School officials oppose subway extension under Beverly Hills High
School district officials say one of the routes being considered would quash their plans to renovate the aging campus. Prominent developers prefer that route because it goes through the heart of Century City.
By Martha Groves, Los Angeles Times
June 6, 2011
The long-awaited Westside subway extension appears to be getting closer to reality, but the Beverly Hills Unified School District contends that tunneling for the project could squelch its plans to expand and update the city's aging 22-acre high school campus.
One of two routes that the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is considering would burrow directly beneath the school, on the way from Koreatown to Century City and on to the Veterans Affairs campus between Westwood and Brentwood.
The other alignment â€” which Beverly Hills officials contend is cheaper and less disruptive â€” would be a straighter shot along Santa Monica Boulevard at the northern outskirts of Century City, the high-rise-studded commercial hub that has served since the 1960s as L.A.'s "second downtown."
The MTA is expected later this year to issue a final environmental impact report on the 9-mile extension, projected to cost $5.34 billion if completed by 2022. The MTA board would then select the route.
The debate is pitting the school district, which is planning to spend $150 million in voter-approved bond money to modernize Beverly High, against some prominent developers and many Los Angeles homeowners who favor a station in central Century City.
Beverly Hills schools Supt. Richard Douglas said he has a "gut feeling" that transportation officials are all but determined to put the station at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars, rather than along Santa Monica Boulevard.
"I see very little movement or willingness to discuss anything," he said of his dealings with the MTA.
That hasn't stopped the school district from spending $500,000 on seismic and soil tests, lawyers, lobbyists and consultants to promote the Santa Monica Boulevard alignment.
"The available land where we can build anything above or below ground is exactly where they propose to build a metro tunnel," Douglas said on a recent walk through the campus.
The Constellation option "renders our bond [measure] null and void," added school board President Lisa Korbatov.
Plans released as part of the MTA's draft impact report indicate that the tunnel under Beverly High would range from about 63 feet to 78 feet deep â€” too shallow to suit the school district, which intends to build underground parking.
"Based on the drawings they have made public, there's serious encroachment both with buildings that would be built under the current bond program and most definitely with buildings that would be built under future programs," said Timothy Buresh, an engineering consultant for the school district. Buresh, formerly chief operating officer for the Los Angeles Unified School District, also was appointed by the governor Wednesday to oversee planning for the Southern California leg of the state's high-speed rail program.
Beverly Hills High School was constructed primarily during the 1920s and '30s. It says something about the pace of modernization there that the Swim Gym where physical education classes are held is the same facility used for the dance-and-splash scene in the classic 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life."
Inside the school, Buresh pointed out uneven wooden floors and other out-of-date infrastructure that have been a sore point in the affluent community. "Everything is creaky and rattling," he said. "It's brittle and under-reinforced."
MTA spokeswoman Jody Litvak said the agency's engineers were evaluating how to accommodate the concerns of the school district should the Constellation site get the nod. "We think we can work with them, and they can get what they need done underground," she said.
Both routes call for Beverly Hills to have stations at Wilshire and La Cienega boulevards and at Wilshire and Rodeo Drive.
The Beverly Hills City Council opposes tunneling under the high school, but has kept a quieter profile than the school district, preferring to meet with elected officials in Washington and locally, as well as with the MTA board and staff. "We have â€¦ reiterated over and over again that the alignment we're looking for is Santa Monica and not under the high school," said Vice Mayor Willie Brien.
But Councilman John Mirisch said Century City developers wield great influence with Los Angeles elected officials, and the big guns â€” notably JMB Realty Corp. and Next Century Associates, owner of the Century Plaza Hotel â€” favor the Constellation site.
Los Angeles Councilman Paul Koretz, who represents Century City, has said he would prefer to see the station in central Century City. "At the end of the day, Century City has so little participation in transit that I think we want to do everything we can to almost slap people in the face with the opportunity to take transit," he said. "When we have the subway, it should be right in the heart of the activity."
That stance pleases most of the area's homeowners, who say the central station would attract more riders and would avoid construction along a fault line that runs under Santa Monica Boulevard.
"All the local homeowner groups have joined with Century City businesses in building a grass-roots unified voice to promote the subway station at Constellation," said Jan Reichmann, president of the Comstock Hills Homeowners Assn., representing a neighborhood north of Century City. "My instinct is, there will be more ridership at Constellation," agreed Mike Eveloff, president of the Tract No. 7260 Assn., representing a residential enclave just west of Century City.
The Beverly Hills school district counters that the Santa Monica Boulevard route would cost an estimated $60 million less than the Constellation route, is closer to more commercial space and would attract more riders, according to current calculations by the MTA. It would also shave some time â€” admittedly, 45 seconds â€” off of travel to or from Westwood.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, who is on the MTA board, said ongoing safety and ridership studies would be key. "The decision the MTA should make is to maximize the benefit to the public," he said, "not to any particular property owner."
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