We are writing in response to the ill-informed commentary by Joel Epstein (“School District Digs Hole on Subway,” Sept. 15) regarding the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s proposed subway alignment beneath Beverly Hills High School. As members of the Beverly Hills Board of Education, we have a fiduciary and moral obligation to safeguard and protect our children and only public high school.

We could not agree more with Epstein that this is no way to build a railroad. We too question the MTA’s decision to unnecessarily commit more than $200 million in transit funds to construct a detour under the high school – a route that will benefit a private developer’s vanity subway station in Century City. While we fail to understand Epstein’s obsession with demonizing our board, we welcome the opportunity to discuss the battle we have been drawn into – the wasteful spending of $200 million of precious transit dollars and the millions of dollars our district has been forced to spend. Rather than raising this and other important issues, Epstein used this publication to pursue an unprovoked, misguided and factually inaccurate attack against our school board.

Here is the truth about the Beverly Hills Unified School District’s ongoing dispute with the MTA over the proposed shallow tunneling under the high school:

  • The school district is not against the subway. Let’s say that again – the school district is not against the subway. Beverly Hills – its residents, government and school district – have always been in favor of the subway. The only issue the school district has is with the MTA’s choice of one station location.

  • The MTA wants a station as part of JMB Realty’s development at Constellation Boulevard in Century City, and that choice requires shallow tunnels under our only high school. The district wants the MTA to go back to its original announced plan for a Santa Monica Boulevard station with tunnels under the street. The district still does not understand the MTA’s last-minute switch to favor a private developer with a station at the expense of our high school.

  • The MTA’s proposed Constellation alignment will have a debilitating impact on Beverly Hills High School. The tunnels will have to be so shallow that our historic buildings will vibrate and buzz – this according to the MTA’s own studies. They will be so shallow under our high school that they will be in conflict with our underground construction, construction which is to be funded by the Measure E bond Epstein so casually throws around. With those tunnels, that construction cannot take place. And, yes, another fact Epstein hopes to avoid, the MTA’s tunnels will run through an active oil field and methane zone. The MTA’s plans will prevent any of the modernization and expansion of our high school our residents voted for when they approved Measure E.

  • Rather than engaging in a reasonable and rational discussion with us, the MTA took a tactic Epstein would likely admire. In a very sensational, published and unreviewed report, the MTA claims it found two previously unheard of active fault zones, made up of a dozen active faults, right under the proposed Santa Monica station – and under our high school and other private property in its wake. Because of this report, the school district and our neighbors had to spend millions to ensure our schools and buildings were safe to occupy. Those investigations took years and millions of dollars to complete. Unlike the initial MTA study, those studies were completed under extreme regulatory scrutiny. The results? Not a single active fault has been found anywhere on or near Santa Monica where MTA predicted they would be. As a concerned county resident and public transit rider, perhaps Epstein should be asking how the MTA could spend taxpayer money to self-publish such false accusations that have cost our district and many property owners millions of dollars.

The district welcomes – and has been fighting for – an open, public and thorough discussion of the facts and wasteful spending of taxpayer money by this subway project. Let’s talk about the fact that the MTA’s Constellation station will cost $200 million more than the Santa Monica station it originally planned. That is $200 million that the MTA does not have – money that must come from another local tax. Is there a public benefit that justifies the added expense? Sadly, no. The Constellation alignment is longer and slower than the Santa Monica alignment. Ridership slightly favors Santa Monica over Constellation now and in the future. Operating costs are definitely lower with the Santa Monica station. These are facts that our critics cannot change, so they choose to simply ignore them and create new ones they feel they can counter.

We share Epstein’s outrage that the school district has been forced to spend millions in this battle to preserve its high school – a battle forced upon us by inexplicable choices and decisions, and not of our making. We ask – where is the outrage concerning the $200 million-plus that the MTA is wasting or the money our district has been forced to spend in self-defense against a “Transit Titan” that feeds on our taxpayer dollars?

We agree with Epstein that this is no way to build a railroad. That has been our point from the beginning. We urge Business Journal readers to ask the same questions we have and not to stop until we all get some answers.

Noah Margo, Brian David Goldberg, Lisa Korbatov, Lewis Hall and Howard Goldstein are members of the Beverly Hills Board of Education. Margo is president of the board.

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