It’s not supposed to be this way.
When a candidate earns the endorsement of a newspaper, it is supposed to be a big moment for the campaign. A sign of momentum. A building block to create real inroads in a community.
But for County Supervisorial candidate Sheila Kuehl, the endorsement from the Beverly Hills Courier has been nothing short of a headache. Whether the Courier overstated her support for working to change the route of the Westside Subway, “adamantly opposed” is the term the paper used; or whether Kuehl saw an uproar and decided to clarify the comment on her own doesn’t matter.
What does matter is that after being pushed on the issue from Streetsblog, the Los Angeles Times and one of her main challengers, Kuehl didn’t position herself as an opponent of transit, but one who will not meddle in the already approved project.
At a candidates debate last Sunday, former Santa Monica Mayor Bobby Shriver, one of Kueh’s chief opponents, charged that Kuehl’s openness to exploring a third route hampers the ability of a team of Metro staff and board members in Washington, D.C. from doing their job. In her statement to Streetsblog, Kuehl wrote
I have been told that some folks are seeking a “third way” and [I] have offered to try, with others, to see if anything could be worked out.
Shriver jumped on that statement, arguing that casting any uncertainty on the planned and approved route will make it harder to secure federal funds. In truth, reopening the study now would basically undo much of the work that has been done on the subway at this point.
This must be frustrating for Kuehl, who authored the legislation that created the Expo Construction Authority. Kuehl is revered as a leader on transit issues by the advocacy community that pushed Expo in the 1990’s when an L.A. rail network was something of a dream.
“Kuehl proposed her bill in 2003 to create a dedicated Expo construction authority, following the model of the Pasadena line, when it appeared that Metro was not moving the project forward following its approval of the Phase 1 Final EIS in 2001,” writes Darrell Clarke, the head of Friends for Expo Transit, in our comments section. “She was very serious about getting Expo built – I still vividly remember meeting with her about that.”
In 2012, after five years of public process and input, Metro certified the environmental documents for the Purple Line Subway Westside Extension under Beverly Hills High School and received a record of decision from the Federal Transit Administration FTA.) Those actions approved the alignment, the station locations and more. That is the project that is going through the federal funding process. Significant changes to what was approved would require a supplemental Environmental Impact Studies (EIS/EIR) at a minimum, and could require starting the public process over again.
The city of Beverly Hills sued Metro over its Westside Subway EIS/EIR, and lost in state court. Of course the judge in the federal case against the FTA may say something different, but for now it appears that the Westside Subway extension is on its way to being built and a “third way” could derail the whole process.
So we asked Kuehl what was more important: the third way or continuing the progress that has been made?
“I don’t want discussions of altered routes to be used to delay Phase Two of a subway (which is what this is),” she wrote. “I don’t support anything that would delay the roll-out of the Purple Line.”
So there you have it.
Discussion of a “third way” could upend the public process for the subway and require a do-over.
None of the top three candidates want to see that happen, even one who is sympathetic to the campaign put-forward by the Beverly Hills Unified School District and the Beverly Hills Courier.