Candice Anvari staff writer
Kate Kotlyar staff writer
BHUSD and Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (LACMTA) are currently in their eminent domain phase of negotiations in regard to the high school’s land value.
The Metro began tunneling under Beverly in 2020 after BHUSD lost a legal ruling, allowing Metro to tunnel under the high school campus. Subway trains will travel under Beverly as they move between Century Park East and the Wilshire and Rodeo station. Metro anticipates that both tunnel boring machines (TBMs) will clear the high school campus by the end of April 2021. Section 1 of the Purple Line Extension (the line running under Beverly Hills) runs along the Wilshire corridor and ends at La Cienega. Section 2 is scheduled to open in 2025.
The city negotiated a memorandum of agreements (MOA) with Metro in order to specify the conditions the Metro must adhere to during construction.
“We had a very lengthy negotiation with Metro identifying mitigation measures for the community. [With] the magnitude of this project, the city negotiated a memorandum of agreements with Metro that identify all the permit conditions that they have to follow to protect our community, and make sure that they are meeting our noise and our traffic requirements, vibration [requirements], those types of things that could be impactful to our community,” Engineering Manager of the City of Beverly Hills Rob Welch said.
Vice Mayor Rob Wunderlich has heard concerns from the public of “an increase in crime” associated with the installment of the Metro. However, he believes law enforcement will be able to handle any breaches of the law. Wunderlich’s main concern is traffic.
“One of our huge concerns with the coming of Metro was going to be the impacts during construction. There’s more than one aspect of that, one had to do with the traffic shutdowns during construction,” Wunderlich said. “Oddly, the pandemic has helped with that. For the first scheduled set of shutdowns, while Wilshire had to be closed to allow these stations to be excavated, [the excavations have] been largely completed during a time period in which many businesses were shut down because of the pandemic.”
Over the course of the Metro’s construction, the Beverly Hills community expressed concerns to the city regarding dust, noise and other construction related issues as well.
“Metro rigorously complies with local, state and federal requirements for mitigating construction activities, and Metro’s Construction Relations Department responds to all community issues and relays them to Construction Management for review and consideration of additional mitigation measures,” Communications Manager at LA Metro Dave Sotero said. “In many cases, the community has expressed its eagerness for Metro to complete work as quickly as possible.”
Wunderlich believes that if the Metro is “successful,” it can benefit the city activity positively.
“[The Metro] will be bringing additional people into the city, it will become easier for people to get to the city, and so presumably more people will come into the city. So that’s something that’s going to have to be dealt with. There will be a new influx of people arriving at the city on a different route,” Wunderlich said. “I hope it’s successful.”
Both Sotero and Public Information Officer for the City of Beverly Hills Keith Sterling claim that the Metro and Beverly Hills are working as “partners” to ensure the Purple Line Extension runs smoothly.
“We’ve tried to work with Metro as a partner. We understand that they have a job to do and that the subway line is coming, but at the same time we want to be mindful of the impact in our city. Adding a subway line to a city is a major undertaking. We, as the City Council, have really taken a lot of proactive measures to ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible and has the least amount of impact,” Sterling said.
In order to enter the third phase with Metro, the Metro and the District must agree on the land value in the eminent domain phase.
“There’s a phase now where, through eminent domain, there is an appraisal that is taken and, as the property owners, we get an appraisal of what that is. Then, they get an appraisal and then we have to look at that to see what is the value of that land because it’s much more intrusive than power companies running electrical lines. We have two subway tunnels that are like 80 feet in length,” BHUSD Superintendent Dr. Michael Bregy said. “Metro, through eminent domain, is planning to purchase that subsurface easement. It’s very likely that there’s going to be conditions and restrictions to what we can build above.”
The district believes that the property is “worth more” than Metro believes it’s worth, so the two parties are currently working out a compromise. Bregy believes that working out the value of the land is important in case of future construction at the high school.
“What we have to think about as property owners and landowners is that we’ll be long gone after this construction, but Beverly Hills High School is going to continue to evolve and change and it’ll be here forever. In 50 years from now, people are going to want to remodel, so we are telling Metro what they think this land is worth,” Bregy said.
As of right now, both Bregy and Principal Mark Mead claim that there have not been any issues in regard to the tunneling. Bregy does not believe that the construction will impact students once they return to school. However, the tunneling has affected the Modernization Project.
“At this point, the tunneling process is well underway. Fortunately, there haven’t been any issues,” Bregy said. “For us right now, because we’re in full modernization, the construction is really impacting our drawings for our future property, so that’s why we’re still in this stage since it will most likely impact our future construction projects.”
An obstacle that the district has encountered throughout the eminent domain phase is the LAUSD ownership claim.
“LAUSD is claiming ownership of the high school. It’s complicating our matters because it is our land, because about 85 to 90 years ago we had a lot of documentation that we followed all the procedures that show the transfer of our [property],” Bregy said. “They don’t want the high school. They see money and they see a technicality. As a former teacher and a former principal, this is disgusting because of the overwhelming evidence that the transfer occurred. It’s greedy lawyers.”
The LAUSD claim is slowing down the Metro and BHUSD negotiations because, in order to determine the value of the high school land, the district must also work out this ownership issue with LAUSD.
Similar to how the rate of construction increased due to a lack of traffic because of COVID-19, the Metro construction “does not have a big impact on students” due to the lack of students on campus.
“I don’t think the project hasn’t yet had any real direct impact on our kids or on our school, campus or culture. I don’t think any student has been impacted directly, like lost class time, distractions and things like that. A big part of that is our district’s effort to make sure that we keep a close eye on the particulates, a close eye on the sound and we respond proactively to things that might come up,” Mead said. “This year is the year they started drilling and there aren’t kids on campus. I think I can honestly say that it has not yet had an impact on any students’ academic life in any way.”
Stay tuned for more updates as negotiations proceed.