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Beverly Hills could be obstacle in subway extension

City leaders voice concerns over risks of tunneling through oil fields and areas of methane gas on route that would go beneath high school, which houses emergency center.

October 30, 2010|By Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

As the pace quickens for construction of the Westside subway extension, the city of Beverly Hills could prove to be a formidable obstacle for the long-delayed project.

Citing potential hazards from the construction and operation of the new rail link, municipal leaders, school district officials and residents strongly oppose a possible route that would require tunneling under homes and Beverly Hills High School, which has 2,200 students and serves as the city's emergency preparedness center.

Though officials say they want to cooperate with Metro to avoid conflict, the Beverly Hills Unified School District recently hired an attorney, who has begun looking into the adequacy of the project's environmental review.

"We want to work with the experts and do everything we can," said Lisa Korbatov, the school board's vice president. "But if it comes down to a lawsuit, we won't shy away from it."

Korbatov was among dozens of Beverly Hills officials and residents who expressed their concerns to the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday shortly before the panel selected a general route for the subway along the heavily populated Wilshire corridor.

The 9.5-mile alignment runs from the Purple Line's Wilshire-Western station to the Veterans Affairs' West Los Angeles Medical Center. Stops are proposed at Fairfax Avenue, La Cienega Boulevard, Century City, Westwood-UCLA, and the Veterans Affairs' campus.

City and school district officials support the Westside extension and advocate running the line under Santa Monica Boulevard with a station at Avenue of the Stars, as Metro had long envisioned.

But under an alternative the transit agency unveiled a few months ago, the station could be moved a block south to Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars in the heart of Century City. The shift would require tunneling under homes and the city's only high school.

"You know, they changed it on us. A lot of people in Beverly Hills feel they were duped," said Ken Goldman, president of the South West Beverly Hills Homeowners Assn.

Metro officials say that from a ridership standpoint, the Century City station makes more sense on Constellation. The Santa Monica site would be next to a golf course, they note, while the Constellation station would be close to shopping areas, condominiums and commercial high-rises.

"It's the center of the center," as Metro board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at Thursday's meeting.

City leaders and residents contend, however, that the Constellation option might threaten homes, the high school and the city's emergency center because of explosive methane gas, active and abandoned oil wells, and the potential for subsidence from tunneling operations. Some of these problems were encountered during construction of the Red Line subway years ago and more recently in Europe and Asia.

Once the Westside extension is finished, residents and city officials say, noise might be a problem and the vibration from trains could damage buildings and the high school, which was built in the 1920s.

"I don't know what the reason is for running this under the high school," said City Councilwoman Nancy Krasne. "If there is a major disaster, we have 2,200 students there and every bit of our emergency equipment and earthquake supplies."

If the station is located on Santa Monica, city leaders say, pedestrian tunnels with moving sidewalks could be installed to move subway riders to and from portals on Constellation.

Dave Sotero, a Metro spokesman, defended the transit agency, saying it has not received any noise or vibration complaints from subway operations for at least 15 years. Nor, he added, have there been any substantiated claims for property damage.

According to the MTA, tunneling practices and boring machines have grown more sophisticated over the years, greatly reducing the chance of subsidence and complications from encountering methane gas and oil fields.

"There's lots of experience building in this environment," Sotero said. "The oil fields are much deeper than the subway tunnel, which will run about 50 to 70 feet below the surface. We will also use established practices to ensure safety."

After hearing from Beverly Hills residents on Thursday, Metro board members approved a detailed study that must be completed before any option is selected. It will weigh the pros and cons of the Constellation and Santa Monica stations as well as tunneling through areas with earthquake faults, methane gas, and active and abandoned oil wells.

But Krasne isn't encouraged. "I didn't stay for all the board meeting," she said. "It was a dog and pony show. They have already made up their minds."

dan.weikel@latimes.com

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