LOS ANGELES (AP) – Los Angeles County transportation officials have approved a disputed plan to route a subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School, but a court battle over the proposed Westside Subway Extension is a virtual certainty.
The board of directors of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority heard pleas for further study and threats of lawsuits from Beverly Hills officials and parents, but voted 7-2 Thursday for the extension of the Purple Line.
The first segment of the long-sought subway line that would eventually connect downtown Los Angeles with the coast was approved last month, but the board agreed to hold off on the second and third segments to allow for more comment from Beverly Hills’ own engineers and geologists
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In Los Angeles, even a typical local dispute over public transportation comes back to the movies.
The long fight over sending a subway 70 feet under Beverly Hills High School has spawned a pair of warring videos that in some ways are overshadowing the policy and geology of the dispute.
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’s “Armageddon” vs. “The Beverly Hillbillies.”
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority could vote to approve the route as soon as Thursday, but the fight is almost certain to persist in court and in social networks, where the videos and similar creations have become fodder for bloggers and Twitter users.
The MTA approved one leg of the project last month, but delayed the second while the board heard more from Beverly Hills’ experts on potential dangers of the project. MTA staff released a set of findings this week that reflected the long-held opinions of their own scientists and engineers _ that creating a tunnel under the high school to the proposed Century City station could be done safely and without disruption, despite 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 the 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 has drawn comparisons to “The Avengers.”
It continues with images and headlines from a huge 1985 methane explosion at a Los Angeles store that left 23 people injured.
MTA spokesman Marc Littman said the video was extreme and “totally inaccurate” in both its tone and its presentation.
“It’s inflammatory, no pun intended,” Littman said. “It just doesn’t gibe with the science and the facts.” He took issue with the methane explosions in particular, saying advanced modern boring techniques can neutralize the problem.
“We have higher concentrations of methane gas downtown than we have in Beverly Hills, and we’ve been running there without problems since 1993,” he said.
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 poses as an anti-subway screed, showing 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 like: “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.”
No one among transportation officials and reporters appeared to know who was behind the video, and The Associated Press could not locate anyone involved for comment.
Brian Goldberg, president of the school board in Beverly Hills and a leader of the opposition to the high school tunnel, said he hadn’t watched the video, but didn’t mind a little mockery.
“I take it all in good stride, I’m glad that people are engaged and involved,” he said. “I hope they’re open-minded and don’t just call us names.”
Much of the negative attention has come from the ritzy, privileged connotations that come with the name Beverly Hills, Goldberg said.
Many of the school’s critics might be its allies if it were somewhere more economically downtrodden, Goldberg said, and the outcome could set a trend.
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