Talk about tunnel vision: The Century City Chamber of Commerce’s op-ed arguing for a subway stop closer to the heart of Century City (“Subway’s Tunnel Vision,” Aug. 1 issue) ignores facts and makes up new ones in the chamber’s campaign to shake down taxpayers. The chamber favors a Westside subway station that will cost more to build, serve fewer riders and stick it to schoolchildren – just to fulfill the whimsical desires and plans of a few well-connected developers.

Advocates for a station at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars never want to acknowledge or talk about the actual facts and findings contained in the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Draft Environmental Impact Report. That’s because that document concludes that a station one block away at Santa Monica Boulevard – less than a three-minute walk from the Constellation stop – would cost at least $60 million less to build and serve about 5 percent more riders, all without having to take the unprecedented risk of tunneling under a high school!

Get more for less. If we learned anything from this summer’s debt-ceiling standoff in Washington, it should be that government at all levels must stretch every dollar collected from taxpayers. It would cost an additional $5,000 per inch to move the station 1,000 feet south to Constellation from its long-planned location at Santa Monica, without any legitimate justification for doing so. The only thing being stretched in this case is credibility.

Because the facts don’t support a Constellation station – Metro’s analysis also finds more jobs and commercial space closer to Santa Monica – the chamber ignores them and touts studies it commissioned that, not surprisingly, reach different and obviously erroneous conclusions. The chamber also dusts off 43-year-old studies from the archives to make the case that Los Angeles County taxpayers should be thrilled to help finance the high-rise ambitions of private developers. Southern California has changed a lot in 43 years, and Metro’s current studies reflect that.

What has not changed, though, is that Beverly Hills High School remains the only public high school in Beverly Hills – a badly outdated campus in desperate need of renovation and expansion. The route Metro proposes for the Constellation station would tunnel directly under classrooms, and jeopardize a voter-approved building and renovation program because the tunnels would run at relatively shallow depths under the school as well as the only land on campus available to build.

Contrary to the chamber’s assertion that there are “schools all over” with tunnels under them, burrowing under the high school would be unprecedented in California. In fact, no public school in the state has a permanent building on top of a tunnel. A tunnel to Constellation would be the first to cut directly under instructional buildings at a California public school.

Let’s be clear: The Beverly Hills Unified School District enthusiastically supports the Westside subway. But it will steadfastly fight a completely unnecessary alignment that would forever impair the ability to fulfill its obligation to its students.

The private wants of skyscraper owners must not trump the public needs of school kids, particularly when the alternative is cheaper and more effective.

Review process

What the chamber and others fail to appreciate is that public school construction follows a much more rigorous design and review process than office buildings or homes. And for good reason: Schools are packed every day with children. The final call on school building plans lies with the Department of the State Architect, which has never approved a public school building on top of a tunnel.

Many of the same Constellation advocates who blithely say that tunneling for the first time under 80-year-old classrooms full of kids, through an active oil field and up a hill is perfectly safe suddenly lose their faith in Metro’s engineering chops when they discuss a long-dormant fault somewhere possibly located along Santa Monica. Having lost at key ridership and cost comparisons, the Constellation station is now being touted by its backers as safer because it may or may not be closer to a fault for which there is no accurate map or measure of threat.

Metro is analyzing the results of geotechnical tests now. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that Metro has long trumpeted its prowess at building a subway that runs across and alongside Southern California’s spider web of faults. The bottom line remains, tunneling in earthquake country comes with inherent risk. But where is the risk minimized: under a crowded campus filled with kids or in the median of a wide boulevard?

The objective facts collected, analyzed and released to the public by Metro make a compelling public policy case for building the Century City station at Santa Monica. And that’s before one considers the implications of an alignment that would cripple the building program at Beverly Hills High. Those who would pick the pockets of taxpayers and undermine a school renovation so they can move the station one measly block closer to their glittering high-rises are the ones truly guilty of tunnel vision.

Lisa Korbatov is president of the Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education.

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