There's an urban legend that you can derail a train by putting a penny on the tracks, but in reality, all you end up with is a wasted (and very flat) penny. There's a lesson in that somewhere for Beverly Hills.
Egged on by community activists who fret that a planned subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School would endanger students, local politicians have been working to delay the project. Invoking an obscure law that allows cities affected by transit projects to force transportation agencies to hold public hearings, for example, Beverly Hills managed to push back a vote on the subway route by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority board. It was a short-lived victory; after a monthlong delay to allow the city to air its concerns, the MTA board approved the tunnel last week.
In response, school board President Brian Goldberg says the district is preparing a lawsuit to challenge the MTA's environmental report, and also aims to block federal approval of the project. To the MTA, these are pennies on the tracks. The tunneling machines aren't expected to make it to Beverly Hills for about a decade, giving ample time to resolve lawsuits or federal challenges while working on earlier segments of the line. And even if the school board prevails in a lawsuit, it has little chance of forcing a change in the subway route; a more probable result would be to mandate more engineering studies. Meanwhile, the school board would waste money on litigation that would be far better spent on education.
Beverly Hills subway opponents are, for the most part, well-meaning parents. But they're suffering from a failure of perspective. Their preferred tunneling route, which would avoid the high school by sending the train to a station on Santa Monica Boulevard rather than Constellation Boulevard in Century City, is geologically unfeasible because of earthquake faults in the area. Meanwhile, the risks of tunneling under the school are very slight and actually lower than in other areas along the subway route.
In addition to worrying about safety, school officials fear the subway would complicate future modernization plans at Beverly Hills High. That shouldn't be a stumbling block. Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, a longtime member of the MTA board, thinks an engineering solution could easily be reached to accommodate the school's plans, though Goldberg points out that such arrangements wouldn't necessarily be approved by the Division of the State Architect, which oversees school construction. So let's get all the agencies talking. That's a smarter way of resolving this conflict than tossing away any more pennies.