Beverly Hills is using petty bureaucratic tactics to hold up construction on the Purple Line extension and its feet dragging could lengthen an already long construction schedule, which has the first phase, from Western to La Cienega opening in nine years. The city council decided last August that all permit requests from Metro related to the subway extension's first phase—which is nowhere near the disputed Century City station or the much-fretted-about Beverly Hills High School—must be passed by the full council instead of just getting a staff approval, which is the normal procedure; staff work five days a week and the city council only gathers monthly or, at most, twice a month. That move is already proving to be a problem as Metro is waiting on two permits related to pre-construction activities (like utility relocation and groundwater and gas sampling). The council refused to grant the permits in January and asked for Metro to come back and provide more explanation on traffic and parking issues related to the construction. Metro did, but by then the council's February agenda was already too full to add a vote on the permits, so maybe they'll grant them at their March 4 meeting.
Beverly Hills's decision to have the city council control permits is an extremely unusual move in the county, where there are several rail lines under construction through several cities. Santa Monica, which is, like Beverly Hills, a small city enveloped by Los Angeles, confirmed that the construction authority building the Expo Line extension does not need to go through the city council for permits. Metro has cooperative agreements with the city and county of Los Angeles that help ease the permitting process along. Updated 2:10 pm: The Gold Line Construction Authority is working on an extension of that line through several cities right now; spokesperson Lisa Levy Buch tells us, "We have [memoranda of understanding] with each of our cities. As part of those agreements, and their requirement for a providing a local match of funding, the cities each help to move the review of our plans and all permit requests through their typical process. We are required to get permits for work that typically require them; however, most permits are approved at the staff level. In my experience, only exceptions for the city's requirements require a council action. I don't recall any issues that have gone to a city council, with the exception of two streets that were permanently abandoned (or vacated) for the project."
Beverly Hills spokesperson Therese Kosterman explains the council's decision this way:
"The construction of the Purple Line subway is a long, disruptive process that is unprecedented in the City of Beverly Hills' history. The City Council asked that all construction permits come to them for approval in order to ensure that residents and businesses' interests with regard to construction noise and traffic and parking disruptions are taken into account. While permits are generally not considered by the council, they do approve most street closures for the same reasons, i.e. ensuring the least amount of disturbance for the community." It doesn't seem like a coincidence, though, that Beverly Hills ands its school district have four lawsuits pending over the placement of the Purple Line's Century City station, which requires tunneling under Beverly Hills High. There are officials like Councilmember Nancy Krasne, who makes no bones that she's sticking it to Metro just to be petty (she's also the one that thought terrorists would use the subway tunnel to blow up BHHS), but you can't heap all the blame on the politicians—they're beholden to their constituents, many of whom read the histrionics and half-truths in the Beverly Hills Courier every day (Metro's The Source blog has to correct them nearly every time they publish a story on the line).
The Courier's publisher, a San Marino man named Clif Smith, has it out for the entire subway project—how could someone hate public transit this much?—and slams politicians in print and online if they don't lock swords against Metro every chance they can. Smith wrote an editorial just yesterday demanding the council deny every permit request from Metro.
Bryan Pennington, Metro's executive director of engineering and construction, says that even if Beverly Hills approves the permits, the process could be very bad news for Purple Line construction:
"We are continuing to work with the City of Beverly Hills to obtain these two outstanding permits. We believe that we have provided the information they are seeking while we continue working to deliver this much needed project as it has been promised to the taxpayers and commuters of greater Los Angeles. Up until last August, we were able to work with Beverly Hills city staff for the permits we needed for street work. We have cooperative agreements with the City of Los Angeles and the County of Los Angeles that allow us to handle permit requests at the staff level. If Beverly Hills continues to require review of all permits by their Council, it could extend the construction schedule.
These agreements are beneficial to all parties concerned. They spell out each parties responsibilities in relation to time frames and expenses. In doing so, they provide certainty and predictability throughout the construction process for Metro, Metro contractors, the city and those who live, work and travel in the construction area. We look forward to working out such an agreement with the City of Beverly Hills so we can all move forward together."
· 90210's Way or the Highway [Curbed LA]