With Metro facing two lawsuits over the Westside Subway, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and his apparent buddy Beverly Hills Mayor William Brien decided yesterday to break ground anyway for the controversial Subway-to-Brentwood -- once known as the Subway-to-the-Sea.
It was an odd, even surreal, photo op that seemed to ignore all realities facing the troubled subway line, which includes that fact that Measure J was voted down last week and, as a result, there's a question if Metro will have enough money to finish the Westside Subway.
Beverly Hills Mayor William Brien, who's own city has filed one of the lawsuits against Metro to stop the Westside Subway from going underneath the Beverly Hills High School campus, seemed to be especially living in an alternative universe.
At a press conference with Brien sitting nearby on a stage, Villaraigosa touted that Los Angeles is building a "world-class" transportation system that will ease congestion on the gridlocked streets of the Westside.
It's a line Villaraigosa loves to push whenever cameras around, even though a Metro report found that traffic will barely be improved by the subway. But that's only one of oddities that took place on Wednesday.
The "groundbreaking" celebrated not the start of subway tunneling but the relocation of telecommunication lines at Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, where the first new Westside Subway station is planned to be built.
But even that minor construction project seems premature since the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District have sued Metro, charging that the transportation authority violated the California Environmental Quality Act.
When those lawsuits go to court, a judge can find in the favor of the plaintiffs and order Metro to rewrite the Westside Subway environmental impact report. It would be a time-consuming process that could alter the route of the subway.
With such a possibility, legal and transportation experts we've talked with say that it would be most unwise of Metro to build anything until its legal problems are resolved. Otherwise, if Metro board members such as Villaraigosa and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky go ahead with construction and things need to be changed, they could end up wasting millions of taxpayers' money.
So why break ground for any kind of Westside Subway construction project now?
The other weird thing was the presence of Brien at Villaraigosa's photo op. With his city locked in a major legal battle with Metro, the Beverly Hills Courier justifiably takes the mayor to task.
The spunky newspaper writes: "Brien's appearance and remarks confirms The Courier's reporting over nearly two years that Brien has worked against the interests of the City and its school district to support the project that will impair and threaten the Beverly Hills High School campus."
Then, in the pages of the Courier, Beverly Hills officialdom turns on Brien -- he not only sat on the stage with Villaraigosa but spoke in favor of the Westside Subway at the event.
Beverly Hills City Council member John Mirisch says that Brien's action was a "slap in the face."
Former Beverly Hills Mayor and City Council candidate Nancy Krasne says "anything that would undermine that combined voice is not acceptable."
City Council Candidate and Planning Commissioner Brian Rosenstein says he does "not believe that participating in the groundbreaking ceremony sends the message to Metro that our community is emphatically opposed to their current plan."
And Beverly Hills Unified School District President Brian Goldberg says, "Publicly praising a plan that is designed to disrupt the educational process of our students in Beverly Hills is not helpful and is contradictory to all of the public comments that the elected officials in Beverly Hills have made."
Wonder if Metro's lawyers will try to use Brien's appearance against the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills Unified School District when all sides go to court? The Source, Metro's official blog, is already featuring Brien's remarks in a video, who said the groundbreaking was "tremendous," it was an "honor" for him to be at the event, and the subway is "so dearly needed for so many people."
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He also added, "We're going to move this forward. This going to be a great line to the Westside, and I'm looking forward to visiting USC for my roots for football." He also promises to go to a UCLA basketball game with Villaraigosa, and they'll both take a subway ride over to Brentwood.
Some important questions clearly need to be put to Brien, who has long been reluctant to fight Villaraigosa over the subway. For example, did the Beverly Hills mayor ask city lawyers if his appearance was legally prudent? If so, what did they tell him? And who asked Brien to show up at the photo op? Villaraigosa? Metro? Did they tell him to say certain things? We smell a scandal brewing.
Contact Patrick Range McDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org.