Beverly Hills Unified School District Files CEQA Suit Against Westside Subway

A "protest sign" via Century City Subway/Facebook

(Editor’s note: A full copy of the legal petition can be found here.)

It was only a matter of time.

Earlier today, the Beverly Hills Unified School District filed suit against Metro alleging a “rush-to-judgment by the Metro Board designed to hurry the decision through without awaiting full and complete information needed by the decision makers and the public to make informed environmental choices.”  The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles State Superior Court  under the California Environmental Quality Act (“CEQA”), which requires that government agencies such as Metro consider environmental consequences before certifying or approving projects.

The School District opposes any subway plans that include tunneling and subway operation under Beverly Hills High School.  After last week’s passage of the environmental documents for the subway, a lawsuit seemed inevitable.  In fact, it took two work days and a couple of hours for the School District to act.

“This has been a biased and flawed process from the beginning. Metro decided long ago that it wanted to put the Century City station at Constellation and it has refused to review or consider any other options,” stated Brian Goldberg, president of the BHUSD Board of Education.

Goldberg is referring to the studies completed on behalf of the City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District that cast doubt on the official seismological and geological studies completed by a team of independent experts hired by Metro to complete the studies for the environmental review.  For its part, Metro’s team used the studies completed on behalf of Beverly Hills governmental bodies to sharpen and improve their initial findings.

The Beverly Hills experts had over three hours to make a presentation in front of a bare majority of the Metro Board fifteen days ago.  Their team punched holes in Metro’s experts claims and outlined other potential routes for the Subway that avoided the high school.  Regardless of the reasons, the Metro Board passed the Subway environmental documents, including the portion under Beverly Hills High School, last week.

Many have long considered a lawsuit inevitable as Beverly Hills and Metro have been traveling different paths on the subway for several years.  Despite all the histrionics, raucous board and public meetings, bizarre videos, insulting videos, slanders and insinuations; it won’t be public opinion but a series of judges that decide on whether or not Beverly Hills can stop or alter Metro’s plans to build a subway on an alignment that runs under Beverly Hills High School.

Anyone who has found the various conspiracy theories around the tunnel route debate to be either entertaining or convincing won’t be disappointed.  The lawsuit alleges that Metro decided on the subway route long before they completed their environmental study.  The following paragraph comes from the press release announcing the lawsuit:

The lawsuit provides details describing how Metro “secretly pre‐committed to the Constellation Station long before all the evidence was in (and even before it released the Draft EIS/EIR) by only providing information to the [Federal Transportation Administration] for the New Starts process for a Constellation Station, even though the [locally preferred alternative] included both Santa Monica Boulevard and Constellation Boulevard alternative alignments and stations for Century City. Metro appeared to have selected the Constellation alternative more than a year and a half earlier and all of the reports Metro has prepared and issued since appeared to be a slanted, post hoc rationalization for that decision.”

The timing of the lawsuit announcement surely annoys the Los Angeles Times.  The Paper of Record’s editorial board lambasted the potential impact of a lawsuit comparing it to that of a penny on the tracks in front of a moving train.  However, the paper does make another important point…even if successful, the lawsuit will probably “only” require more study.  Since tunneling machines won’t make it all the way to Beverly Hills High School for years, the impact of even a successful suit could be negligible.

And as we’ve seen before, convincing a judge (or panel of judges) of a CEQA violation is a tall task.  The Coalition to Fix the Expo Line in South L.A. had some success getting additional features added, including a new train station.  However, their victories came from the California Public Utilities Commission, a body that does not have a say in the subway debate.  Neighbors for Smart Rail are “0 for 2” in front of state court.

“The BHUSD did not want to file this lawsuit,” claims Goldberg. “Today’s action is a direct result of Metro’s intransigence, and is the only option available to have an open, honest and fair hearing to protect BHHS. The unnecessary cost and delay of litigation could have been prevented if the Metro Board had only listened to the numerous experts that testified before them, and ordered that additional testing be undertaken to prove once and for all what would be the safest alternative for the Century City Subway station.”

  • Dan W.

    I cannot wait until they have to sing the check not only to pay their own legal bills but Metro’s as well.

  • Davistrain

    What do you expect from a city that has more lawyers per 1000 of population than just about any other place on earth?   Even when most of us are riding transit or bicycles because gas has gone over $8.00 a gallon, the plutocrats and celebrities of Beverly Hills will still be tooling around in their luxury cars, never having to share travel space with us
    lesser beings.

  • Anonymous

    Steve Hymon of Metro is lamenting in a The Source post that it takes too long to build anything. He didn’t mention lawsuits though, but did mention the environmental laws that are hijacked by those whose last thing on their minds is the environment.

    http://thesource.metro.net/2012/05/30/on-transportation-column-may-30-edition/ 

    “The other problem is the exhaustive environmental impact studies required under state and/or federal law for most projects. Would the Transcontinental Railroad have been built if the railroads had to study “growth inducing impacts? — which was exactly the point of the endeavor.  And is it really necessary in the modern era to try to calculate how many vehicle miles won’t be driven if such-and-such project is built? And isn’t that also beside the point, given that the very premise of public transit is to simply provide an alternative to driving?”

