Updated: Tuesday, July 10, 2018 – 11:04 AM
By Laura Coleman
An online petition asking U.S. President Donald Trump to prevent the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) from running a subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School (BHHS) has gathered 122 signatures after being posted six days ago on change.org.
A consortium calling themselves the “Friends of Beverly Hills High School,” which unveiled the petition last Wednesday in tandem with launching the “Stop the Purple Threat” website (https://purplethreat.com/), is calling on Trump and U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao to withhold federal funds in order to force Metro to re-route its planned Purple Line extension into Century City from under BHHS. The current route requires Metro to tunnel through pockets of methane gas and scores of abandoned oil wells under the City’s one public high school.
“I truly do have great concerns for the school and the health and welfare of the students and residents,” said environmental activist Erin Brockovich, who in 2003 filed suit against BHUSD, claiming that oil wells under the BHHS campus were linked to hundreds of cases of cancer. “[Metro’s plan is] posing another risk to the health and welfare of the students at that school and most people have no idea that the Metro line is going to go right under the school.”
BHHS would be the first and only permanent school building in the state to have a subway tunnel run underneath it.
The new campaign is distinct from the school district’s own years-long legal battle against both Metro and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which Beverly Hills Unified began almost seven years ago in response to Metro’s decision to re-route Beverly Hills’ “locally preferred” alignment into Century City via Santa Monica Boulevard.
Multiple sources estimate that the change, which now includes plans for a subway station at the yet-to-be-built Century City Center on Constellation and Avenue of the Stars, will cost taxpayers at least $400 million more, in addition to triggering widespread concerns in the community about student safety. Metro has repeatedly alleged that the change is necessary and that the planned route under BHHS is the only option available.
“Hopefully this website will initiate a more robust, independent environmental review,” said one resident who helped create the website. “When Metro starts tunneling underneath [BHHS], disturbing an oil field that contains pockets of methane and hydrogen sulfite gases, threats ranging from explosions to immediate sickness…will be unleashed.”
Almost two years ago, on Aug. 16, 2016, U.S. Federal Judge George Wu ruled that the FTA acted in an “arbitrary and capricious manner” with respect to the environmental effects of tunneling under BHHS in order to reach Century City. Wu further ruled that a supplemental Environmental Impact Report needed to be undertaken in order to give the community a better opportunity to understand the risks related to running a subway tunnel under BHHS.
Both the City of Beverly Hills and BHUSD currently have federal lawsuits challenging the legal sufficiency of the resulting court-ordered environmental analysis, which was released in November 2017.
Metro spokesperson Dave Sotero appeared nonchalant at the prospect that the petition might impact the planned route.
“Metro received a Section 2 Full Funding Grant Agreement from the U.S. Department of Transportation more than a year and a half ago. A contractor was hired, and construction of this section is now well underway, with utility relocation, staging yard setup and tunneling preparatory work activities now taking place throughout the project corridor,” he stated. “Following decades of successful federal funding arrangements, it has long been our experience that, once a funding grant agreement is received, the federal government honors its commitments to local transportation agencies and serves as a critical partner in ensuring that the project is delivered according to its established schedule and budget.”