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Westside subway could hit the brakes in Beverly Hills

October 29, 2010 |  5:20 pm

As the pace quickens for construction of the Westside subway extension, the city of Beverly Hills could prove to be a formidable obstacle for the long-delayed project.

Citing potential hazards from the construction and operation of the new rail link, municipal leaders, school district officials and local residents strongly oppose a possible route that would require tunneling under homes and Beverly Hills High School, which has 2,200 students and serves as the city’s emergency preparedness center.

Though officials say they want to cooperate with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to avoid conflict, the Beverly Hills Unified School District recently hired an attorney, who has begun looking into the adequacy of the project’s environmental review.

"We want to work with the experts and do everything we can," said Lisa Korbatov, the school board's vice president. "But if it comes down to a lawsuit, we won’t shy away from it."

Korbatov was among dozens of Beverly Hills officials and residents who expressed their concerns to the MTA board of directors Thursday shortly before the panel selected a general route for the subway along the heavily populated Wilshire corridor.

The 9 1/2-mile alignment runs from the Purple Line’s Wilshire-Western station to the Veterans Affairs' West Los Angeles Medical Center. Stops are proposed at Fairfax, La Cienega, Century City, Westwood-UCLA and the Veterans Affairs' campus.

City and school district officials support the Westside extension and advocate running the line under Santa Monica Boulevard with a station at Avenue of the Stars, as the MTA had long envisioned. But under an alternative the transit agency unveiled a few months ago, the station could be moved a block south to the corner of Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars in the heart of Century City.

The shift would require tunneling under homes and the city’s only high school.

"You know, they changed it in us. A lot of people in Beverly Hills feel they were duped," said Ken Goldman, president of the South West Beverly Hills Homeowners Assn.

From a ridership standpoint, MTA officials say the Century City station makes more sense on Constellation.

The Santa Monica site would be next to a golf course, they note, while the Constellation station would be very close to shopping areas, condominiums and commercial high-rises.

"It’s the center of the center," as MTA board member and Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said at Thursday’s meeting.

City leaders and residents contend, however, that the Constellation option might threaten homes, the high school and the city's emergency center because of explosive methane gas, active and abandoned oil wells, and the potential for subsidence from tunneling operations.

Some of those problems were encountered during construction of the Red Line subway years ago and more recently in Europe and Asia. Once the Westside extension is finished, residents and city officials say, noise might be a problem and the vibration from trains could damage buildings and the high school, which was built in the 1920s.

"I don't know what the reason is for running this under the high school," said Councilwoman Nancy Krasne. "If there is a major disaster, we have 2,200 students there and every bit of our emergency equipment and earthquake supplies."

-- Dan Weikel