Commentary: Don't Stop Supporting the Westside Subway Extension

Beverly Hills resident and UCLA student Tina Yaghoubi urges people to stand by the subway.

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Commentary submitted by Beverly Hills resident Tina Yaghoubi, a BHHS alumna and senior at UCLA studying political science.

“How can you support the subway?” yelled one woman at the last , “Don’t fix what’s not broken!” said another. Of all the heated rhetoric, it’s surprising to hear arguments attacking the subway project in its entirety when we’re home to some of the worst traffic in the world. Indeed, the Municipal League of Beverly Hills has also called to oppose the subway as a whole, regardless of the route.

Don’t fix what’s not broken? There is good reason why L.A. voters passed the Measure R sales tax increase in 2008: current public transit options insufficiently satisfy our city’s growing needs. The Westside Subway Extension will begin the radical transformation of L.A.’s public transit by creating an alternative for the 300,000 people who travel to and from the Westside everyday.  

As a Beverly Hills resident and a BHHS alumna who supports greener mass transit, I want to be outspoken about what I see as a vital development and a basic necessity for a livable city. As a UCLA student studying political science, I want to change the discourse around public transit: it’s not about baseless fears on public safety, it’s about greater equity, access and job creation.

When a UCLA student from East L.A. has to wake up at 5:30 a.m. to catch multiple buses for an 8 a.m. class, the system is broken. When an employee at a Westside hotel spends so many hours commuting that he doesn’t even get to see his kids before or after work, the system is broken. 

The subway will fix these problems. Metro studies suggest that workers who typically spend 76 minutes commuting from East L.A. will cut their trip to 36 minutes. The UCLA student who spent two hours commuting will be able to travel from downtown to Westwood in 25 minutes. The subway will increase access to the job-rich Westside. Some 150,000 jobs are located along the proposed extension. This project will transform the lives of hundreds and thousands of people.

The subway will help jump start our city’s recovery. Unemployment is in the double digits and nearly a quarter of kids in L.A. are growing up in poverty. We need more jobs! During the Depression, large infrastructure projects helped lead Americans out of desperation. According to The Los Angeles County Economic Development, the Westside extension alone is forecasted to create 44,800 jobs, generate $2.81 billion in labor income and $7.67 billion in business revenues. A Project Labor Agreement will also assure that 40 percent of the work hours performed on most MTA projects are done by people who live in economically disadvantaged communities. This development will raise thousands out of poverty.

With all these great advantages to a subway, it’s hard to believe that anyone would try to derail this project. What began as genuine concerns of Beverly Hills residents has turned into a viscous fight over a baseless fear. A disingenuous alarmist anti-subway petition claims, “The safety of our students is at stake!” It’s astonishing that such false rhetoric continues even after a report commissioned by Beverly Hills City Council claimed that the there are negligible to minor risks associated with tunneling.

There are many other schools in California with tunnels under permanent buildings, including in San Francisco, Oakland and even here in Los Angeles. Advanced tunneling mechanisms are used now to build subways under every imaginable building all over the world. Metro has already built under many buildings in L.A., such as the Red Line, which passes near the historic El Pueblo and Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. What makes Beverly High a unique case?

As someone with a 9-year-old sister who will likely go on to graduate from Beverly Hills High, I do trust that the tunneling will be safe. I only hope my sister can grow up with better public transit options than I had when I was her age.

It's easy to get caught up in this wave of heated opposition after reading overdramatic headlines from the Beverly Hills Courier, such as, “Metro on Track to Destroy Beverly Hills High School,” and hearing cries of “The safety of our children!” It takes science and reason to uncover these claims. Fear, however, is often stronger than reason. 

The argument in Beverly Hills has gone beyond sanity. When the school district is facing a shortfall of bond funds and losing oil well revenue, they could be negotiating with Metro for an easement payment. Instead, the school district has spent almost a million on lawyers, lobbyist and PR firms to derail this vital project—sore curmudgeons ultimately punishing school children. Rather than fight this project, they could view it as an economic opportunity for the residents of our oft-vilified community. 

Thousands of jobs and a reduction to L.A.’s double-digit unemployment rates lie in the balance, not to mention green, more efficient transit solutions. 

The system is broken; let’s fix it.

I encourage others to attend the MTA Board meeting on April 26 at 9 a.m. 

Tina Yagoubi
Beverly Hills resident 

cutop April 20, 2012 at 08:08 AM
I think perhaps your are making too many generalizations about my position. I feel as though you're making a straw man argument. With regards to the safety of the tunnel under BHHS, I am satisfied by the MTA report and our independent reports and peer review. I don't agree that there were any shady dealing made between realty owners and public figures, but I am open to the possibility. I just drove through Century City and Westwood. The Constellation station is far better than the Santa Monica one in terms of proximity to the multitude of office buildings and mall. I don't take issue with a Westwood/Wilshire station either. It is ideal for the many office buildings there and is just what Westwood Village needs for their revitalization. Regardless, I am not concerned about Century City nor Westwood all that much. I am concerned about Beverly Hills – our home. MTA and our own experts have confirmed the safety. My suggestion to BHUSD is to start planning/reconstructing the school. They have about 12 years before the tunnel even reaches the school and plenty of Measure E Bond money to spend. My suggestion to you and the other council members is to negotiate with MTA to cover any tunnel safety mitigation expenses for the school's future construction needs. I think that would be a satisfactory compromise. Thank you for your availability here and thank you for your passion for the welfare of our beloved city (even if I think it is misguided this one time ;-) .
Mark Elliot April 21, 2012 at 06:50 AM
I agree with Mr. Mirisch that specificity in city plans is a necessity. Where land use regulation is concerned, we can't have it any other way because we're using police power to abridge property rights. My gripe would not be that we're not specific enough, but that (like many cities) we depart too often, and too egregiously, in my opinion, from our hopeful policy statements and the laws that express them. We hand out variances or amendments, and would hand them out more often, probably, were there not stakeholders who step up. Big projects tend to get the push through despite the public hollering, but the prospect of opposition tempers the long reach for exceptions. As for the Four Seasons, on that you can call me not a NIMBY but a NIABY - 'Not in anybody's backyard.' It's simply too large - a sunlight-killer - and to my taste too bourgeois. >Probably the most effective way for the high school to stop the tunnel project is to >start digging now, and keep digging That's good. I'd like to know how that would play out in the courts. Presumably with a Metro injunction. That would add some excitement!
Mark Elliot April 21, 2012 at 06:52 AM
I should have said, "...to proscribe the unlimited use of the land." Rights of course are socially determined, so we're not abridging a right to develop through regulation, merely conferring it.
UCLAbruin April 22, 2012 at 10:54 PM
Vice Mayor Mirisch, in case you are not aware, UCLA has a shuttle system students use regularly to get to Westwood Village. In any matter, UCLA is a huge campus as is, the shuttle is there for that reason. The proposed Westwood and Wilshire stop is directly located where one of the shuttle stops are.
Larry Miller April 24, 2012 at 09:14 PM
Right on, Michael.


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