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Preliminary Federal Ruling Sides With Beverly Hills Against Metro Subway

Early version of possible Purple Line Subway alignments studied through Beverly Hills. Image via Metro

Early map of potential Purple Line subway alignments studied through Beverly Hills. Image via Metro

Last week, United States District Judge George Wu issued a ruling [PDF] in Beverly Hills’ legal battles against Metro’s plans to tunnel the Purple Line subway beneath Beverly Hills High School.

The Beverly Hills Courier portrayed the ruling as a victory for Beverly Hills in that Judge Wu chided subway proponents for “not properly considering the environmental effects of running a tunnel through an area riddled with abandoned oil wells and pockets of potentially explosive methane gas.”

Though the judge sided with Beverly Hills, agreeing that the subway environmental studies did not fulfill all the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), the decision is more of a split ruling with some of Beverly Hills’ winning points more nitpicky than substantive.

There are a couple of lawsuits with multiple parties involved. The plaintiffs include the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District. The defendants include Metro and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). For the purposes of this article, SBLA simplifies the parties to “Beverly Hills” against “Metro.”

The ruling last week is in the federal court case; Metro won the state court case last year.

The lawsuit primarily centers on Beverly Hills’ criticism of Metro’s decision to relocate the planned Century City stop from Santa Monica Boulevard to Constellation Boulevard.

Metro studied numerous subway alignments, and ultimately chose a route that places the Century City station at the intersection of Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars. Though Constellation and Santa Monica are one block apart, Metro found that Santa Monica Boulevard would not work due to earthquake faults. The Constellation alignment effectively necessitates tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.

All in all, Beverly Hills raised nine issues where it asserted that Metro’s environmental studies (Environmental Impact Statement – EIS) failed to meet NEPA requirements. The court sided with Beverly Hills on half of those issues. In effect, though, Beverly Hills effectively only needs to prevail on one issue to find that Metro failed NEPA.

The conclusion of the 217-page ruling [PDF] reads:

The Court concludes that [Metro] failed its disclosure/discussion obligations … in connection with [Beverly Hills’] comments concerning the effects of tunneling through gassy ground and the risk of explosions; that it failed its disclosure obligations regarding incomplete information concerning seismic issues; and that it should have issued [additional environmental studies]. The Court also concludes that [Metro] failed to properly assess “use” of [Beverly Hills] High School under [recreational land law] due to the planned tunneling. In all other respects, the Court rules in favor of [Metro].

Metro, via spokesperson Dave Sotero, issued a statement on the ruling:

After a thorough review, Metro concludes that Judge Wu’s tentative rulings uphold the approved plans to build the Century City subway station at Constellation and to tunnel safely beneath Beverly Hills High School. Some of the findings are procedural, requiring the FTA to perform additional environmental analysis and provide a further opportunity for public comment. The majority of extensive environmental work was deemed sound. If the ruling holds, Metro will support FTA in meeting these additional procedural requirements. Time is of the essence. Any significant delay resulting from this case could jeopardize the timely delivery of this critically important transit project for all L.A. County residents.

After the jump are summaries of the nine specific areas of dispute in the lawsuit. Following those are possible next steps in the case.  Read more…

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VerdeXchange Day One Highlights: Phil Washington, Earl Blumenauer

Day one of this year’s VerdeXchange conference is over. By the time you read this, the second and final day is already underway; Tuesday will feature discussions on the Los Angeles River, sustainable buildings, the sharing economy, new mobility models for cities, and much more! The full program schedule is here. Streetsblog L.A. is a media sponsor; follow @StreetsblogLA on Twitter for updates throughout the day.

Below are a couple of highlights from the first day.

