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Beverly Hills Brings Its Best Face and Smartest Brains to Yesterday’s Subway Hearing

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Yesterday afternoon must have been surreal for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  At noon, he delivered remarks to an audience of 1,200 of L.A.’s elite at the Westin Bonaventure as part of the Center City Association’s “Treasures” awards.  Jokes about the lackluster performance of the Lakers in the past couple of days were contrasted with the upbeat feelings some have about the suddenly hot Los Angeles Kings and the soccer champions with the Los Angeles Galaxy.  The Mayor avoided having his picture taken with newly minted “treasure” Hugh Hefner.

But the real contrast came an hour and a half later when the crowd of 1,200 cheering Angelenos was traded for several hundred skeptical and irritated residents of Beverly Hills who traveled to Metro headquarters to hear the last effort of Beverly Hills’ seismic experts to convince the Metro Board of Directors that the safest and best route for the Westside Subway will not take it under Beverly Hills.  Instead of hanging out with Hef, Villaraigosa was waiting for Metro Board Member Mel Wilson to call in to a hearing, and when that didn’t work out had to appoint a temporary Board Member to meet quorum.

For those of you just joining us, officials and residents from Beverly Hills are waging open war on the preferred Westside Subway expansion route that would take the subway under the high school.  The Metro Board of Directors was poised to approve the route at last month’s board meeting, citing seismic and geological reports conducted on behalf of the agency until the Beverly Hills City Council requested yesterday’s hearing at an emergency meeting held days before the scheduled Metro Board meeting.

Early reports from the yesterday’s hearing hint that the three hours of testimony didn’t change many minds.  Supervisor Mike Antonovich told the Times that the Beverly Hills’ experts made a good case and chided Villaraigosa for trying to “shove the route down their throats.”  Richard Katz, a Villaraigosa appointee to the Board, sounded more skeptical.

Whether the lack of change is a result of Beverly Hills not proving its scientific point, or because the Metro Board had as much of a chance to understand the science as I did, or whether the fix really is in in Metro headquarters will most likely be determined by a judge.  Representatives of the hills wasted no time clarifying that if and when the Board approves a route that goes under the high school, that a legal challenge under the state’s CEQA environmental law would soon follow. Read more…

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New Video: Hill Folk Want to Stay Stuck in 1959

In advance of tomorrow’s hearing at Metro headquarters over the Westside Subway, a group called L.A. on the Move released the above video on YouTube. The video graphically illustrates their concerns. Sometimes a video is so clear that commentary from Streetsblog writers is not necessary.


Fact Check: There Is No $38.7 Million Payout to JMB Realty in Westside Subway Plans

Do the math. "Constellation A" assumes a station entrance at the NE corner of Constellation and Ave. of the Stars on property owned by JMB Realty. "Constellation B" assumes a entrance at the SW corner in front of the Hyatt Regency. Note that the station on JMB property would actually cost $38.7 million less than the one in front of the Hyatt. Table from the Century City Station Report from the Westside Subway EIR.

(Hello Beverly Hills Courier readers!  Confused by allegations that Metro controls editorial decisions here at Streetsblog?  To help clear things up, we’ve compiled a list of the connections between Streetsblog and Metro right here.)

The headline was breathless, as many headlines in the Beverly Hills Courier often are. “Courier Exclusive Report: Century City Subway Station $38.7 Million Payoff to JMB,” blared last week’s lead story. Even by the sensationalist standards of the Courier, this one seemed a big story.

The gist of the Courier’s big scoop: Metro is planning to spend $38.7 million dollars more to purchase property for a Constellation Avenue Station on property owned by JMB Realty than it would for property located literally across the street.  Of course, as is often the case, the story isn’t factually accurate.

From the Courier Exclusive:

Although the disclosure is difficult to read, it appears that Metro will pay $38.7 million more for JMB’s property at 10131 Constellation Blvd. than a comparable site underneath Hyatt Regency Century Plaza, 2025 Avenue of the Stars.

The story plays right into the Courier’s narrative about the Westside Subway alignment.  JMB Realty and its ties to Mayor Villaraigosa have long been the culprit when discussion of why the Subway will probably go under Beverly Hills High School to a station at Constellation Ave and Avenue of the Stars rather than Santa Monica Boulevard adjacent to a golf course.

