Next week the LA Metro Board will consider the recent recommendation of Metro staff for a locally preferred alternative (LPA) route for the Westside Subway Extension.
The meeting scheduled for Oct. 28th at Metro headquarters should be a well-attended affair. Those expected to be on hand include thoughtful and tireless public transportation advocates like The Transit Coalition as well as the tiresome Bus Riders Union that claims to speak for LA's bus riders. There will be homeowners and businesspeople, and perhaps even some City Councilmembers at the meeting to praise or oppose aspects of the overdue project.
Given the growing local and national support for the 30/10 Initiative and the recent good news from Washington on the Crenshaw Corridor light rail project, the meeting promises to be an uncharacteristically lively session. But perhaps no discussion will be more contentious than the debate over the location of the planned Wilshire Subway Century City station.
For now, Metro staff are publicly reserving judgment on the location of the Century City station. The two options are a commuter friendly stop at Constellation Blvd and Avenue of the Stars and a less convenient alternative on Santa Monica Blvd. While some may quibble with my characterization of the Santa Monica location as "less convenient," the fact is, it is. Just get out of your car and count the number of steps it takes to get there from Century City's various office towers and the Westfield Century City mall vs. a location at Constellation.
With so much of the debate about public transportation in LA - a city that is really a curious collection of downtowns - about building lines that takes the public where it wants to go, that we are even having this debate is telling.
Though my preference for a station at Constellation should be clear, let's consider why. To locate the station along Santa Monica Blvd evokes an unfortunate comparison with the Metro Green Line stopping short of LAX. Bad history need not repeat itself at Century City or in other projects that will be built as part of 30/10.
The main reason the preferred Constellation location is at issue is the vocal and effective advocacy of a small number of Beverly Hills residents who fear a loss of their peace and enjoyment, and real estate value, when the line is constructed under their homes. These are valid concerns indeed in a city that prides itself on the price tag associated with particular zip codes. But valid concerns should never dictate the route of a subway that will serve all of the region's residents.
It is unclear why the issues raised by this small group of residents were not allayed by Metro's considerable outreach to the community. Having attended some of the Wilshire Subway community meetings I can't imagine a better, more thorough presentation of safe subway tunneling under impacted homes and businesses. Since I don't know the homeowners in opposition I can't question the sincerity of their concerns. What I can comment on is the wisdom of heeding addressable concerns at the expense of a better station location that will make the subway a more attractive alternative to driving for more Angelenos.
It must be the lapsed lawyer in me but my counsel to Metro is to avoid permitting the concerns of a tiny minority of Beverly Hills residents to set the course of a subway line that will serve millions of LA residents. This would indeed be the slippery slope that every first year law student masters and learns serves no one but the lawyers.
With two homeowner lawsuits already underway over the route of the Expo Line, Metro needs to stand its ground having exhaustively and thoughtfully studied the Wilshire Subway route. Caving in to the Beverly Hills homeowners after all of that work would embolden opponents and open the door to a flood of meritless lawsuits on all of Metro's pending projects. Instead, the Metro Board should man up and vote to approve the subway to the VA and beyond. The Board should back the station at Constellation and move to enlist as allies in its construction campaign the ever-growing number of Metro customers (riders), area businesses, salarymen and women, and shoppers who live or work in and around Century City.
While it is unfortunate that the Beverly Hills City Council has now come out against the Constellation station location, we should remember that this was once a community that opposed the very idea of a subway through Beverly Hills. Encouragingly, as Mayor Jimmy Delshad has noted, the subway is very important to Beverly Hills and now has the City's qualified support. The glass is already half full. Now is the time to bend the Council's support to the better, preferred alternative at Constellation.
At next week's Board meeting and in the future Metro should continue to be respectful of area residents' concerns about the tunneling under homes and businesses. In carrying out tunneling and construction, caution must be paramount whether it is under Beverly Hills or any other part of the County.
The time has come though to stop studying and to start building the Wilshire Subway to west of the 405. To the handful of homeowners who oppose the best route through Century City, it is time to say, "Thank you for sharing your concerns. We have taken them into account and we look forward to welcoming you aboard at Constellation and Avenue of the Stars soon. Please watch the closing doors."