VerdeXchange's 21st Century Transit panel (left to right) Jeff Morales, CA High-Speed Rail Authority, Deborah Flint, L.A. World Airports, Phil Washington, Metro, and Renata Simril LA84 Foundation. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

VerdeXchange’s 21st Century Transit panel (left to right) Jeff Morales, CA High-Speed Rail Authority, Deborah Flint, L.A. World Airports, Phil Washington, Metro, and Renata Simril LA84 Foundation. Photos by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Metro’s CEO Phil Washington spoke alongside the CEOs of L.A. World Airports, Deborah Flint, and the California High-Speed Rail Authority, Jeff Morales. All these leaders spoke the need to build seamless, complementary, balanced transportation systems. Washington decried the “three-decade infrastructure vacation” throughout the United States where the nation has neglected to build and maintain the transportation infrastructure needed for future generations. The Metro CEO emphasized that local jurisdictions and private industry have played their roles, but that the federal government has been weak in dragging its heels to pass its re-authorization bills.

Washington made two important announcements:

  • The second phase of the Metro Expo Line will open in May. A mid-2016 estimate has been expected since Metro took control of the substantially completed rail line ten days ago, but no opening date has been publicized.
  • USDOT approved phase three of Metro’s Westside Purple Line Subway for expedited treatment. This should speed up the federal processes to all for an accelerated schedule, potentially extending the subway to UCLA in time for a possible 2024 Olympics.

Congressmember Earl Blumenauer

Congressmember Earl Blumenauer

Streetsblog caught up with Oregon Congressmember Earl Blumenauer. Blumenauer is a leader on livability issues, especially bicycling. At VerdeXchange, he was speaking on a sustainable agriculture panel. Below is a very brief interview.  Read more…

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Court Rules In Metro’s Favor In Beverly Hills Subway Lawsuit Appeal

What will it take for Beverly Hills to stop fighting the Purple Line? Map from Metro

What will it take for Beverly Hills to stop fighting the Purple Line? Map from Metro

In a ruling filed yesterday, an appeals court denied Beverly Hills’ attempt to block Metro from tunneling under their city to extend the Purple Line subway.  The city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) challenged Metro’s environmental studies as being inadequate. In 2014, Beverly Hills lost in the initial round of the lawsuit. This week Beverly Hills lost in their efforts to overturn the earlier ruling. The appeal court’s verdict takes Metro a few steps closer to moving full speed ahead with subway construction.

From the ruling document, posted at The Source, Beverly Hills and BHUSD asserted that Metro’s environmental impact reports (EIS/EIR) “relied on significant new and different information that was not in the draft EIS/EIR” and that Metro “fail[ed] to analyze localized air pollution and public health impacts from [Purple Line] construction.” The court concluded “that substantial evidence supports Metro’s decision not to recirculate the EIS/EIR, and that the EIS/EIR adequately discussed air pollution and public health impacts.” Ultimately the appeals court “affirm[ed] the trial court’s denial of School District’s and City’s petitions.”

The initial 4-mile extension of the Metro Purple Line subway is already under construction and expected to open in 2023. The contentious second extension, which includes a station in — and a tunnel below — Beverly Hills, is anticipated to begin construction soon, pending full funding.

The latest verdict is good news for Metro’s efforts to continue to build out rail transportation networks. Unfortunately, it is also possible that Beverly Hills will continue to appeal to higher courts. Also, per The Source, this week’s decision – an appeal on California law – is only half of the lawsuit with a parallel appeal on federal law still pending.

What will it take for Beverly Hills to drop its animus toward the Purple Line?

With an election for some Beverly Hills school board members on the ballot next week, this issue could be a spoiler in the election. Read more…

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Metro Studying Arts District Red/Purple Line Subway Extension

Metro is considering extending its Red/Purple Line subways southeast of Union Station into the downtown Los Angeles Arts District. Diagram Streetsblog L.A., with base map via Google

Metro is considering extending its Red/Purple Line subways southeast of Union Station into the downtown Los Angeles Arts District. Diagram Streetsblog L.A., with base map via Google

Metro’s outgoing CEO Art Leahy spoke enthusiastically at last week’s Metro board Planning and Programming Committee about potentially extending the Red and Purple Line subways into the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District. The new station or stations would take advantage of existing tracks in Metro’s Heavy Rail Maintenance Yard, which extends southeast of Union Station, sandwiched between the Arts District and the Los Angeles River, mostly between First and Fourth streets, but extending all the way from the 101 Freeway to below Sixth Street.

