Scared of the Subway: Beverly Hills Slams Proposal to Put Subway Under the City (Updated: 1:00 P.M.)

Members of the Beverly Hills High School School Board present a resolution asking that the Subway run below Santa Monica Boulevard

Members of the Beverly Hills High School School Board present a resolution asking that the Subway run below Santa Monica Boulevard

There is one thing that is clear about the position of the residents of Beverly Hills when it comes to the future Westside Subway.  No matter how many guarantees they receive about the negligible impacts of tunneling ninety to one hundred fifty feet below the ground, they don’t want it to run underneath their residential area nor their schools of their city.

Last night in Beverly Hills, Metro hosted the fourth of its five public hearings on the Westside Subway Extension’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement.  After a fairly brief presentation, where the depth that subway drilling would occur at was mentioned an even dozen times; the staff turned the floor over to a parade of homeowners, renters, doctors, School Board Members, City Council Members, grade school students, business owners, homeowner’s associations, civic groups and even a Monsignor ready to condemn even the suggestion that the Westside Subway should run underneath the homes and schools of Beverly Hills.

For Metro, there are two issues that need to be addressed along this corridor.  The first is which corner of the intersection of La Cienega and Wilshire to put a rail station.  The second is whether it makes more sense to tunnel under Beverly Hills for a station at Avenue of the Stars and Constellation Avenue or Avenue of the Stars and Santa Monica Boulevard.

Metro tried to make the case that tunneling undergroud is safe and will not effect air quality.

Metro tried to make the case that tunneling underground is safe and will not effect air quality.

Wearing red buttons that read “No Subway Under BHHS” a parade of speakers took to the microphone to castigate the study of the “Constellation Avenue” route and stop.  The most common themes of the testimony were the fear that the pollution that would come from tunneling 50 to 100 feet below the earth’s surface, the feat that the vibrations or construction would cause buildings to sink into the ground or collapse, or that construction would cause a significant impact to the quality of life.  Speakers went out of their way to claim they weren’t N.I.M.B.Y.’s because they liked the routing that took the subway farther away from, uhm, their back yards.

While fear was a staple of the impassioned speeches heard last night from residents, science was not.  Only one speaker, Ken Goldman, bothered to take on Metro’s assertion that the fault line under Santa Monica Boulevard should be considered active.  Metro points to this fault as a reason to tunnel farther south along constellation, but the state doesn’t consider this fault to be active because it will only yield a major earthquake once every 7,000 years.

Another speaker took on Metro’s ridership projections, which show a small bump in ridership if the Constellation Avenue stop is approved.  Kathy Reeves noted that if the .2 miles difference between the proposed Avenue of the Stars stops is the difference maker in choosing the route, than Metro needs to look at the stop planned for Westwood which is a full .8 miles from the UCLA campus.

Other than that, the testimony may have been emotionally satisfying, but is unlikely to produce any change between the Draft EIR and the Final one due next year.  Metro has already studied the air pollution that will be caused by tunneling scores of feet below the ground, and found it to be negligible.  Metro has already weighed in on whether or not they can tunnel safely under Beverly Hills’ residential areas and schools.  Just testifying that one doesn’t believe them isn’t going to change their minds or even merit more than a cursory response.  Goldman and Reeves at least raised valid queries that have to be addressed.

I was also somewhat surprised by the raising of Rosenfeld’s $1.5-billion proposal for two 46-story skyscrapers holding hundreds of condominiums and offices to be built on Avenue of the Stars as a bogeyman.  While they were careful not to mention Rosenfeld by name, the “well heeled developers of Century City,” as Beverly Hills City Councilman John Marsh referred to him, was a constant punching bag.  The argument is that Metro has bowed to political pressure to put the stop near this development to increase its value.  Whether that’s true or not hasn’t been proven at this point, but this argument does little to make a case for a change in environmental studies unless, as Msgr. Thomas Welbern predicted, the towers aren’t built reducing ridership at the stop.

Personally, I agree with the people of Beverly Hills that it makes the most sense to build the Subway stop at Santa Monica and Avenue of the Stars and not on Constellation Avenue.  The Westside Subway is going to be an iconic part of Los Angeles for generations and it should be in a place that will attract maximum visibility and maximum ridership.  How it’s going to do that on lesser used, and lesser known Constellation Avenue, unless we are building a subway stop just for Rosenfeld Towers is beyond me.

But that being said the arguments heard over and over again last night were the environmental hearing equivalent of putting on a mask and yelling “boo” at children and claiming they’ve seen a ghost.  On my way out of the hearing I asked one speaker if she was worried about the impact construction of the subway would have on traffic patterns on Santa Monica Boulevard and got the response that people aren’t that worried because most of the construction would be underground.  That was one of the more logical points I heard from speakers that night.

Update:

A couple of commenters have pointed out that my assertion that the Santa Monica/Avenue of the Stars stop would be the better of the two stops is complete crap.  Here is a google picture of the intersection:

Iconic?

Iconic?

Ok, looking at that picture, I’m not sure what I was thinking.  Point taken everyone.  The subway stop should be at Constellation and Santa Monica.