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A Dear John Letter About the Wilshire Subway to the Westside

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Dear John:

Thank you for making me a household name among the handful of Beverly Hills residents who agree with your recent post assailing my preference for a Wilshire subway Century City station at Constellation Blvd.

I say handful because as modern people most residents of Beverly Hills understand we live in a built environment where subway tunnels, gas, electric and water lines, oil wells and other man-made "risks" routinely crisscross the ground under our homes.

Posing little danger to the public, underground infrastructure provides services and conveniences that over the past century we have come to expect and appreciate. But public transportation in this gridlocked city is now not just a convenience. It is a necessity like water and power. Without a means for people to get to work and home faster than traffic on our surface streets and freeways permits, the region's economy suffers.

Though I didn't harp on it in my earlier piece, the economic health of the region is the number one reason we need a subway to the Westside with stations at Constellation and elsewhere serving the greatest number of riders. So take your pick. You can be an elected official who works for the economic wellbeing of greater LA, or a provincial city councilman who hinders our economic recovery and obstructs a public works project that will help LA compete nationally and globally.

I am confident you and your colleagues will ultimately come to appreciate that the risks associated with tunneling are minuscule compared to the benefits tunneling confers.

I want to thank you as well for upping my stature at home where my teenagers had practically forgotten my name. Thanks to your piece painting me as a Metro mouthpiece, my kids are now responding to my texts and showing up for dinner. I used to feel like Rodney Dangerfield but now I know someone is reading, even if they may not agree with my reasoned opinion.

You being the Europhile that you are I am sure you will appreciate my taking a moment to deconstruct your deconstruction of my earlier piece. Comparing the less convenient Santa Monica Blvd location with a station at Constellation Blvd in the heart of Century City, I say build the line for now and for the future. In this city and in this economic environment there is a profound difference between your pipe dream of a greater Century City with "developments which have been entitled to the west of the Wilshire/Santa Monica intersection" and Century City as it already exists with its 50,000 to 60,000 daily commuters.

What about the preferred location for the Westwood station, you ask? "Why is there no concern among these self-styled 'urbanists' about ridership in Westwood? Why haven't these all-knowing would-be rationalists taken out their brooms and pitchforks to demand that Metro move the Westwood station to the heart of Westwood Village, rather than settle for the inconvenient southern extremity as planned?"

What about future Metro stations in Torrance and Artesia and Claremont? My piece was about Century City, not Westwood. It seems to me there is plenty to chew on here without further obfuscating the issue by talking about Metro's planning challenges to the west.

In my best imitation of Marshall McLuhan in Annie Hall, "I heard what you were saying. You know nothing of my work..."

Though I hate to digress from this Jacques Derrida-inspired deconstruction perhaps we can find some common ground?

Far from certain that it may be necessary or desirable, I am with you on tunneling under the VA cemetery and have yet to hear a convincing argument why Metro should not tunnel there. Do the VA and the family members of servicemen and women buried at the cemetery really take issue with this idea? Or, are they far more concerned with the thousands of cars, trucks and buses that rumble by noisily every day than by a safely dug tunnel dozens of feet below the graves? You see Rodney King, maybe we can all get along.

Getting back to the issue at hand - the foolishness of caving in to a small but vocal group of opponents to Constellation - I see it like this. Pick your battles wisely. Look for common ground (the desire to see the subway built) and strive to get to yes with those you may not agree with. Leave no solution unexplored and be respectful of your adversary's position however wrongheaded you may personally believe it to be. View the glass as half full even in a situation like this where the opponents of Constellation have dug in their heals. And of equal importance, trust in your reasoned certainty that there is a greater good served by the safe construction of the station in the heart of Century City rather than elsewhere.

You claim to be opposing Constellation for the sake of the children of Beverly Hills. Metro claims to be doing this for all of the children and adults of greater Los Angeles. My money is on Metro in this race.

The critics of Metro and Constellation have been selective in their fact finding and blinded by the incompetence of long-since fired Metro Red Line contractors. But just as this "Metro mouthpiece" and other fans of Constellation recognize that you are not NIMBYs and actually support the subway, you should acknowledge that Metro is now an older and wiser agency and goes into this project with eyes wide open. Of no small significance, the subway's lengthy review process has made it among the most transparent public works projects this country has ever seen.

I agree that local control is a lovely if abstract concept when you are an island or are talking planning matters that have little impact on the broader community. But Beverly Hills is no island when it comes to the subway as it sits in the sea of greater Los Angeles. Your little city is a critical part of the regional anatomy that cannot go its own way when we are building public transportation for everyone.

What are our options in lieu of the safe tunneling under a handful of Beverly Hills properties? How about an elevated rail line above the houses and the high school? I can't wait to attend that Metro Board meeting!

"Blowing off the opinions of Beverly Hills' critics," you say. I did nothing of the sort with my careful and respectful piece.

Finally, one has to love your conclusion that, "Surely the $50 million that would be saved by the less expensive, less intrusive Santa Monica alignment could be put to good use with other pedestrian or bike-friendly transit projects that could benefit Beverly Hills and the entire region."

You want to save the taxpayers and Metro money on this project? I have a better idea. Let go of the obstructionist and costly threat of litigation and encourage Metro to build the subway to the Westside with a station at Constellation. This is the line that Angelenos have long deserved.

Yours in transit,
Joel