The item didn’t even rise to the level of full Metro board approval; the board committee merely received and filed a Metro staff report [PDF]. That report joins an earlier staff report [PDF] filed in 2010.

There is already a fair amount of detail covered at Downtown News, Urbanize L.A., and the Los Angeles Times, so SBLA will be relatively brief.

It is clear that adding new “revenue service” to this location where empty trains are already going would be a fairly low-cost way of expanding Metro rail service. As Metro extends the Purple Line subway, the agency is already planning upgrades to this maintenance yard.

Metro has committed to running subway trains with two-minute headways, with service every four minutes on both the Red and Purple lines. In order to meet the improved headways, the agency would need to re-tool some of its tracks east of Union Station.

This includes widening the tunnel portal near the 101 Freeway and creating a “turn-back facility.”

As the Metro staff report [PDF] states:

To support increased service levels on the Red/Purple Lines … a turn-back facility consisting of three tracks and two platforms must be constructed within the [maintenance] yard. [… T]o keep trains moving through Union Station, it is necessary to continue passenger revenue service through to the turn-back facility, at which point trains can be cleared and sent back into service. Designing the turn-back facility to also serve as an at-grade revenue station is a cost-effective method for expanding rail service to the eastern edge of Downtown Los Angeles.

Metro’s next step is to complete its “coordination study,” which is expected this Spring.

What do you think, readers? Should Metro prioritize this relatively low-cost connection? Should there be one stop or two?

 

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President Obama’s Proposed FY15-16 Budget: $330M for L.A. Subways

Today's announcement means that Angelenos should be able to ride the Wilshire Subway to La Cienega in 2023. Image: Metro website

The presidential budget proposal gives a boost to relatively-timely construction of the Metro Purple Line into Beverly Hills and Century City. Image: Metro website

U.S. President Barack Obama released his administration’s proposed FY 2015-16 budget which includes $330 million in New Starts funding planned for subways in Los Angeles:

  • $115 million for the Regional Connector
  • $115 million for Phase I of the Westside Subway Extension (Purple Line from Western to La Cienega)
  • $100 million for Phase II of the Westside Subway Extension (Purple Line from La Cienega to Avenue of the Stars)

The Regional Connector and Purple Line Phase I monies are more-or-less expected, as part of the federal government generally committing to finish construction projects already underway. The Regional Connector broke ground in October 2014, and is anticipated to be completed in 2020. The Purple Line extension Phase I broke ground in November 2014, and is anticipated to be completed in 2023.

The big news is $100 million for Phase II of the Purple Line. According to Metro’s most recent (late 2014) project fact sheet [PDF], the 2.6-mile Westside Subway Extension Phase II was expected to begin construction in 2019 and be completed in 2026. The extension will add two new stations: Rodeo/Wilshire in Beverly Hills and Avenue of the Stars in Century City. The fact sheet lists pre-construction activities taking place from 2017-2018. It is unclear whether the federal funding might move up this schedule.

  Read more…

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Metro Breaks Ground on Purple Line Subway Extension

Assembled dignitaries break ceremonial ground on the 4-mile Purple Line subway extension this morning at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Assembled dignitaries break ceremonial ground on the 4-mile Purple Line subway extension this morning at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Photo: Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

This morning Metro broke ground on its fifth simultaneous rail construction project: the Purple Line Extension. The new phase will extend the subway from downtown to La Cienega Boulevard, with two additional future phases planned to extend the line to Century City and Westwood.

The ceremonies took place at the L.A. County Museum of Art, which will be served by the future Wilshire/Fairfax station. Attendees numbered roughly 500, mostly governmental and consultant staff. The Master of Ceremonies was KCRW traffic reporter Kajon Cermak.