We should note that either of the stations discussed in this story  would require tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.  The purpose of the article is not to demand a station re-route, just to smear Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Metro and JMB Realty by claiming that the realty company will receive nearly $40 million more than the Hyatt across the street would if the station were built on its property.

This “payoff” seems the perfect story to continue the narrative of a realty giant colluding with a big city mayor to blow up Beverly Hills High School.

Except, of course, the story isn’t actually true.  As a matter of fact, the station on JMB owned property is actually $38.7 million less expensive to build than the one in front of the Hyatt according to Metro’s environmental documents.

Confused by the difficult to read document as many people are when confronted by hundreds of pages of government-speak, the Courier makes some pretty large assumptions that there are no differences in the cost between the two stations other than the real estate costs.  Using advanced research techniques commonly known as “reading the next page after the chart” Streetsblog was able to get to the bottom of why the Subway will cost 4,241,525,000 with a station on one side of Constellation and another $4,280,252,000 on the other.  Hint: it has nothing to do with the funds Metro would have to spend to buy property from JMB Realty. Read more…


Metro Approves Environmental Documents for Subway to La Cienega

The subway extension route approved today covers this route. The rest of the subway will have to wait for the May, June or even July meeting. Click on the image for a larger view.

The first of several major issue scheduled to be addressed by the Metro Board of Directors was the approval of the environmental documents for the Westside Subway.  After the Beverly Hills City Council formerly requested a hearing earlier this week, Metro staff recommended that the Board split approval for the Subway into two parts so that part could be approved today and part could be approved after another hearing was held.  The first part would cover the extension from the current Wilshire/Western stop to Wilshire/La Cienega.  The route approved would be 3.9 miles of the 8.6 mile route that was proposed by Metro staff.

Despite news that Metro wouldn’t vote on the subway route under Beverly Hills or the location of a Century City station, dozens of speakers from Beverly Hills shared comments that tunneling under the high school would be unsafe and a smaller but still significant number of speakers testified that such a route is perfectly safe and that opposition from Beverly Hills is a waste of time and resources.  The majority of the comments addressed the routing through Beverly Hills.  Because Metro made clear before testimony that they would not vote on the issues regarding Beverly Hills, we’re not going to cover that part of the conversation.

Support for the Subway was overwhelming among the speakers.  Only two speakers spoke out against the proposal to extend the Subway from the Wilshire/Western Intersection all the way to La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire Boulevard.   Of the three speakers who spoke against the Subway in general terms, only the Bus Riders Union’s Sunyoung Yang made the case that the Subway was a waste of funds.  “There is nothing sustainable or economically justifiable about this project when you are blowing $6 billion on a nine mile project,” concluded Yang.  Oddly, Yang’s comments were greeted by applause by many people who previously testified that they supported the subway and transit before hitting on some concerns unrelated to today’s vote. Read more…


New Video: Metro Will Blow Up Beverly Hills High School

As debate continues at Metro headquarters over the Westside Subway, the Parent-Teacher Association of the Beverly Hills High School released the above video on YouTube. The video graphically illustrates their concerns. Sometimes a video is so clear that commentary from Streetsblog writers is not necessary.


Bev. Hills Requests Hearing on Subway, Times Swats at Their Concerns

(Update, Dave Sotero, a Metro spokesperson responds to the story via email: The Beverly Hills hearing request was received. The Westside Subway Extension Project is still on the board’s agenda for Thursday. The Board of Directors will discuss the hearing request at that time.)

It was a good news/bad news sort of weekend for Metro and backers of the Westside Subway thanks to the Los Angeles Times and the Beverly Hills City Council.

In a comment on Patch, Bev. Hills Councilman Barry Brucker worries that at some point in the unknown future the state might pass a law restricting future construction of schools existing on top of subways, thus the city needs to oppose the subway route under the high school. No such law exists anywhere in the world.

