TX: Streetcar Opponent Loses Appeal

May 16--SAN ANTONIO -- A state 3rd Court of Appeals panel on Thursday struck down streetcar opponent George Alejos' challenge to a series of VIA Metropolitan Transit projects, after he failed to pay a $3.85 million bond the judges said must be posted if the litigation was to continue.

The three-judge panel also ruled that the 3rd Court of Appeals will not rehear the case, a condition that VIA attorney Bob Newman called "not common." The judgment said Alejos will have to pay all court costs.

Alejos said he'll decide in the next two weeks whether to pursue an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court.

This was the latest victory for VIA in the agency's monthslong effort to issue debt to fund construction of several transit projects, including two downtown transit centers that are to be hubs for buses and, eventually, for the planned, and ever-controversial streetcar system.

VIA has won in court several times, once against the state attorney general's office, and now against Alejos.

But Alejos and other streetcar opponents continue to fight, arguing that some of the money VIA would use to fund the transit centers can't go toward streetcar. VIA had previously promised those dollars would not be spent on light rail, which opponents say is the same thing as streetcar.

Alejos has also maintained that he shouldn't have to post such a high bond to pursue an appeal. But a lower court disagreed. The bond was set in the millions of dollars to reflect what VIA might have to pay in increased interest rates and construction costs the longer legal action delayed the projects. While disappointed with Thursday's ruling, Alejos said he plans to fight the streetcar by participating in an ongoing petition drive to put streetcar to a vote.

"We are going to continue this fight," said Alejos, who said there was no way he could have afforded the bond.

The battle over what funds VIA can spend on the projects started last fall when the attorney general's office decided not to approve the transit agency's request to issue debt backed by the tax revenues. VIA sued in response and won, prompting Alejos to file his original appeal.

Charlie Gonzalez, VIA's senior vice president of public engagement, said the ongoing litigation has set back the agency's plan to redevelop its West Side Multimodal Transit Center by at least half a year.

Gonzalez said VIA will consult with its attorneys to determine how long Alejos has to pursue further litigation before going back to the bond market to issue debt for the projects.

VIA has argued Alejos' appeal has only hurt the agency's bus riders, not streetcar, because the downtown transit centers are designed to give them a better experience when they transfer from one route to another.

"This ruling says to me that the bus riders of San Antonio are going to get their multimodal centers so they can change buses out of the weather," Newman said.

vdavila@express-news.net

Twitter:@viannadavila

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