By Christian Brown, July 16, 2014
Denny Zane will never forget the striking impression he came away
with after sitting through a special board meeting of the Metropolitan
Transportation Authority last year.
As a former mayor of Santa Monica, Zane is familiar with political
discourse, but what he heard from Beverly Hills officials that day
surprised even him.
"They never asserted there was a risk to Beverly Hills High School,"
said Zane in a tone laced with both wonder and frustration. "I thought
that was odd. The governmental officials did not insert it. If that was
their claim, why wasn't it the centerpiece of their argument?"
Zane, who now serves as executive director of Move L.A.,
was struck by the inconsistency and frankly, he isn't the only one
puzzled by the pernicious legal fight between the city of Beverly Hills,
its school district, and Metro, who plans to extend the Purple Line
subway route underneath one of West L.A.'s wealthiest communities.
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City leaders maintain they're only protecting the heritage of their city by opposing Metro's extension,
but in April, a judge tossed out the lawsuits brought by the city and
the Beverly Hills Unified School District, which has acknowledged using
nearly $4 million in construction funds to pay for legal fees. The
lawsuits are currently before an appellate court judge.
Metro was awarded a $2.1 billion federal grant in May for the subway
extension and plans to include a station near Constellation Boulevard in
Century City–just west of Beverly Hills High School. But in order to
reach the station, a tunnel will need to pass below the school as well
as homes and businesses in southwest Beverly Hills.
In lawsuits filed by the Beverly Hills Unified School District and
the city of Beverly Hills, legal representatives challenged Metro's
five-year environmental studies, claiming several legitimate
concerns–including possible seismic activity and methane gas–were not
The district and city acknowledge the need for the extension, but
prefer the subway line to run along Santa Monica Boulevard. However, the
proposal is a non-starter for the transit agency due to an active fault
zone in the area. Metro fears any potential subway route on Santa
Monica Boulevard would be vulnerable to future earthquakes.
"A station on Santa Monica Boulevard, seismologists said that was the
worst possible configuration," Zane recalled. "The Beverly Hills
proposal had the higher risk and the one Metro is pursuing has the lower
risk. Move L.A., we like to support things on the merits. On the
merits, if you watched that dialogue–Beverly Hills had no case, and
Metro had a very good case."
A Superior Court judge agreed.
In his 15-page decision, Judge John A. Torribio wrote that Metro's
preference to place a station on Constellation was based on "substantial
evidence" and that a Santa Monica Boulevard station "would require
these same riders to walk a considerable distance to access the subway."
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"The judge ruled in our favor, declining their legal action," said
Metro spokesman Dave Sotero last week. "[Beverly Hills] is pursuing
something else, but we have the environmental documentation and we're
confident in the judge's ruling."
Less impressed, however, was the publisher of the Beverly Courier, Cliff Smith.
"Judge Torribio writes that 'Metro undertook significant analysis of
the subsurface structure of the [Constellation] Station.' No, Metro did
not," said Smith in an editorial piece published April 3. "Metro drilled
virtually no core samples there. For anyone who has practiced law for
over three decades and understands the scam of using 'expert' testimony
as a substitute for real facts, this opinion is a serious miscarriage of
The weekly publication, which calls itself "the newspaper of record
of the world of Beverly Hills," has taken a hard stance against the
Purple Line extension since Rep. Henry Waxman (D-33) successfully
campaigned in 2007 to lift the Los Angeles tunneling ban, which went
into effect shortly after methane gas triggered a basement explosion at a
Fairfax-area Ross Dress For Less in 1985.
Zane, in fact, believes it's the Courier's alarmist reporting and "crazy YouTube videos about exploding high schools" that first ignited community backlash against the subway extension.
"It's a bit like someone yelling fire and everyone is scurrying even
after it's clear that there was no fire in the first place," he said.
the local leaders and the press are distant from the people they
represent. I'm waiting for someone with the stature and nerve to say,
'There is no risk here.'"
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Now that the Metro-Beverly Hills case is before the California Court
of Appeal, school district legal fees are causing a new controversy
According to annual financial performance audits, the Beverly Hills
Unified School District has spent $4.1 million in Measure E construction
funds on legal fees since 2011. Approved by district voters in 2008,
Measure E funds are designated for upgrades at school facilities–on
items like classrooms, technology, gyms, libraries, and labs.
Superintendent Gary Woods did not respond to phone calls or e-mails,
but documents released by the district under a Public Records Act
request reveal the district spent nearly $1 million in Measure E funds
last fiscal year on legal costs alone. The district defends the legality
of the expenditures, but declined to submit any legal defense on the
With nearly 70 percent of county residents voting in favor of mass
transit Measure R in 2008, subway advocates say there's no doubt
Angelenos, including those living in Beverly Hills, are ready for better
solutions to traffic gridlock. And conciliatory voices may prevail.
Beverly Hills Councilman William Brien is vocal about his desire to see his city move past the Purple Line debate.
"The city of Beverly Hills and the school district have voiced their
preference for the Santa Monica Boulevard alignment. It's not going to
happen, in my opinion," Brien told the Los Angeles Register in May.
"It's going to go under a portion of the high school. It's time to
figure out how to do that in a way that protects and mitigates any of
the concerns that the city and school district have."
After the millions of dollars spent on the Purple Line brouhaha,
citizens can only hope that a resolution is near because no matter how
slow litigation might seem–L.A. rush hour traffic is slower.