This past Monday, the New York Times ran a story about the brewing controversy in Beverly Hills over the Westside subway. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who's pushing hard for the underground rail line, awkwardly defended his position to the paper.
A little background: Beverly Hills community leaders are peeved that Metro plans to tunnel underneath the Beverly Hills High School campus, which could jeopardize multi-million-dollar renovation plans they have there. Villaraigosa, a Metro board member, has close political ties to deep-pocketed power players in Century City. They want the subway route to go underneath the high school campus so a station can be built on Constellation Boulevard.
In the New York Times, Villaraigosa disregards the concerns about the high school and hints that something more sinister is going on.
"Remember: Beverly Hills has a history of opposition to the subway," Villaraigosa says. "I can't tell you what their motivations are. They say they want it, but they don't want it there."
Hmmmm... Beverly Hills folks have been showing up at Metro meetings that Villaraigosa has attended and sent him letters and reports for over a year, telling him exactly why they don't want the subway to go underneath the school's campus.
Has he been reading that stuff?
At the end of the piece, the New York Times quotes Beverly Hills Unified School Board President Brian Goldberg: "This is being driven by development interests, and whether those campaign contributions have contributed to the decision to have the subway site at the building is something that concerns me greatly."
Villaraigosa responds that such a concern is "so ridiculous that it doesn't even deserve a response. They are just desperate and grasping at straws."
Well, L.A. Weekly showed in a July 14, 2011, cover story that Goldberg is far from crazy.
"The key cheerleader for [the Westside subway] is Mayor Villaraigosa, chairman of Metro's board of directors," we wrote. "Villaraigosa has taken at least $296,000 for his pet political projects and election campaigns from JMB Realty and Westfield Corporation, two large developers whose Century City property values would be enhanced by having a subway at their doors.
"At a recent Century City 'power breakfast,' Villaraigosa publicly backed the Constellation station, telling the crowd that a subway stop 'needs to be right here in the heart of Century City.'"
Additionally, we noted:
"JMB Realty owns the SunAmerica skyscraper at Constellation Boulevard and Avenue of the Stars, and plans to build the 37-story Century City Center on open land at that intersection. The subway station at Constellation would run almost to the lobbies of those two highrises. Another JMB skyscraper, formerly called the MGM Tower, is a half-block away.
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"JMB's alliance with Villaraigosa dates to 2006, when the Weekly reported that the mayor received $100,000 from the firm to spend on his Committee for Government Excellence and Accountability. At the time, Villaraigosa's committee was lobbying the California Legislature for a new law giving him veto power over the hiring and firing of the L.A. Unified School District superintendent. Villaraigosa's bold and bitterly fought education reform was found unlawful by a judge.
"Two years later, Judd Malkin and Neil Bluhm sponsored a June 3, 2008, fundraiser with Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to help finance Villaraigosa's mayoral re-election campaign. JMB's event for Villaraigosa in Chicago raked in nearly $96,000, with Malkin's and Bluhm's employees, family members and associates contributing heavily."
The political connections are there, and they are certainly not ridiculous.
Contract Patrick Range McDonald at email@example.com.