Speakers included Federal Transit Administration acting head Therese McMillan, Senator Diane Feinstein, Congressmembers Karen Bass and Henry Waxman, L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, Santa Monica Mayor Pam O’Connor, County Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky and Mark Ridley-Thomas, City Attorney Mike Feuer, and L.A. City Councilmembers Mike Bonin, Paul Koretz, and Tom LaBonge.

Numerous speakers acknowledged the long series of leaders that brought this latest construction project to fruition: from former L.A. Mayor Villaraigosa to former Metro CEO Roger Snoble. Administrator McMillan spoke enthusiastically about bringing transit to Wilshire Boulevard, “where car culture was born.” Mayor Garcetti spoke of Los Angeles as a multi-modal city, where people can walk, bike, ride, and “if you want to stay in your car, God bless you.”

Maybe most tellingly, Senator Feinstein singled out the need for continuity of leadership, specifically mentioning County Supervisor-elect Sheila Kuehl who was seated in the front row of the audience. Feinstein also spoke of the importance of the task of keeping full federal funding on track in the current Congress.  Read more…

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A Plea to Beverly Hills: Give Up the Anti-Subway PR Campaign

Metro ##https://www.facebook.com/purplelineext/photos/a.10150672477261778.390611.270944186777/10152456823176778/?type=1##posted this picture to Facebook## of the shovels ready for today's groundbreaking ceremony.

Metro posted this picture to Facebook of the shovels ready for today’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Today is a great day for L.A. County. After decades of stalling, Metro is finally breaking ground on the Westside Subway extension from Wilshire/Western to Westwood.

Well, maybe it is not a good day for everyone. The NUMBY’s (that would be “Not UNDER”) in Beverly Hills are still so upset about the subway, they are still crusading against a train route that’s now already under construction.

Having exhausted the $3 million budgeted to fight the planned route of the Westside Subway extension of the Purple Line, the Beverly Hills Unified School District decided last month to double down.Perhaps buoyed by the pandering of Supervisor-Elect Sheila Kuehl, the BHUSD voted to allocate another $3 million (up to $6 million) in school construction bonds to wage a public relations, legal and political war of attrition against Metro.

Source: BH Weekly.

Source: BH Weekly.

So here’s a plea to the BHUSD. Give up. It’s over. The subway route is going to run under a portion of the Beverly Hills High School Campus. Please, stop spending Measure E construction bond funds to fight the subway. You’re just throwing your money away. It would be one thing if this were just about the legal fees needed to reach a settlement with Metro, which seems closer now than ever, but a lot of that money is also going to the communications firms to help smear the subway and alarm residents.

While I make this plea, I know it’s going to do zero good. The Chair of the School Board, David Goldberg, thinks the tunnel is going to endanger students. Despite being shut-down in court thus far, he also thinks that the School District will eventually be reimbursed its legal fees after its eventual victory. Here’s an excerpt from his fiery email defending the spending:

“By not fighting MTA, we will be taking tens of millions of dollars earmarked for classroom improvements and instead spending those dollars to reinforce foundations to striatal tunnels running under instructional buildings,” Goldberg writes.

Metro has publicly committed to mitigations in the EIS/EIR, but the exact amount of funding for other damage has yet to be negotiated. Because there are legal questions involved with BHUSD’s never-ending lawsuit, nobody is going to talk to a reporter about what Metro will and won’t commit to pay for after construction is completed. Even legal mediation can go awry.

Measure E is a $334 million construction bond proposal passed in 2008, ironically the same election as the County-wide sales tax Measure R which made the subway possible. Read more…

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Full Federal Funding To Extend Purple Line Subway West 4 Miles To La Cienega

Today's announcement means that Angelenos should be able to ride the Wilshire Subway to La Cienega in 2023. Image: Metro website

Today’s federal funding announcement means that Angelenos can expect to ride the Purple Line Subway to Wilshire and La Cienega in 2023. Image: Metro website

This morning in Washington DC, federal and Los Angeles officials joined together to announce full funding for the initial phase extending Metro’s Purple Line Subway. This funding had been hinted at earlier, but today it’s a done deal. Barring any kind of governmental shutdown.

