TX: Streetcar Opponent Challenges VIA's Legal Victory

Feb. 20--SAN ANTONIO -- A contentious legal case that pitted VIA Metropolitan Transit against state Attorney General Greg Abbott and opponents of the agency's downtown streetcar project could be back in court.

Less than a month after a judge ruled VIA had the right to issue debt for several projects, streetcar opponents filed an appeal on the last day they could have done so, reviving the issue.

Although the streetcar project will not directly receive any of the bond proceeds, opponents have said it's tied to some of the projects that will be funded.

The case also has become a symbol of the ongoing fight to upend the streetcar project or, at the very least, put it to a public vote.

That's why streetcar opponent George Alejos said he filed the appeal. Abbott, who VIA sued in order to get validation for its bonds, already has declined to appeal the case.

But Alejos, a representative of a local chapter of the League of United Latin American Citizens, said he wants to get the attention of elected officials and force the vote on whether the project should be funded.

No matter what it takes.

"If I have to go to the Supreme Court," Alejos said, "that's my next step."

Alejos mailed in his filing to the Third Court of Appeals on Tuesday, appealing the Jan. 23 decision by Travis County District Court Judge Stephen Yelenosky, authorizing VIA's bond sale.

VIA sued Abbott, who is running for governor, after his office declined to approve the bond sale.

In court, Yelenosky said Abbott's opposition to the bond sale "borders on the frivolous with the evidence."

VIA plans to use the bond proceeds to fund several transit projects, including two downtown centers that will be hubs for both streetcars and buses.

VIA's attorney Bob Newman said Wednesday that he was preparing motions to strike Alejos' filing, noting Abbott's decision to drop the case and the judge's statements about the attorney general's lack of evidence against using the bond proceeds for the transit hubs.

"This is an inappropriate use of the judicial system," Newman said. "It's a waste of the taxpayer dollars, and it punishes the bus riders by delaying their having a safe secure and sheltered place to transfer buses."

Newman added that he will ask the judge to require Alejos to post a high bond to intervene in the case. He also said he plans to pursue sanctions against Alejos, in order "to recoup some of the losses to the taxpayers."

Although Alejos' name is on the appeal, he's not operating totally alone.

Longtime streetcar opponent and Olmos Park City Councilman Jeff Judson sought out an attorney to take the case for free, based on recommendations from the Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. The society "is a group of conservatives and libertarians interested in the current state of the legal order," according to its website.

The Houston office of the firm Beck Redden is representing Alejos.

Judson, who lobbied the attorney general in emails and phone calls to deny VIA's bond request, said he, Alejos and others are working as a team. He doesn't care whose name is on the lawsuit, he said, but believes "there was an inadequate airing of the facts and circumstances" in the case last month.

"I want truth to prevail," he said.

vdavila@express-news.net

Twitter:@viannadavila

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