  • poncho

    Wow given the crazed hysteria you would have thought Metro was proposing building the subway tracks literally through the school classrooms. What part of deep underground do they not understand?

  • Neal

    Damien, Isn’t NFSR 0-2? I believe their second preliminary loss was certified.

  • Kymberleigh Richards

    Personally, I think every person in Los Angeles County who favors increased public transit should boycott the businesses in Beverly Hills … and make it known to the business owners that the reason is the way their city’s government is handling this matter.

    Given that the Beverly Hills Homeowners Association commented at last week’s Metro Board meeting that they support the decided-upon alignment, and one BH resident commented that she felt the spending of $3 million by the City on this fight is politically motivated, I wonder how many of the current members of the BH City Council and Board of Education will be voted out of office at the end of their terms … if they aren’t recalled before then.

    There is also the strong possibility that whatever judge this comes before will decide that the City’s invoking that obscure part of the state Public Utilities Code to have their special hearing before the Metro Board restricted their right to bring legal action under CEQA.

    This will get very interesting, and as has been pointed out, there is plenty of time for all the drama to play out before any tunneling starts in the disputed area.

  • Anonymous

    The school district is filing the suit, not the city or businesses, as far as I am aware. I don’t know why you would boycott any business over this. Not that many of us could afford to shop in Beverly Hills anyway. 

  • Anonymous

    Goldberg made an interesting point in a Beverly Hills Patch comment, that the school is built on State of California land, over which Metro may have more limited authority than it has over private, city, or other county land. If BHUSD bases part of its case on that premise, it’ll be interesting to see whether the State steps into the suit, or keeps its hands off. So far, I haven’t seen any hint of interest at the State level. If it did step in, though, the involvement could help either side. 

  • Anonymous

    I hadn’t hear the “double hearing” point you make. Do you know whether any precedent exists that would restrict CEQA lawsuits after such a request?

  • Neal

    @BJToepper:disqus Why would the state ever support the side that’s trying to stymie a public project with a public good–not only less pollution but job creation–that they’re not paying for? I would think if it helped Metro’s case to not get involved, the state wouldn’t. Besides, I think Antonio and Zev have bigger friends in Sacramento than Brucker and Mirisch.

  • Neal

     Why would the state ever support the side that’s trying to stymie a public project with a public good–not only less pollution but job creation–that they’re not paying for? I would think if it helped Metro’s case to not get involved, the state wouldn’t. Besides, I think Antonio and Zev have bigger friends in Sacramento than Brucker and Mirisch.

  • calwatch

    The school is owned by the BHUSD, as you can verify from running a property records report. It is not “state land”, any more than the MTA is a “state agency” because it was created by the Public Utilities Code, but it is true that the State Architect controls building on any school district land, per the Education Code. The State Architect has never weighed in, one way or another, on whether future building on BHHS would be allowed. If they had that letter from the state I think a lot of this fury would evaporate, but the State rightly does not want to commit on hypotheticals. So you get this impasse.

    http://www.dgs.ca.gov/dsa/Programs/progProject.aspx 

  • calwatch

    I’d like to see the case law on that, since that Public Utilities Code on subways has never been exercised, ever. Plus it’s the city that requested the hearing, and that doesn’t bar legal standing from anyone else. When the Industry stadium CEQA exemption legislation passed, it was done to moot the community group lawsuit against the stadium, as the stadium proponents had settled with Walnut and Diamond Bar already. 

  • calwatch

    I think John Mirisch is a great singer myself.

  • calwatch

    The BHUSD did make a decent argument when they trotted out the alignments that avoid BHHS and still serve Constellation. Unfortunately this was their fall back position and so it wasn’t presented to the MTA earlier in the decision making process, but there is enough time to study this. Also the benefit of waiting will help opponents of the VA station to advocate for a better station, or even get money for the subway to Santa Monica so that there is enough money to move the station further west, but still on VA grounds, instead of in the middle of a freeway onramp.

  • Anonymous

    Can the suit be tossed on the grounds that they refer to Metro as the Los Angeles County Metropolitan TRANSIT Agency?

  • Juan Matute

    I’m pretty sure Metro thoroughly considered the environmental impacts of this segment of subway in a manner consistent with Public Resources Code 21000.  That’s all this is about, though it’s easy to read more into it.

  • Anonymous

    In light of the racist NIMBYism of Beverly Hills, I suggest we join this group and make our voices heard.

  • Anonymous

     http://www.facebook.com/pages/Boycott-Beverly-Hills-Until-They-Support-the-Subway/233513270094506?ref=ts

  • Irwinc

    Time for some BH residents to start recall campaigns

  • Was it certified?  I’ll check…

  • Lord, I’m writing too much.  Getting my lawsuits confused.  More on NFSR coming in a couple of hours.

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