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Today’s Beverly Hills vs. Metro Subway Court Hearing Inconclusive

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

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

At a federal court hearing this morning, attorneys for Beverly Hills and Metro clashed, but did not arrive at any conclusive outcome. It appears that Metro will likely need to do some additional environmental review (a Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement or SEIS) before proceeding with construction on phase 2 of the Purple Line Subway extension, which is planned to tunnel below the city of Beverly Hills with stations in Beverly Hills and Century City.

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 deadlock outlined in SBLA’s February explainer remain. 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 various subway alignments, and chose to place 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 necessitates tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.

Judge George H. Wu preliminarily sided with Beverly Hills, finding that Metro’s subway environmental studies (Environmental Impact Statement EIS) did not fulfill all the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA). In order to comply with NEPA requirements, Metro will likely need to do additional environmental review (a SEIS.)

Metro and Beverly Hills continue to be far from settling the legal dispute.  Read more…

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Metro Not Quite Ready for First/Last Mile Funding for Purple Line Phase 2

Will Metro pay attention to its own Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]?

Will Metro pay attention to its own Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]?

Just when the Metro board was on the verge of adopting a policy to incorporate first/last mile, including bike and walk, connections into “the planning, design, and construction of all [Metro] transit projects,” Metro staff postponed including first/last mile connections to the second phase of Purple Line subway expansion.

The issue before the board was Metro’s new Active Transportation Strategic Plan [PDF]. The ATSP theoretically builds on a number of Metro bike-and-walk-friendly policies, including the agency’s First/Last Mile Strategic Plan and Complete Streets Policy. Livability advocates, with champions on the Metro board prominently including Los Angeles City Councilmember Mike Bonin, have pushed for Metro to follow up these good-sounding policies with Metro funding commitments to truly get first/last mile facilities on the ground. After the 2014 passage of the Metro Complete Streets Policy, Bonin pushed the agency to follow up with a walk/bike funding plan.

Metro dragged its heels on the funding plan, publishing schedules designed to complete the funding document right after the November sales tax ballot measure. So Metro would finally have a walk/bike funding plan right after it sets the course for the next 50 years of Metro funding.

Pressure from Bonin and others accelerated the schedule for the funding plan, now called the ATSP. Today the Metro board approved its ATSP, a month in advance of June’s planned approval of a sales tax expenditure plan.

The ATSP, similar to the plans that preceded it, also sounds good. There are plenty of graphs and diagrams about how great walking and bicycling are. What is new in the ATSP (page 59) is overall cost estimates for building out a Los Angeles County Active Transportation Network. There is no commitment on Metro’s part to pay these costs, but at least there is an official agency estimate for how much someone should pay to support active transportation.

Accompanying today’s adoption of the ATSP were two multi-part motions regarding Metro implementation:  Read more…

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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.