Beverly Hills Files Legal Complaint Against Metro Over “Public” Documents
Yesterday, the Beverly Hills Unified School District (BHUSD) filed a petition asking the State Superior Court to issue a Writ of Mandate forcing Metro to release thousands of pages of documents relating to the Westside Subway expansion and the station locations being studied in Century City. A copy of the petition is available on Streetsblog, here.
For those just joining us, BHUSD is spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to advocate for a subway route that would avoid any tunneling under Beverly Hills High School. To that end, BHUSD has asked Metro to hand over thousands of pages of studies and technical documents so BHUSD consultants can comb through them. The end goal is to prove that a route running under Beverly Hills with a stop at Constellation Avenue is inferior to a route running under Santa Monica Boulevard and stopping at Avenue of the Stars.
““Time is running out to submit comments to the MTA and there are still too many unknowns. The data so far support building the Century City station along Santa Monica Boulevard so it’s a mystery to us why anyone would want to spend more money to serve fewer riders – particularly when it cripples the school district’s ability to do what’s necessary for our students,” school board president Lisa Korbatov said in a press release.
Korbatov’s statement is bound to cause controversy with advocates for the Westside Subway. First, the idea that a station on Santa Monica Boulevard will have more riders than one on Constellation Avenue is far from settled fact. The ridership numbers for both station are being re-studied as the Avenue of the Stars Station is more attractive for pedestrian traffic and the Santa Monica Station is more easily accessed by drivers and bus passengers. Of course, it would be easier for Metro to re-route buses to serve Avenue of the Stars than it would be to build over the golf course that makes up the Northern border of the Santa Monica Station.
A second is the issue of whether or not “time is running out.”
Metro will host one more set of Station Area Advisory Group meetings sometime in June and anticipates another set of Community Update meetings prior to the release of the Final EIS/EIR. Once the FEIS/EIR and it is approved from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), it will be released for public review. From there, it will be at least another 30 days before it goes to the Metro Board Directors. With this schedule, it is unlikely that a decision will be made before the September meeting of the Board and could go on for much longer. BHUSD wants to see the study documents before the Final EIR is released so they “can provide meaningful comment” before the EIR is published and sent to the FTA.
Regardless of the timing of the petition, the issue is whether or not Metro is providing BHUSD with all the documents that it is required to under state law.
In an April 14th letter to the agency that is included with the petition, BHUSD outlines 32 different public record requests made to the agency. The catch? BHUSD doesn’t just want information from the studies but the methodology that collected and created the data. For example, BHUSD doesn’t just want to know speed profiles for the different routes that could connect the Century City Station to the Westwood Station, they also want the supporting rules and variables used to generate the formulas that created the data.
And there’s the rub. Despite the California Public Records Act, Metro, or any other government agency, can withhold documents if they are deemed proprietary information of the agency’s consultants. In other words, Metro is arguing that they can’t be forced to turn over information that could endanger the livelihood of their consultants. For their part, BHUSD is arguing that they can’t analyze and comment on environmental documents without knowing how the data was created.
Metro released another batch of documents last week to BHUSD, but has released in full about 10% of the documents BHUSD has asked for. The agency has given itself until May 20th to decide whether or not to release the rest of the documents. When either the court or Metro reach their decisions, Streetsblog will let you know.