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Beverly Hills threatens legal action over subway extension

A special hearing Thursday about the proposed route for the Westside Subway Extension was dominated by science, with geologists and engineers pointing to maps and the existence -- or lack thereof -- of earthquake faults and decrying the way Los Angeles County transportation researchers have gone about their work.

But even amid the talk of boring samples and surface integrity, the message from Beverly Hills to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority was clear: Proceed as planned and tunnel underneath Beverly Hills High School for the subway extension and you will get sued.

"Clearly, if we don't get a fair hearing and have our science [taken] into consideration, then we're going to have no choice," said Brian Goldberg, president of the Beverly Hills Unified School District board. "We believe there's alternatives that have not been fully explored yet."

County transportation officials certified environmental documents for the entire $5.6-billion project last month. The plan calls for construction of nine miles of rail that will mostly run underneath Wilshire Boulevard.

But officials could only formally approve the first 3.9 miles of the project because Beverly Hills city officials requested a hearing regarding a small portion of the line that would run underneath Beverly Hills High School.

A few hundred people showed up to Thursday's hearing, which ran more than 3 1/2 hours and didn't leave enough time for members of the public to comment. They will be able to do so at the regularly scheduled Metro board meeting next week.

The presentations given to board members were mostly from geologists, who often derided Metro's analyses and conclusions. At one point, geologist Eldon Gath said: "It's not science; it feels like it's paradigm-driven and opinion-driven, and maybe a bit of arrogance thrown in."

Metro maintains that it is safe to tunnel under the school. There was no action taken at the hearing, but the Metro Board of Directors must make a determination on the evidence presented before approving further stages of the project.

"They make a very good case, they do," said Los Angeles County Supervisor and Metro board member Michael D. Antonovich. He said the opposition shows that Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's attempts to "shove this down the throat of Beverly Hills" has not worked.

Antonovich said he would be open to other alignments that do not run underneath the school and worried about getting caught in a costly legal battle.

"If the alignment is not modified, then the district will have litigation. It will cost taxpayer dollars that can better be spent on transportation," he said.

"It was a chance for Beverly Hills to put on their case; we listened, and we will evaluate their comments," said Metro board member Richard Katz, who added that there is a lot of evidence to show that tunneling under buildings, including schools, can be safe.

As for a lawsuit, Katz said he's "hoping it doesn't come to that."

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-- Ari Bloomekatz

 
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