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

4:28 PM PDT on June 1, 2016

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
Early version of possible Purple Line Subway alignments studied 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. 

Metro appears willing to spend some time and money documenting additional studies, which seem likely to validate the current favored alignment. Metro is eager to proceed with the steps necessary to build the project. Right away this includes utility relocation. Fairly soon, it will include finalizing a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) between Metro and the Federal Transportation Administration. Additionally, today is Metro's deadline for receiving bids to construct the project. Metro would like to conclude its legal wrangling with a minimum of delay, finalize the FFGA, award its contract, and get construction underway.

Beverly Hills is urging Metro to more or less go back to the drawing board and re-decide the station location from scratch. Legally terminology calls that "with no predetermination." Beverly Hills lawyers urged judge Wu to "vacate the Record of Decision (ROD)" which would fully restart Metro's design and EIS process. Beverly Hills contends that, based on testimony from Metro CEO Phil Washington, if Metro secures the FFGA, then it will be "nearly impossible to make changes" to the alignment. Beverly Hills appears poised to drag out proceedings until Metro agrees to change the location of the Century City station.

At today's hearing, Judge Wu did not appear to favor vacating the ROD, which works against Beverly Hills. Wu urged Metro and Beverly Hills to work together to agree on what additional work Metro really does need to do. Both sides will submit additional materials, with what may be a final ruling now expected in July, which would then be subject to potential higher legal appeals.

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