Patch reports that the Council voted unanimously to request a public hearing with the Metro Board to discuss the Westside Subway and the potential routing of the Subway under the Beverly Hills High School Campus.  State law allows municipalities to request such a hearing if a transit project will have a direct impact on their community.  The timing of the request means that Metro will not be able to approve the final environmental documents for the Subway this week as originally planned.

A date and location for the hearing hasn’t been scheduled.  State law gives the agency between 15 and 60 days to hold the hearing.

Throughout the debate on the route of the future Westside Subway extension under Beverly Hills is how the media rallied to support Beverly Hills.  Television stations give the claims of the Unified School District and the City Council equal weight to that of Metro, the region’s second largest print publication, L.A. Weekly, as well as the city’s largest paper, the Beverly Hills Courier, are both hostile to the MTA’s planned route under the high school.

On Saturday, the Paper of Record unleashed a long editorial calling for Metro to advance the Westside Subway, even referring to it as the Subway to the Sea, and blasting Beverly Hills to get out of the way.  The Times gave the benefit of the doubt to Metro’s seismic and geological experts over those hired by the city, brushed aside concerns over routing and even noted the location of the two potential ending stations, the one proposed by Metro will have thousands more riders every day than the one preferred by Beverly Hills and the BHUSD.

But the strongest statement was saved for the argument that tunneling under the high school is unsafe for the students. Read more…


As Metro Wraps Up Public Outreach on Westside Subway, Beverly Hills Readies for a Fight

A "protest sign" via Century City Subway/Facebook

Last week, battle lines were drawn between the City of Beverly Hills, the Beverly Hills Unified School District and Metro over the location and routing of the Westside Subway. While Metro held a series of public meetings to show the results of their environmental studies, the last of the three hearings turned into a sort of rally against the project in Beverly Hills. For those scoring at home, Streetsblog has the highlights from last week.

A Tale of Two Studies:

In short hand, journalists often refer to opposition “from Beverly Hills” when discussing opponents of the current proposed route for the Westside Subway.  In truth, there are two government bodies, Beverly Hills Unified School District and the City of Beverly Hills (City Council, Mayor and staff,) that are waging separate campaigns against the tunneling project.  There does appear to be some coordination between the two, but they are also acting independently.

The Beverly Hills Unified School District paid for their own “deep bore” study of faults underneath the Beverly Hills High School.  The conclusions of that study will be unveiled in the next two weeks.

The City of Beverly Hills paid for a pair of reports analyzing the Geological studie by Metro that states that a station at Santa Monica Boulevard in Century City is unsafe and one at Avenue of the Stars and Constellation Avenue is not.  The second route requires tunneling under a portion of the Beverly Hills High School Campus.  One report is by Exponen, the other is by Shannon and Wilson.  Metro has copies of both reports and is “working on a response.”

The first report, by Shannon and Wilson, questions Metro’s methodology, but basically says that tunneling under the high school shouldn’t be a problem.  This report was not released with a lot of fanfare:

Tunneling Beneath Beverly Hills High School – The proposed tunnel crown is approximately  50 to 70 feet below the existing ground surface along the BHHS campus. The tunnel is therefore  not likely to directly impact the campus facilities (as we understand their current use). The  proposed BHHS underground parking garage could be constructed above the tunnel to a  maximum depth of about 30 to 50 feet below grade, leaving at least 20 feet of undisturbed soil  above the tunnels. Risks associated with ground loss during construction, vibrations during  construction and operation, and hazards from methane and other gasses should be mitigated by  the design and plans and specifications for the project.

The Beverly Hills Courier announced the results of Exponent’s review in its understated style, blaring “Complete Exponent Review of MTA Study – Independent Experts Rip MTA as “Simplistic, Inadequate, Failed.”  The Exponent Study, available here, goes through Metro’s reports and repeatedly asks further questions and calls for longer and greater study of the risks involved tunneling under a high school or anywhere near fault lines.  Here’s a quick sample of the report: Read more…


Metro Unveils Final Environmental Documents for Westside Subway

Once built, riders will be able to travel from Pershing Square in downtown Los Angeles to the Westwood/UCLA station in 25 minutes. More than 78,000 daily trips are projected on the new line. Click on the image to see a larger copy.

