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Beverly Hills News – Superior Court Judge Rules Against Beverly Hills In Metro CEQA Lawsuit

By Matt Lopez

The City of Beverly Hills and Beverly Hills School District were dealt a significant blow this week when L.A. Superior Court Judge John A. Torribio rebuffed relief sought by Beverly Hills against the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s attempt to force subway tunnels under Beverly Hills High School.

On Wednesday, the City and School District received a 15-page final ruling that upheld Torribio’s tentative ruling from early March to deny Beverly Hills’ lawsuits under the  the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the Public Utilities Code (PUC).

City Attorney Larry Wiener said the City and District will consider whether or not to take the matter to the California Court of Appeal.

“We’re disappointed with the result. We don’t think Metro adequately considered the impacts on our local community as required by law,” Wiener said. “At this point, we need to evaluate the decision and determine the next step.”

Under its CEQA lawsuit, the school district had requested Judge Torribio to order  Metro to consider trenching results conducted by experts for the District (technically “reopening the administrative record”).

Metro conducted no trenching or other serious investigation into alleged earthquake faults underneath Beverly High, the proposed subway station at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars or along Santa Monica Boulevard. Instead, Metro conducted minimal or no core sampling at a few areas, then relied upon expert testimony rather than actual investigation to draw its conclusions. Metro’s original environmental impact report also was based on using the La Brea station site for major ingress and egress, but that site is now the La Cienega Station. The current EIR addresses none of the issues presented by the change to La Cienega.

Because of that new evidence, both the City and the BHUSD’s petitions for writ of mandate sought Metro to augment and recirculate the project’s EIR. Specifically, Beverly Hills asked the Court or order Metro to address traffic impacts at the La Cienega Station site, air quality there, mitigation of construction traffic, the inability to tunnel safely through subsurface gas, the impacts of tunneling through abandoned oil wells, Metro’s defective analysis of alignment alternatives, and a fundamentally inadequate Draft EIR that was released before the seismic investigations.

The City’s suit centered on the Public Utilities Code (PUC) hearings held with the Metro Board in May 2012 and the City’s belief that it was denied due process in the course of its hearings with Metro. Beverly Hills argued: A.) That it has been deprived of its cross-examination rights; B.) Metro, on May 17, produced an unplayable compact disc containing new evidence. Although Metro counsel Charles Safer said “most of the items” on the disc were available online, the City was unable to determine the contents of the disc at this hearing. The Board voted to adopt findings one week later at a hearing on May 24; C.) That Metro counsel Charles Safer acted as both an adviser and advocate to the Metro board and hearing officer, thus violating due process, and D.) That Metro fixed the location of the station prior to the hearing.

Judge Torribio ruled against the City in all these instances, despite the fact that during the hearing on March 13, Torribio appeared troubled by the fact that the City wasn’t allowed to cross-examine Metro’s three “experts” at the May meeting.

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