Beverly Hills subway approved after fiery films

May 25, 2012, 12:59 AM

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Flames, explosions, sophisticated soundtracks, slapstick comedy with harmonizing hillbillies.

What started as a typical municipal dispute over public transportation ended up getting a heavy dose of Hollywood.

When the drama ended, Los Angeles County transportation officials voted Thursday to send a subway route 70 feet under Beverly Hills High School, though a long legal fight likely looms in the dispute that spawned productions that in some ways overshadowed the policy and geology of the project.

One is a virtual disaster movie, produced by Beverly Hills parents against the project, that shows students walking to class paired with images of flames and explosions.

The other, a pro-subway satire called “The Hillfolks’ Lament,” suggests residents of the 90210 are backward-looking hicks who fear progress.

It was “Armageddon” vs. “The Beverly Hillbillies.”

It was unclear if any of it swayed the board of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that heard pleas for further studies and threats of lawsuits before voting 7-2 for the extension of the Purple Line.

The MTA approved one leg of the project last month but delayed the second and third phases while the board heard more about the potential dangers of the project.

The plan now awaits federal approval and inevitable legal challenges from Beverly Hills.

“We’re going to exercise all of our rights,” said Brian Goldberg, president of the Beverly Hills school board and a leader of subway opposition.

Before the vote, board members emphasized their previous findings that creating a tunnel under the high school to the proposed Century City station could be done safely and without disruption, despite some pockets of underground methane gas.

A video made by members of the Beverly Hills Parent Teacher Association titled “No Subway Under BHHS” takes a different view, to say the least.

It begins with ominous music and a sober narrator saying: “Methane gas, toxic chemicals and teenagers don’t mix, but this dangerous combination is on the verge of exploding at Beverly Hills High, turning the school into a mega-disaster.”

The line, spoken over images of students walking into the school, gives way to a huge blast that has drawn comparisons to images in “The Avengers” movie.

It continues with images and headlines from a huge 1985 methane explosion at a Los Angeles clothing store that left 23 people injured.

Zev Yaroslavsky, an MTA board member and county supervisor, decried what he called “the hysteria campaign” promoted by the video and similar public statements.

“Buildings aren’t going to blow up,” Yaroslavsky said. “This is not even a high methane zone.”

The “Hillfolks’ Lament,” made in response by an anonymous group calling itself LAontheMove, gives the argument a comic turn, but its mocking tone is just as over-the-top.

It shows a man in overalls, accented with a preppy sweater tied around his shoulders, singing with bluegrass backing in front of Beverly Hills backdrops and featuring choruses such as “M-T-A, no Purple Line, we hill folk wanna stay stuck in 1959,” and “don’t make us into a tunnel-diggin’ school kid-killin’ place.”

Opponents of the tunnel under the high school said they still want the subway to run through Beverly Hills but would like to see it travel a different route along Santa Monica Boulevard that avoids the campus.

The MTA said that route is too close to earthquake fault lines, and the station would be too far from heavily populated areas.

“The Hillfolks’ Lament” takes on that proposal too, saying if the train is rerouted “no one’ll use it, it’ll never get dirty!”

Transportation officials did not appear to know who was behind the video, and The Associated Press could not locate anyone involved for comment.

Thursday’s meeting included more of the dramatic statements that have marked the long-running debate.

Metro brought scientists, including seismologist Lucy Jones of the U.S. Geological Survey, to reiterate the position that the route under the school is safe and the alternative ill-advised.

After the testimony, county Supervisor Mike Antonovich, one of two board members who later voted no, called them “so-called experts that will behave like trained seals.”

School board member Lisa Korbatov warned the transportation board, “you will not succeed and we will stop you at every turn.”



(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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Beverly Hills subway approved after fiery films