MTA workers dig a tunnel for the Gold Line in 2006. There were no fireballs. (Los Angeles Times )
Do Joss Whedon's kids go to Beverly Hills High School?
I ask because the school district's parent teacher council recently came out with a video -- apparently made by parents of kids in the district, some of whom work in the entertainment industry -- intended to lay out their concerns about a proposal by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to route the so-called Subway to the Sea under Beverly Hills High.
I saw Whedon's "The Avengers" over the weekend, but I think the Beverly Hills parents have come up with a fantasy-based film that's nearly as compelling; both have comic -book villains (Loki the Norse god in one, JMB Realty in the other) and doomsday scenarios (alien invasion via vortex vs. cataclysmic fireballs and gas poisoning via subway tunneling), and both are very big on explosions.
Beverly Hills is so up in arms about the MTA's proposed Century City station, which requires tunneling under the high school, that the City Council invoked a seldom-used state code to prevent the MTA board from voting on it last week; instead, the board will have to wait until the council expresses its displeasure at a public hearing, which is scheduled for May 17. If the PTA Council for the Beverly Hills Unified School District were made up of calm, reasonable people, they might have come up with a measured, fact-based video presentation explaining why they think the respected experts at the MTA are wrong about both the necessity of tunneling under the high school and its safety. That's not what they produced.
Instead, they've created a document for social psychologists showing what community hysteria looks like.
"Methane gas, toxic chemicals and teenagers don't mix," intones the narrator as the video opens to the scene of a gas main erupting in flames. "But this dangerous combination is on the verge of exploding at Beverly High, turning the school into a mega-disaster."
Kaboom! What follows is a massive fireball that melts into an everyday scene at the school, inviting us to imagine the sight of all those fresh-faced kids being incinerated. Things don't improve much from there.
"Those tunnels aren't going to be running under the buildings; they're so shallow they're going to be running through the buildings," says Tim Buresh, the school district's lead engineer. This is such a bizarre non sequitur that it begs for further explanation, but the video doesn't provide any. Are kids going to have to dodge subway trains while walking to their algebra exams?
For the record: The tunnels will be built between 55 and 70 feet below ground, according to the MTA. At this depth there is expected to be no noise or vibration, nor is tunnel construction expected to have any impact on school operations.
The video goes on to invoke the dangers of tunneling in methane-rich areas by discussing the 1985 explosion at a Ross Dress for Less store in the Fairfax district. For the record: The explosion had nothing to do with subway tunneling, although Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Beverly Hills) used it as an excuse to cut off federal funding for L.A. subway construction (many believe he was simply doing the bidding of wealthy Westsiders who feared a subway would degrade their neighborhoods). More recently, after multiple studies were completed showing that tunneling could be done safely in the area, Waxman rescinded his ban. Moreover, the methane problem is confined to the vicinity of the La Brea Tar Pits. According to an MTA analysis, methane concentrations are of little concern in Beverly Hills and are lower than under downtown Los Angeles, which is crisscrossed by subway, sewer and other tunnels.
The video frets that old oil wells in Beverly Hills are inadequately mapped or capped, leading to the possibility of an accident. Maybe, but the MTA says the risk is small; even if tunnelers unexpectedly come across an unknown well, there are well-established ways to deal with them. We're also told that the tunneling could produce an expensive environmental catastrophe like what happened at the Belmont Learning Center near downtown Los Angeles 15 years ago. That's at least more on-point than the Ross Dress for Less comparison -- Belmont was the most expensive high school ever built because preliminary engineering studies failed to turn up the dangers of gases produced by old oil wells at the site. Yet if there were such dangers at Beverly Hills High, they would likely have materialized by now, and there's little reason to think subway tunneling would exacerbate them.