Seismic Experts Back Subway Extension Under Beverly Hills High

The conclusions come after an investigation of tunneling safety and fault locations in the proposed Westside subway area

Getty Images / David McNew

A panel of seismologists, geologists and engineers determined on Wednesday that a subway extension built under Beverly Hills High School is safer than a transit line passing below Santa Monica Boulevard, where an active fault zone lies.

Commissioned by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), the study was conducted to assess the routing of the Westside Subway Extension. The plan calls for a nine-mile expansion of the Purple Line from Wilshire and Western to just past the Veterans Affairs Hospital in Westwood.

The report investigated tunneling safety and fault locations in the proposed Westside subway area.

Two Metro stations were initially planned for Century City along Santa Monica Boulevard. But the investigation revealed that the proposed locations would lie on both the active Santa Monica Fault Zone and the extension of the Newport/Inglewood fault zone, posing a serious danger.

"The problem with putting a station under a fault zone is that it can split in half during an earthquake," said Marc Littman, an MTA spokesman. "It can kill a lot of people."

In the report, experts concluded that tunneling can be best completed safely beneath Beverly Hills High’s campus to create a station under the intersection of Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars, where there are no active earthquake faults in the area.

Tunneling would occur 70 feet below the surface of Beverly Hills High. The tunnels are expected to pass underneath the south wing of Building B, according to the report. 

Littman said tunneling in an earthquake zone would pose no problems in terms of subsidence, vibration and noise.

Beverly Hills Mayor Barry Brucker said the city was disappointed with the report's findings, but his primary concern was safety.

"Right now, there's one school of thought from members of the community who are saying, 'Fight it! Sue 'em! Stop any subway on the westside! Don't let any subway even come into Beverly Hills!' And there's another school of thought saying, 'Let's get the data. Let's find out the engineering behind it. Let's verify and do an independent analysis, and then let's look at all of our options.'"

Brucker said the city had hired consulting firms to give them an independent analysis of the MTA data.

Members of the Beverly Hills community felt the MTA did not disclose crucial information that contributes to the community’s safety.

"Metro has opened a veritable Pandora's Box that potentially impacts many dozens of existing buildings and future projects in the region, including Beverly Hills High School, future station locations for the Westside Subway Extension as well as currently entitled development projects. It is unfathomable that Metro has had this important seismic data available for such a long time without providing it to the BHUSD or other interested parties in the purported earthquake zone,” said Beverly Hills Unified School District President Lisa Korbatov, in a prepared statement.

In terms of the dissent from the Beverly Hills community, Littman felt the study’s results spoke for themselves.

"The city of Beverly Hills says they’re going to get their own experts out there. They’ll be up against Dr. James Dolan from USC, the former Caltech provost (Dr. Paul Jennings) – these guys put their integrity on the line. They can do what they want, they can sue – but this is the experts’ decision."

Littman said the MTA will consider the report as part of the Final Environmental Impact Statement/Report, which is anticipated to be released later this year or early next year.

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