Updated: Monday, August 15, 2016 – 12:53 PM
By Laura Coleman
Whether or not voters give Metro a blank check in November should the Measure R half-cent sales tax go through, the fact remains that the L.A. transportation authority is on the hook to explain to residents why it decided to spend $200 million more on a subway tunnel that runs under Beverly Hills High School rather than explore over a dozen alternatives previously identified.
The decision, filed Friday in Central District Court, comes after weeks of waiting for U.S. District Court Judge George H. Wu to make his final ruling on Beverly Hills Unified Sch. Dist. v. Fed. Transit Admin., et. al. In Judge Wu’s 216-page tentative ruling, issued on Feb. 1, the court found that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) acted in an “arbitrary and capricious manner” with respect to the environmental effects of tunneling under BHHS in order to reach the Constellation station as part of Metro’s Westside subway extension project.
Jennifer S. Recine of Kasowitz, Lead Trial Counsel for Beverly Hills Unified School District, called the decision, in which Judge Wu confirmed his tentative ruling that the FTA violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), a victory.
“The Judge properly found that the FTA violated federal environmental law when it approved this segment of the project,” she said. “The Judge also recognized that given the testimony of Metro’s CEO Philip Washington, the analysis FTA must do to correct those violations may well be superficial, and BHUSD will have further claims against FTA. BHUSD will pursue those claims, if necessary, to ensure its community’s resources are protected and preserved.”
As part of Friday’s ruling, Judge Wu directed the FTA to redo portions of its environmental study. As part of that Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, there will be a public comment period. At previous hearings Wu clarified that Metro would thus be on the hook to answer any and all questions posed by the public, such as why the agency chose not to re-examine any of the 15 alternative subway station options that were presented as part of its Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR).
Despite Metro having failed to properly consider or respond to concerns over environmental effects and disruption from tunneling under the Beverly Hills high school before approving station locations for the subway project, the proposed route for the extension of the purple line subway is still set to run under Beverly Hills High School.
If Judge Wu had ruled to vacate the Record of Decision, as representatives for the City of Beverly Hills and the BHUSD advocated, Metro would then not have the funding in place, including a $1.2-billion federal grant, to be able to move forward with the project as now planned. Wu wrote in his ruling that he was sensitive to that fact.
Stated Board of Education President Howard Goldstein: “The Judge found that the FTA violated federal law, specifically the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) when it approved the segment of the project that would go under Beverly Hills High School. The Judge also recognized that the further safety analysis that the FTA must do to correct those NEPA violations may well be superficial and if they turn out to be insufficient the BHUSD will have further claims against FTA.”
For the full story, see Friday’s edition of The Courier.