Beverly Hills School Lobbies to Halt Subway Plan

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The Beverly Hills Unified School District urged a federal judge Monday to halt a decades-old plan to extend a subway under Beverly Hills High School, arguing that without environmental review LA Metro will begin construction without first considering alternative sites.

At a status hearing in U.S. District Judge George Wu’s new courtroom, the school district’s attorney Jennifer Recine said that it wants the judge to bar Metro from committing to the subway extension without conducting a supplementary environmental review Wu ordered in August.

According to the district, Metro will execute a binding $1.4 billion agreement with a third-party contractor without first looking at alternative sites for the subway line.

But the government’s attorney Jared Pettinato said the agreement would not stop Metro from choosing an alternative site.

“We are not predetermining anything with this contract,” Pettinato said at the afternoon telephone conference in Wu’s courtroom.

Wu said scheduled a Jan 12 hearing on the school district’s motion for a preliminary injunction, two weeks before a meeting to execute the contract.

The school district sued the Federal Transit Administration in May 2012 over its approval of LA Metro’s extension of the Purple Line beneath Beverly Hills High.

Constellation Boulevard was chosen for the Century City subway station without proper review of the seismic risks of tunneling under the school, the school district says.

In August, U.S. District Judge George Wu declined to halt construction of the subway but ruled that an environmental review of the extension did not comply with the National Environmental Policy Act.

In a new federal lawsuit filed earlier this month, the school district says the plan to tunnel beneath the high school “will cause permanent and irreparable harm” to historic buildings and jeopardize a planned $340 million expansion of the school.

Metro “has proceeded unhindered in its pursuit of construction” of the Westside Subway Extension Project, the school district says.

In a brief filed on Nov. 10, the school district said that moving forward with a design-build contract for the line would undermine Wu’s orders and “renders meaningless the supplement analyses ordered to be performed.” It means the agencies will have “contractually obligated themselves to committing billions of dollars” to a route that will travel directly beneath the high school, the district says.

But a Federal Transit Administration brief filed a week later said the court has already rejected the school district’s claim that the design-build contract would “predetermine” a National Environmental Policy Act review and that its timeline for executing the contract had already been “thoroughly briefed” at the court.

“Nothing new or unforeseeable has arisen,” the agency said in its brief.

The subway project, in the works for almost 30 years, expands the Metro Purple Line from its terminus at the Wilshire/Western station to incorporate seven new stations.

From Beverly Hills to Century City’s Constellation Station, the proposed line will extend northwest to Westwood, ending close to the West Los Angeles Veterans Administration Hospital.

Tunneling beneath the school could have been avoided had officials not switched the preferred base station away from Santa Monica Boulevard to one a block south at Constellation Boulevard, the city of Beverly Hills said in a legal challenge filed in 2013.

County voters this month approved the Measure M transportation sales tax which will benefit Metro projects.

“Nearly 70 percent of voters countywide voted to bring this project and other transportation improvements to reality, including nearly 67 percent of Beverly Hills voters. Metro is committed to delivering critically needed transportation projects to L.A. County voters on time and on budget,” Metro has said.

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