Passengers wait for the a Metro Red Line in Hollywood in 2011. (Los Angeles Times )
Beverly Hills' embarrassing battle against the Westside subway extension, which emerged as a major political issue last year, is becoming one of the key issues in the March 5 city elections. With the lines hardening between those determined to take legal action to stop the construction of a tunnel under the local high school, which they fear will endanger students, and those who see that route as the safest alternative, we urge residents to consider the scientific and engineering reality rather than merely relying on emotion. In other words: Stop gumming up the rails, Beverly Hills, for your own sake and L.A.'s.
Mayor William Brien has voiced his own reservations about the subway, but to his credit, he has sought to avoid a costly legal fight against the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, whose board last May approved a planto route the train under Beverly Hills High School. As a result, Brien has been heavily criticized by his political opponents. We're not endorsing Brien or any candidate in the city race this year, but in the case of the subway, he's right not to pick a fight.
The MTA performed voluminous studies assessing the safety and feasibility of different routes beneath Beverly Hills. As work progressed, it became clear that one of the alternatives — building a station on Santa Monica Boulevard that would have allowed tunnelers to avoid the city's historic high school — would entail crossing active fault lines that could prove highly risky.
Meanwhile, building a station instead on Constellation Avenue in Century City doesn't just make far more sense from a safety standpoint; because it's closer to high-rises than the Santa Monica Boulevard stop, it would bring in more riders. That means taking the tunnel under the high school, and even though many subways nationwide and in Los Angeles run beneath schools, Beverly Hills parents are convinced that the MTA project would risk a deadly methane explosion, or create vibrations that would disrupt school activities, or stand in the way of the construction of a future underground parking garage, or in some other way destroy the tenor of life in Beverly Hills as we know it. MTA analyses have refuted these concerns.
Last week, the city filed suit against the Federal Transit Administration for making the subway eligible for federal funding; the Beverly Hills Unified School District had already filed a similar suit. These suits could cost the city millions. Both challenge the MTA's environmental analysis of the tunneling routes, which was thorough and scientifically rigorous.
Brien, who faces a campaign battle against former Mayor Nancy Krasne, has largely tried to avoid legal battles against the MTA and has touted the subway alongside L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, which is enough to be branded a villain by local rail opponents. There may be good reasons to vote against him next month, but his subway stance isn't among them.