Beverly Hills was on the defensive Thursday over its opposition to the Westside Subway Extension of Metro’s Purple Line, a route that would tunnel under Beverly Hills High School. Many in the wealthy city want a different route under Santa Monica Boulevard, but earthquake expert Lucy Jones says that pathway is not safe. The Metro board, including Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, pictured, approved part of the line and will hold another hearing to address the worries of Beverly Hills residents. Conan Nolan reports from downtown Los Angeles for the NBC4 News at 5 p.m. on April 26, 2012.
A project that would extend a subway line from Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue to LA's Westside made a key stop Thursday at a meeting of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's board of directors that included an extensive public comment period.
Documents: Final Environmental Impact Report | Project Map
The board approved the project's final environmental impact report Thursday and voted to approve plans for the first phase of the $5.6 billion-, nearly nine-mile extension after nearly three hours of public comment. The board's 11-1 vote involved a nearly four-mile extension to the subway to La Cienega Boulevard and Wilshire.
Board members delayed action on the next two segments, which include a controversial tunnel under Beverly Hills High School -- the focus of the public comment period. Speakers expressed support and opposition for the tunnel under the school.
"We are now closer than we’ve ever been to getting this project under construction," said Mayor and Metro Board Chair Antonio Villaraigosa. "This long-awaited subway extension will provide a faster, more reliable transit alternative for hundreds of thousands of Angelenos on a daily basis."
Thursday's vote allowed Metro to enter the final design stages of the first phase, which means utility relocations required for the route might begin next year. The first phase would have stops along Wilshire at La Brea, Fairfax and La Cienega.
But the question of where the subway will stop from there remained unanswered. The board will take up the remaining segment after a hearing requested by the city of Beverly Hills.
"We only ask all of the science available be reviewed,'' Beverly Hills Councilman Barry Brucker said.
Metro cited earthquake risks and ridership data when officials planned a Century City station at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars instead of a stop at Santa Monica Boulevard and Century Park East. That decision meant the route would lead under Beverly Hills High School.
District officials and activists have opposed the plan, calling for Metro to approve the Santa Monica Boulevard stop. They have cited student safety, building code issues and a campus renovation project.
"There are a number of issues we're worried about," said Brian Goldberg, the school board president. "One is methane gas. We have a number of abandoned oil wells under the school. There are utility lines, water lines, sewage lines. We're also concerned about 80-year-old buildings and the impact drilling would have on their ability to stay up."
The school board supports the subway extension, but objects to the route under the school, Goldberg said. They would like the board to delay a decision for at least 30 days.
Santa Monica Boulevard is along a seismic region that is too dangerous for a subway stop, according to USGS seismologists who consulted on the project.
"Absolute no brainer. There is no way you can safely build a subway station on Santa Monica Boulevard," said USGS seismologist Lucille Jones.
The project is funded by a half-cent sales tax increase provided by voter-approved Measure R.