just fantastic,” Mulvihill said. “I’m not sure the protests we made here made any difference,” but the outcome was good. “San Bernardino dodged a big bullet.”
North End Neighborhood Association President John Hillman said the community is hugely relieved.
“The people that I’ve talked to are really happy about this thing being shut down,” Hillman said, adding, “Finally, something… worked for the area.” Amen.