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No, Metro Is Not Really Considering an Aerial Station for Santa Monica/Century Park East

7:23 AM PDT on April 18, 2012

On Friday night, I received two emails as an online subscriber to the Beverly Hills Courier concerning the Westside Subway.  The first was a screed by the paper's publisher urging Beverly Hills City Council members to vote for a proposal for the city to officially rescind its support for the subway project altogether.  The second was far more interesting.   The Courier announced that Metro "will now consider an elevated subway station at Santa Monica Boulevard and Century Park East."

The announcement seemed odd.  Hadn't Metro considered above-grade stations in its 2008 Alternatives Analysis and dismissed it?  Wouldn't changing station design from subterranean to elevated rail require scrapping the entire environmental process and starting again?  The report raised more questions than it answered, something the reporter, who's name is not included in the report, seemed to recognize.

It turns out that the Courier got it wrong this time.  Metro is considering an elevated heavy rail station as much as it considers any of the ideas proposed in reports issued on behalf of the city as it responds to these reports.  An elevated station at Santa Monica and Century Park East, considered in the 2008 Alternatives Analysis, was again proposed in the report by Shannon and Wilson that poked holes in Metro's methodology but also stated that tunneling under the high school could be completed without lasting damage to the students.

So how did the Courier get the story so wrong?

Last Friday, Metro held a briefing for local, state and federal elected officials and staff to review the Final EIS/EIR and staff recommendations for the project. Among those attending the meeting were Beverly Hills City Councilman (and former Mayor) Barry Brucker, City Manager Jeff Kolin, Public Works Director Dave Gustavson and Deputy Director of Transportation Aaron Kunz. The Courier sent a pair of reporters to the meeting, but were turned away as the meeting was a private briefing. According to Metro staff, there was no discussion of changing the final environmental documents to include an aerial station.

When Brucker raised the question of an aerial station, Metro staff conceded that their response to the Shannon and Wilson report would include a detailed response.  Somewhere in translation, that statement was turned into "Metro is considering an elevated station."  For one covering this issue for years, it seemed wildly unlikely that Metro would be going back in time to study elevated rail, but that didn't stop one news outlet from rushing the story to print based on one source.

Still, the report created some hope amongst those opposing the current routing of the Westside Subway that Metro was moving from their original position that tunneling under the high school away from faults under Santa Monica Blvd. was the safest alternative.  The Beverly Hills Unified School District responded to a query on whether the elevated station was a worthwhile compromise by writing, "The BHUSD encourages the Metro board to examine all reasonable alternatives for the Century City Subway station. There are a number of options available that do not require tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.”

In the coming eight days, starting with a meeting of Metro's Planning and Programming Committee this afternoon the Metro Board of Directors is scheduled to vote on the Final Environmental Impact Report on the Westside Subway, which includes a plan to tunnel underneath a portion of Beverly Hills High School.  Emotions will probably be high on both sides of the issue as each side has over 1,000 responses to petitions urging Metro to move forward and urging Metro to stop and study more.  Streetsblog will due its best to report on the issues raised both accurately and dispassionately, and calls on other outlets to do the same.

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