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.”