More than a week after filing a lawsuit that could bring to a halt a controversial $100 million, 50-mile transportation corridor in the Coachella Valley, a defiant Jim Ferguson is explaining why he did it.
And, he’s not backing down.
“I want a judge to look at the validity of how they are funding this project, said Ferguson a Palm Desert attorney and former member of the Palm Desert City Council. “I believe it to be illegal. I’ve read the law, I’ve reviewed the facts, I have monitored (the Coachella Valley Association of Governments) for two years, and every time you ask them a question which requires a direct answer that’s not in their favor, their response is that it’s just too complicated to understand.”
Construction on the CV Link was originally scheduled to begin this fall, but Ferguson said it is now slated to begin in January, which explains the timing of his lawsuit.
In a tape-recorded interview with Uken Report, Ferguson swears he has nothing to gain from filling the lawsuit.
“I will probably be burned at the stake by the popular ‘in-crowd’ that is pushing for this, because I’m kind of a monkey wrench in the gears,” Ferguson said. “My opinion is, our government is being run by a handful of people, who don’t know what they’re doing, who don’t pay much attention to the law, who hire law firms who tell them what they want to hear. I think the law firms are just as complicit as the individuals. And we’ll find out who those individuals are, depending on where this work goes.”
Asked to identify the “handful” of people to which he referenced, Ferguson declined.
“I want to make it more about the law and the facts, rather than personalities,” Ferguson said. It’s not a political contest.”
Yet, that is exactly what he thinks is happening by those posturing for the late John Benoit’s Riverside County Supervisor seat.
“I think that when John Benoit was alive and championing this, I think that there are lots of people that were trying to hook their chain to his ‘star,’ to further themselves in political office,” Ferguson said. “I do. I can speculate, but I don’t want to as to who those people are. But I think you could ask nine out of ten people in the Valley, and they’ll tell you.”
Led by the Coachella Valley Association of Governments (CVAG), CV Link is a plan to combine pedestrians, bicyclists, and low-speed electric vehicles (including golf carts) on a dual pathway. CV Link was designed to connect Coachella Valley cities and the lands of three federally recognized tribes with a path that largely parallels Highway 111, the busiest corridor in the valley.
Erica Felci, governmental projects manager for CVAG, said in an email Tuesday that CVAG would not comment on pending litigation beyond her original statement.
The lawsuit, filed on Friday, Oct. 13, in Riverside County Superior Court in Palm Springs, alleges that money from a variety of sources, including Measure A, a half-cent sales tax for transportation, is being used illegally to pay for the project. Voters approved Measure A in 1988.
A hearing is set for 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 12, 2018 before the Honorable James Latting.
Ferguson cited his legal credentials and his 34 years of experience at all levels of government as the basis for a lawsuit he believe is solid.
“I know what’s going on, at least in terms of who the players are. The answers that were being given don’t make sense to me,” Ferguson said. “I’ve looked at the legal analysis. This is not a popularity contest. This isn’t who wants to ride a bike on a 50-mile sidewalk. This is a judge taking a look at three different sources of money that are supposed to be used for very specific reasons, that were voted on by either the people of the County of Riverside … or legislation that was passed by the Assembly, the Senate, and the governor.”
The taxpayer’s lawsuit is filed against CVAG, the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the South Coast Air Quality Management District for the alleged illegal use of funds from Measure A, Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee (TUMF) and the Sentinel Power Plant Air Pollution Mitigation Program for CV Link.
The lawsuit alleges CVAG has illegally committed the use of Measure A and TUMF proceeds to pay for the operation, maintenance, engineering, acquisition and construction of CV Link, contrary to the provisions of Measure A and voters’ intent. According to the text of Measure A, its revenue cannot be used for anything resembling a CV Link in the Coachella Valley since it is not a roadway under state law, the lawsuit alleges.
The lawsuit questions the wisdom of CVAG’s Executive Director, who is currently Tom Kirk, for his negligent failure to bring this matter to the attention of the Executive Committee, the taxpayers who pay the ½-cent sales tax and the private developers who must pay their fair share into the TUMF program for projects they develop in Riverside County.
“It’s not really up to Tom Kirk, or the executive committee, or even a supervisor, God rest his soul, John Benoit, to decide how that money gets spent,” Ferguson said.
Finally, the lawsuit challenges RCTC for its approval and consent of the illegal use of Measure A funds by CVAG for the operation, maintenance, engineering, acquisition and construction of CV Link, since RCTC has been entrusted by the voter s in 1982 and 2002 to be the “gatekeeper” of Measure A funds to ensure they are properly used and spent in the manner approved by the voters.
Ferguson is asking the court to issue court orders to restrain CVAG, RCTC and AQMD from using any public money from Measure A, TUMF and the Sentinel Power Plant grant fund for CV Link. The request is due primarily to CVAG’s legal inability to approve the NEV component of CV Link because it now lacks the legal authority to adopt a NEV Network plan due to the expiration of the law that once provided CVAG and its members with the legal authority to approve a NEV network plan such as the one CVAG had planned to approve as part of the CV Link project.
Glossary of Acronyms Used in this story:
- CVAG is the COACHELLA VALLEY ASSOCIATION OF GOVERNMENTS which is a joint powers authority that serves as a regional planning agency for its members, which include the cities of Blythe, Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs, Indian Wells, Indio, La Quinta, Palm Desert, Palm Springs and the County of Riverside. CVAG is governed by an Executive Committee comprised of elected representatives of each member city and the five Supervisors of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors.
- RCTC is the RIVERSIDE COUNTY TRANSPORTATION COMMISSION which consists of 34 public agency members which includes all of the agencies represented by CVAG. RCTC is responsible for coordinating highway and transit planning and identifying projects for state and federal funding, and engaging in all aspects of regional-wide transportation planning for Riverside County.
- AQMD is the SOUTH COAST AIR QUALITY MANAGEMENT DISTRICT which is a public agency that serves as the air pollution control agency for all of Orange County and the urban portions of Los Angeles, Riverside and San Bernardino counties. AQMD is governed by a Governing Board consisting of thirteen members, ten (1) of whom are elected officials, and three (3) of whom are appointed by the state.
- TUMF is the Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee, a program that ensures that new development pays its fair share for the increased traffic that it creates. It is administered by the Western Riverside Council of Governments.