Fourteen buildings across the five campuses of the Beverly Hills Unified School District are "subject to potential collapse" in an earthquake as small as a 3.5, according to a state report. BHUSD technically has most of the money it needs to update the schools, but last night the school board voted against using it; they also voted to immediately close three of the five school auditoriums in the district, including the auditorium at Beverly Hills High School, because the ceilings are potentially unsafe. This same school board is simultaneously at legal war with Metro because the agency plans to run a subway line under Beverly Hills High; they believe a subway tunnel will put students in grave danger (possibly from a terrorist attack) and have used about $8 million in school construction money to fight that battle.
BHUSD has known for years that its schools are seismically unsafe, but about six months ago, a California Seismic Mitigation Program report identified 14 buildings that are among the state's most unsafe schools (all five schools were originally built in the 1920s, with various upgrades or new buildings over the years). According to the Beverly Hills Courier, "Multiple experts have since told the BHUSD Board of Education that in the event of an earthquake above 3.5 on the Richter scale, depending on its epicenter, those 14 buildings are at risk of major structural damage including collapse. In that case, serious injury and even death can be expected."
In 2008, the school board passed Measure E, which authorized $334 million in school construction bonds. For some reason the board at the time promised voters that those bonds could be issued without raising property taxes, which are relatively low for the county. They already broke that promise once, in 2013, and so far have used $117 million in bond money, with $34 million left before they'll have to raise property taxes again (it would be a little over a dollar a day per property). But renovation estimates for all five schools total $450 million.
Aside from the urgency of the seismic report, the city's independent Finance Committee says the cost of the bonds will skyrocket if they're not sold now. There are also about $30 million in matching state funds the district can use if it gets to work on construction soon. After weeks of debate, the school board voted on Tuesday not to authorize any new bond money; board members who voted no are hoping instead to put an entirely new bond measure on the ballot in 2016, which would delay construction work. With a $450 million construction pricetag, BHUSD could use all $334 million of Measure E and still need a new measure, though.
The BHUSD has used its $117 million in a few ways. It's created designs for renovations at all of the schools and gotten to work on construction at Horace Mann Elementary School. And, according to a letter from school board member Lisa Korbatov, "$4 million was spent to clear two campuses of MTA inferred active faults (work we had no choice but to do). And, unfortunately, another $4 million was spent on consultants and attorneys to protect the sovereignty and sanctity of our only high school campus." Unspun, that's $4 million for geological reports claiming Metro has chosen the wrong subway route and another $4 million on anti-subway lobbying efforts.
To be fair, Korbatov and fellow rabid anti-subwayist Lewis Hall voted to approve the new bond money, so their "think of the children" stance is at least consistent. Board member Noah Margo voted against the money because he just doesn't believe the seismic report, telling the Courier "I don't believe anybody is in peril."
He also "did not agree that individual board members could be held legally liable for death or destruction from an earthquake if the Board submitted a replacement bond to voters," despite an email from BHUSD's general counsel saying exactly the opposite of that. Margo's take is that "As long as we're on the path to fix it, we are in compliance."
Meanwhile, the board also voted Tuesday to immediately close auditoriums at Beverly Hills High, Hawthorne Elementary School, and El Rodeo Elementary, "due to seismic vulnerability," according to the Courier.
· Beverly Hills Residents, Voters, Must Face Reality Or Risk Injury, State Finds [BH Courier]
· Beverly Hills News – Important Measure E Bond Vote Is Tonight [BH Courier]
· Beverly Hills School Board Commissioned High School Kids to Make Anti-Subway Propaganda [Curbed LA]
· Bev Hills School District Rehires Subway-Fighting DC Lobbyists [Curbed LA]