Metro will receive $1.35 billion in federal grant funding, plus another $0.86 billion in federal infrastructure loans. Today’s $2 billion completes the $2.8 billion budget for extending the subway 3.9 miles west underneath Wilshire Boulevard, to a terminus at Wilshire and La Cienega. Construction is anticipated to start this summer and be completed in 2023.

With the project ready to begin construction, hopefully truth-challenged editorials and confusing campaign talk of a “third way” alternative route will soon be a thing of the past. No speculation on how the funding announcement timing dovetails with Metro’s planned fare increases.

Lots of additional local coverage at: Santa Monica Next, Long Beachize, KPCC, The Source, Daily News, LA Register, and the LA Times.

 

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Kuehl: “I don’t support anything that would delay the roll-out of the Purple Line”

Long a supporter of transit on the Westside, Sheila Keuhl's campaign has found itself on the defensive over an endorsement from the Beverly Hills Courier. Image: ##http://kuehlforsupervisor.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/05/Kuehl_PurpleLineWeb.jpg##Kuelh for Supervisor ##

Long a supporter of transit on the Westside, Sheila Keuhl’s campaign has found itself on the defensive over an endorsement from the Beverly Hills Courier. Image: Kuelh for Supervisor

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.

Keuhl was front and center in the early days of Expo Line advocacy, including the groundbreaking for Phase I. Photo:##http://www.friends4expo.org/images/gbpeople.jpg##Darrell Clarke/Friends for Expo Transit##

Keuhl was front and center in the early days of Expo Line advocacy, including the groundbreaking for Phase I. Photo:Darrell Clarke/Friends for Expo Transit

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.

Read more…

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Kuehl Earns Courier Endorsement for Opposing Subway Route, Shriver and Duran Respond (Update: Kuehl Touts Transit Bonafides, Says She Will Not Hold Up Subway)

(Update: This is a first. The Courier didn’t get one thing wrong in its editorial, it got two things wrong.

Sheila Kuehl has responded. The full text of which is available at the end of the story. The highlight: “I strongly support fully building the Purple Line and never said anything indicating I would take any action, ever, to stop the project. That’s pure fantasy on someone’s part.”)

This morning, in the announcement of its endorsements of the County Supervisor’s Race in SD3 to replace Zev Yaroslavsky, the austere Beverly Hills Courier dropped a bombshell: both of the supposed leading candidates for Supervisor, former State Senator Sheila Kuehl and Santa Monica City Councilmember Bobby Shriver were opposed to the currently planned subway route under Beverly Hills High School.

Shriver at the  Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Washington, D.C. on October 20, 2012. Photo: ##http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Bobby+Shriver/2012+Audi+Best+Buddies+Challenge+Washington/EALHQNA2_RX##http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Bobby+Shriver/2012+Audi+Best+Buddies+Challenge+Washington/EALHQNA2_RX##Paul Morigi/Getty Images##

Shriver at the Audi Best Buddies Challenge: Washington, D.C. on October 20, 2012. Photo: Paul Morigi/Getty Images

Knowing the Courier’s uneven relationship with the truth (run a text search for my name) when it comes to the Subway, we researched the positions of both candidates. For Kuehl it was easy, the specifics offered by the Courier and discussion on social media from some supporters (who asked not to be quoted in this story) made it clear she is supporting the people opposed to a route under Beverly Hills High School, even if it means killing the project, robbing their children, or making accusations in a way that makes everyone giggle. (Update: While the Courier’s editorial certainly made it seem this was Kuehl’s position, she says that is not so. Again, see below.)

And for this (update: imaginary) stance, Kuehl was honored with the endorsement of the Courier. But Shriver didn’t even get that for siding with the subway obstructers. It turns out there was a good reason for that. Santa Monica Next editor Jason Islas contacted Shriver’s office and received the following statement. Shriver is unapologetically not in favor of moving the Subway route to a more dangerous route with lower projected ridership.

Shriver stated in an email:

“My position has always been not to interfere with the settlement negotiations that are part of the current litigation.  Read more…