To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Beverly Hills Battles Metro Over Purple Line Extension


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 thoroughly investigated.

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 justice."

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.

"Sometimes 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 entirely.

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 matter.

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.