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City slugfest: L.A.'s 'Subway to the Sea' runs aground in Beverly Hills

Citing safety concerns but eliciting charges of hysteria, wealthy Beverly Hills reportedly has spent $2 million to block plans for a subway that would pass underneath its high school. 

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / July 19, 2012

In this file photo, signs opposing a subway tunnel construction planned under Beverly Hills High School are posted the school's District offices in Beverly Hills, Calif.

AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes

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Beverly Hills, Calif.

Los Angeles, America’s city of cars, is experiencing a roadblock over a subway line.

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A key section of the subway – known originally by its romantic marketing term, “Subway to the Sea,” but now by the more mundane “West Side subway extension” or “Purple Line” because it never really reaches the ocean – is being held up with a lawsuit by Beverly Hills.

Because the track is slated to pass 70 ft. beneath the 1927-built, Beverly Hills High School – which itself was built on active oilfields – the tony zip-code is spending millions to fight the project for reasons, it says, of safety.

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“Methane gas, toxic chemicals and teenagers don’t mix,” says the opening line of a PTA-produced video, which blends computer-generated images of exploding fireballs with newsreel footage of an actual methane fire that ignited nearby in 1985 and burned two city blocks for five days.

“But this dangerous combination is on the verge of exploding at Beverly High, turning the school into a mega-disaster.”

The city of Beverly Hills, which reportedly has spent $2 million in legal and public relations fees, filed suit last month to force the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) to reroute the link 1,000 ft. away, eliminating the need for a tunnel.

The MTA says it has ruled out the alternative route because it would attract fewer riders and is dangerously close to an active earthquake fault, and subway backers are denouncing the Beverly Hills campaign.

“The insanity that has engulfed this city for the last year and a half, [is] the result of this hysterical campaign being run about explosions and migrating methane gas, that were designed to inflame and alarm the public,” L.A. County Supervisor, Zev Yaroslavsky, said to The New York Times.

Advocates of the tunnel route say Beverly Hills is just full of rich people used to getting their own way, citing a fierce political battle in the 1960s in which the city blocked a 10-lane freeway link that would have connected nearby skyscrapers in Century City to Los Angeles.

Opponents of the tunnel, meanwhile, are saying, “follow the money,” pointing to investigative reports that have traced the influence of developers that stand to benefit from the project. One such developer, Chicago-based JMB Realty Corporation, raised nearly $300,000 for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who heads the MTA.

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