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Tentative Ruling Calls for Caltrans to Pay Group’s Legal Fees in Bridge Barrier Dispute

Friends of the Bridge sued over environmental documents related to construction on Cold Spring Canyon Bridge

[Noozhawk’s note: An earlier version of this story reported that the ruling was final. The corrected version is below.]

A judge issued a tentative ruling Monday that Caltrans pay nearly $125,000 in fees to an advocacy group’s attorneys after they claimed that the agency had left important information out of the environmental documents for the proposed suicide barrier on the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge.

The ruling is tentative and will be the subject of a hearing Tuesday.

Friends of the Bridge sued the agency over California Environmental Quality Act processes involved with putting up a barrier, and Judge Thomas Anderle ruled in favor of the group in July.

Caltrans was ordered to recirculate the environmental documents, which now include barrier alternatives left out of the original, and construction was put on hold.

In Monday’s tentative ruling, Anderle wrote that the actions of Friends of the Bridge “enforced an important right affecting the public interest.”

“A failure to comply with the requirements of CEQA designed to promote full disclosure, however, resulting in the omission of relevant information, is an abuse of discretion,” he wrote.

About 16,000 people drive across the bridge daily, which is a designated Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. Completed in 1963, 54 documented suicides have occurred on the bridge since — including two this year — prompting Caltrans and The Glendon Association to pursue a physical barrier.

Anderle stated earlier this year that the court has no authority to discuss whether a barrier should be erected.

Attorneys Marc Chytilo and Ana Citrin represented the group, and stand to be compensated for their time on the case, spanning over 18 months, with $400 per hour and $250 per hour, respectively. The fact that they had to turn down other clients while working and because there was a risk in taking on the case, more was awarded toward the fees, and Anderle ruled that these fees were reasonable. 

“Given that the suicide barrier project has been a matter of great interest and concern by area residents, the court concludes that the inclusion of the public in the process has conferred a significant benefit on the public,” Anderle wrote.

A public hearing to showcase the new documents will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Jan. 5 in the cafeteria at San Marcos High School, 4750 Hollister Ave. The documents are available online and at a handful of locations. Click here for more information.

The 45-day comment period ends Jan. 24. Comments can be sent to senior environmental planner Matt Fowler at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Click here for Noozhawk’s series on the Cold Spring Canyon Bridge barrier project.

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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