In his op-ed in the June 27 issue of the Business Journal (“Keeping the Subway on Track”), Christopher Hill urges the L.A. business community to oppose Beverly Hills’ efforts in support of the Santa Monica Boulevard alignment of the Westside subway extension in Century City “on the basis of common sense and decades of urban planning.” Hill, who is identified as a “real estate investor and consultant,” doesn’t describe himself as an expert in urban planning, but I would like to address his claims of “common sense.”

First of all, it should be noted that according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s projections in the Draft Environmental Impact Report, ridership would be higher at the proposed Santa Monica station than at Constellation Avenue, travel time would be shorter and the cost would be at least $60 million less. And – oh, yes – the MTA wouldn’t have to tunnel under a school, something it hasn’t done anywhere else. Common sense? You be the judge.

Does the fairly recent shift toward Constellation make any real sense, when one considers that for the better part of a decade, the MTA focused almost exclusively on Santa Monica, knowing exactly what the geology and geography of Century City was? What has significantly changed since then? Where’s the “common sense” here?

Bait and switch

While Beverly Hills supported and continues to support the Westside subway extension, the city is simply not fond of bait-and-switch tactics and we are rightly going to take measures to protect our only high school. This is not mainly a safety issue – though, of course, the only way to ensure 100 percent that nothing ever happens is to build the line elsewhere.

The main issue as regards the high school is that tunneling under it would limit potential future growth at the city’s only high school site – not just now, but forever. Because of the MTA’s restrictions and requirements from the Division of the State Architect, the school district would be handcuffed in efforts to renovate, remodel or rebuild large sections of the campus in the future. It would simply be irresponsible of the school board or the city to agree to anything that could restrict the district’s ability to best serve future generations of school children.

Hill’s “common sense” makes even less sense when one considers his silence on the location of the UCLA-Westwood station. That location is planned at Wilshire and Westwood boulevards, the better part of a mile from the UCLA campus. Why didn’t the MTA want to build the station in the middle of Westwood Village at a location that could serve UCLA, the village itself and offices to the south? The answer: It would have to tunnel under a cemetery to continue the line westward. Evidently there are real and serious concerns about tunneling under a cemetery, but tunneling under a high school – something the MTA has never done anywhere else – is no biggie. Common sense?

Hill seems to suggest that there’s something wrong with the district and city’s desire to protect our assets. He describes the efforts as “whims.” Guess what? Protecting one of our city’s most prized assets makes good civic and business sense.

It’s very simple: Our community is united and prepared to oppose what amounts to a violation of our only high school; this could seriously impact the already teetering “30-10” transportation construction program, which aims to shorten the building time of the subway extension from 30 years to 10. Business interests really should be asking themselves if they want to take cheap shots at Beverly Hills and spearhead the push to unnecessarily tunnel under a school. They should also be asking themselves if it’s really worth risking 30-10 funding when a viable alternative – the original alignment – is one block away.

Beverly Hills has two stations planned for within its borders and is prepared to deal with the construction impacts; if anything, this represents the antithesis of NIMBY-ism. Nonetheless, there is no reason why our LPA (locally preferred alternative) shouldn’t be chosen and no reason for our children not to be given at least as much respect as the departed in that Westwood cemetery. Is this a whimsical notion? Actually, I’d suggest it’s common sense.

“Regionalism” that does not respect the principles of local control and places special interests over children represents politics at its worst. Beverly Hills would like nothing more than to be a strong supporter of the subway and the 30-10 plan, but we are simply not prepared to mortgage our children’s future for the benefit of special interests.

Hopefully the greater business community in Los Angeles will see the wisdom in working to convince the MTA that the principles of fiscal responsibility, local control and respect for the education of future generations should outweigh special interests. If the business community can sway the MTA to see why the Santa Monica alignment makes the most sense from any number of perspectives, it’ll do so not only with the best interests of the region at heart, but also with common sense on its side.

John Mirisch is a Beverly Hills City Council member.

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