Let’s set the record straight: The city of Beverly Hills enthusiastically supports the Westside subway extension. Like many of our neighbors in this congested region, we look forward to the environmental, economic and traffic benefits the project promises. In fact, Beverly Hills will host two stations and another is proposed just outside city limits.
It’s this third station in Century City that poses significant public-policy problems for the city and the school board. That’s because the tunnel route proposed by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority would cut directly under Beverly Hills High School.
Here’s why: Beverly Hills High School is a crowded campus of aging buildings on an awkward piece of property, leaving only a tiny strip of buildable land. This narrow strip of land is where Metro wants to tunnel the relatively shallow approach for a station championed by politically active developers at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. The voters of Beverly Hills have already approved millions of dollars of bond money for modernization plans at the high school. At its current depth and alignment, the tunnel would make those plans extremely costly and could preclude future construction.
Rather than engage with the city or the Beverly Hills Unified School District to solve this very real public-policy problem, Metro has unilaterally decided to select an alignment that will cost tens of millions of dollars more than an alternative alignment and strip a public school district of the ability to serve its students into the future.
Metro’s response is that we should just believe its assurances that the tunnel will be safe and allow the school to modernize. Except that decision doesn’t rest with Metro; all public school facilities must meet the strict guidelines of California’s Field Act and pass muster with the Division of the State Architect. School construction regulations become stricter over time and the only way to ensure the district has the flexibility to meet the facility needs of our students is for Metro to either route the tunnel out from under the historic core of the campus or dig much, much deeper.
To date, Metro won’t consider either.
Last year, when we announced our opposition to Metro’s route under the high school, we were asked the same question again and again by incredulous observers familiar with Metro’s tactics and history: “Do you understand what you’re up against?” Honestly, we didn’t. But we do now and it’s worth sharing some of the history that led to this point – and why the public should question Metro’s conclusions.
The tunnel route became an issue late in 2010, when Metro deviated from its long-held plan to tunnel along an alignment on Santa Monica Boulevard, with a station at Santa Monica and Avenue of the Stars. Metro’s surprise change included a new station at Constellation that required a route directly under the high school.
Metro’s own draft environmental impact report showed that the station at Santa Monica and Avenue of the Stars would actually cost at least $60 million less, serve more riders and be faster than the newly proposed Constellation station.
When the district pointed this out late last year, Metro moved the Santa Monica station east to the very edge of Century City. Not surprisingly, ridership estimates dropped precipitously. At the time, Metro defended the move by saying preliminary seismic studies indicated Santa Monica Boulevard might have active faults that made a station difficult to build. But it refused to share those studies or the data that drove its conclusions.
When Metro finally made its seismic studies available, several independent experts retained by both the city and the district raised doubts about the conclusions. For example, Metro conducted more than 10 times more sampling to prove a Santa Monica station was unsafe than it did to demonstrate a Constellation station just 1,000 feet away would be safe.
The district hired its own team of experts to do additional studies under the supervision of the California Geologic Survey to obtain more detailed data and information, including trenching, which is the most reliable method of seismic testing. Preliminary results contradict many of Metro’s conclusions about the seismic conditions in the area. At the same time, a 39-story skyscraper right on Santa Monica was approved for construction after the city of Los Angeles found no evidence of an active fault was found by the developer.
Despite the conflicting data, Metro has steadfastly refused to slow down its fast-tracked approval process to review the implications for a $5.3 billion project that we as a region get only one chance to do right.
Recognizing this, the Federal Transportation Administration slowed down its review of the project to include new data from Beverly Hills. We pleaded for Metro to do the same. Sadly, the response from Metro has been totally inadequate. Beverly Hills does not want to pursue legal action, but we will take whatever action is necessary to protect our one and only high school.
William W. Brien is the mayor of Beverly Hills. Brian David Goldberg is president of the Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education.
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