“This is a project Los Angeles has been talking about for fifty years,” Jody Litvak, Metro.

The first public meeting I ever went to in Los Angeles was held in a movie theatre on Wilshire Boulevard.  The Southern California Transit Advocates were making a presentation on the “Subway to the Sea,” a fanciful plan to extend the Purple Line all the way to the Ocean.  The sparse crowd was mixed between true believers and skeptics.  At the time, the entire project seemed something of a pipe dream.

Today, that dream is well on its way to some sort of resolution.  While the phrase “Subway to the Sea” has vanished from the promotional materials, the idea of extending the Subway all the way to Westwood has made major steps forward.  Today marks another milestone, as Metro unveiled the Final Environmental Study for the project.  Public meetings are scheduled for next week and the documents will head through the Metro Committee process this April and could be approved by the Board of Directors at their April Board Meeting.

There weren’t a lot of surprises at today’s media briefing.  The documents point towards putting a station at the corner of Constellation Avenue and Avenue of the Stars and tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.  The documents don’t guess on an opening date, with the funding picture in Washington D.C. still somewhat unclear.  The documents don’t call for any stations west of Westwood at this moment.

Of course, there is the little matter of the opposition from the City of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District.  The City sent Metro a report outlining their concerns about tunneling under the high school by consulting firms , Exponent, Inc. and Shannon & Wilson last Friday.  The report is not yet available online, and its findings were not incorporated into the final document.  Metro is also “eagerly awaiting” the results of the tunneling studies completed by the Beverly Hills Unified School District earlier this year.  The Beverly Hills Unified School District released a statement earlier this afternoon:

Read more…


Start the Countdown to a Court Date. Trenching at Beverly Hills High School Reaches the End

The scene at Beverly Hills High School. Photo: Joel Epstein

During yesterday’s Metro Board Meeting, CEO Art Leahy reported that the Beverly Hills Unified School District would not allow Metro’s experts to take advantage of the ongoing trenching studies going on at Beverly Hills High School, which are scheduled to end this weekend, without paying a cool $500,000 to the School District.  The trenching process is part of a study being conducted on behalf of the school district to respond to an earlier geotechnical study by a team of experts paid for by Metro that found that the safest place to run the Westside Subway was under a portion of the Beverly Hills High School Property.

“We’re not going to do that,” Leahy said of the $500,000 entrance fee.

The request for access was made over the phone to the School District’s lawyer by Metro staff who responded with the funding request.  Neither side has an audio copy of the conversation, and given that the trenching ends this weekend there is no paper trail connected to the request.

For its part, the School District contends that because they had to complete this expensive study because Metro’s report was “so flawed” that Metro should help bear the cost of the trenching if they want to send in their own experts.  A statement from the School District reads: Read more…


Bev. Hills Experts Cast Doubt on Metro Report

Beverly Hills Civic Center

(Note, the Beverly Hills Courier points out that they had the story first on Thursday evening despite my call that Patch broke the news. You can read their coverage, here. – DN)

Last Friday, word broke on Patch that a review of the geological studies on the Westside Subway commissioned by the city government of Beverly Hills came to different conclusions than the conclusions authored by Metro’s team of experts.  Exponent-Failure Analysis Associates concludes in the executive summary that:

Streetsblog will feature ads for the Regional Connector Final EIS/EIR throughout the public comment period.

In summary, it is Exponent’s opinion that additional effort is needed to accurately identify,  quantify, rank and mitigate the potential hazards posed by the proposed Westside Subway  Extension Project before one of the two presented alternatives, or a third alternative, are selected  for implementation.

A more detailed analysis of the 70 page study (available here) can be heard at tomorrow’s “Study Session” of the Beverly Hills City Council.  Those that don’t want to wait for tomorrow’s presentation can seemingly engage with City Councilman John Mirisch on the validity of the study by commenting on the Patch article.

Predictably, any action by either side in the on-going grudge match between advocates of the Westside Subway and government representatives in Beverly Hills was met with praise from one side and scorn from the other.  As both sides attempt to work through the other sides’ writings here are a few suggestions.

First: Let’s Agree That Neither Metro’s Experts nor Exponent Consulting Are on the Take Read more…