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Commentary: Subway Debate Turns Uncivil, Nasty

A Beverly Hills resident and BHHS alumnus says uncivil comments from Beverly Hills officials has tarnished the city's reputation.

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Commentary submitted by Beverly Hills resident and Beverly Hills High School alumnus Shlomy Kattan.

Polarizing issues, by their very nature, bring out extremist views. Those opposed to abortion, for example, call doctors who perform these procedures and the women who undergo them "baby killers." Those opposed to government intervention in the economy nonsensically label Barack Obama "a NAZI communist." And in Beverly Hills, those opposed to the Constellation Boulevard alignment of the Westside Subway Extension liken L.A. Metro to the regime of Ayatolah Khomeini.

critiquing BHUSD's lawsuit against Metro on the grounds that it served no purpose other than to delay progress on a project that, as city officials agree, offers great environmental and economic benefits to residents and workers in Beverly Hills and the rest of the Westside. I questioned the School Board's premise in filing this suit by pointing out that Metro had adhered to due process in their debate of the issue and that BHUSD's assumption of dramatic student-population growth was faulty. Implicit in my comments was the suggestion that BHUSD and the Beverly Hills City Council would serve the best interests of city residents not by antagonizing the MTA, but by sitting down with Metro and hashing out a plan that would make sense to both parties.

I saw a need to publish this opinion because residents like me who support the expeditious construction of the subway extension—even one that tunnels under BHHS—have been, so far, conspicuously silent. In fact, that the majority of Beverly Hills residents I know—who represent a broad demographic and political spectrum—support this very alignment, suggests that the City Council and the more vocal residents of our community have hijacked this issue without listening to our side.

I expected City Council members to react to my commentary. Indeed, I want my representatives in local government to engage with residents. What I did not expect was for a civil debate to deteriorate into a fusillade of demeaning barbs fired by those elected officials. Comments made by Vice Mayor John Mirisch in response to my essay not only confirmed that city leaders are out-of-touch with the general population in their continued belief that Beverly Hills is an island unto itself, but also illustrated that the utter lack of civil discourse among the denizens of City Hall makes it impossible for our City to work with any other government agency.

Beverly Hills' elected officials have begun to depict the subway debate as a David and Goliath battle, where Beverly Hills is the little guy standing up to the big, bad Metro on behalf of all trod-upon communities. As Vice Mayor Mirisch noted in one of his comments to my article, "by challenging [Metro]…Beverly Hills will not only be standing up for itself, but also for other smaller communities who perhaps have neither the resources nor intestinal fortitude to resist the Metro machine." Yet, in talking to residents of other L.A. municipalities, the tide of public opinion is rising against such a stance. In fact, there is nothing more out-of-touch than the belief that the City of Beverly Hills can align itself with the little guy.

More disturbing than this disconnect between reality and perception, however, is the tactlessness and catachresis of Mr. Mirisch's words. Responding to comments made by an Iranian resident of Beverly Hills, the Vice Mayor wrote, "Should we assume that you embraced 'change' in Iran when Ayatollah Khomeini took over after years of the Shah's rule?" In a city with a large and growing Iranian population, such insensitivity is a slap in the face to Mr. Mirisch's own constituents. To bring up a national trauma that resulted in countless deaths and decades of oppression, one that directly affected the lives of many Beverly Hills residents who escaped Iran as refugees, and to liken that national trauma to a debate about a subway, is an insult not only to the Iranians residents of Beverly Hills, but to all its citizens.

I respect the right of Mr. Mirisch to voice his opinion publicly, and even vehemently. Yet, one hopes that one of our city's more prominent leaders would engage in productive conversations with Metro instead of insulting other commentators on chat boards. John Mirisch is an accomplished executive, and undoubtedly an eloquent writer. One would hope he'd have better things to do than post comments on patch.com where he demeans himself and his city by stooping to name calling and hyperbolic false alarms.

Shlomy Kattan, a resident of Beverly Hills and an alumnus of BHHS, received his Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Berkeley, and recently left The Boston Consulting Group to start an educational technology company.

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Do you agree with the writer? Tell us in the comments section below.

Want to submit your own letter to the editor or opinion piece? Email it to saraf@patch.com (Westwood-Century City Patch) or mariec@patch.com (Beverly Hills Patch). 

Jody Litvak June 28, 2012 at 03:47 PM
Further, Terry - In the past you have contacted me privately if you believed anyone associated with Metro was acting inappropriately on this matter. If you have any evidence that any Metro employee or consultant is doing so, please let me know and, if appropriate it will be addressed. However, Metro employees and consultants are free to opine on this or any other matter as private citizens as long as they do so off of company time and from their own computers. Jody Litvak Metro Westside Subway Extension
centurycitysubway.org June 28, 2012 at 04:15 PM
@ Simon: That's pretty funny coming from you given the fact that you are the one that has repeatedly challenged the veracity and sincerity of my posts because of my affiliation as a consultant to the BHUSD. I have no obsession with your identity, but since you raised questions about my motives, I thought it would be only fair to try get on an level playing field with you by find out your affiliation and agenda, because it is obvious you have one. You already know who I am, but here's a little more about me: I grew up in Beverly Hills only a few blocks from Century City; I graduated from BHHS and El Rodeo; I've worked in Century City for more than 15 years and I currently work for Sitrick And Company, a Century City PR firm that was retained by the BHUSD to help educate the public about this important issue. I personally believe that Metro is not being objective or unbiased by choosing the Constellation station location and that the Parsons Brinckerhoff studies were intentionally slanted in favor of Constellation. I've also seen first hand numerous instances of misinformation spread by Metro and other Constellation advocates, including those being funded by JMB Realty. But enough about me, how about you? What's your role in this matter and why are you so passionate about locating the subway at Constellation? You clearly are involved at a high level.
centurycitysubway.org June 28, 2012 at 04:18 PM
@ Simon: There are no lies coming from me. The BHUSD has not raised any objections about any other subway stations. It has been consistent in its approach in arguing that SM/AOS would make a better location because, according to Metro's own data, it would have a higher ridership, be $60-100 million less to build and it would be faster. If you don't believe me you can check our website for yourself at www.centurycitysubway.org. (For the record, we don't represent the City of Beverly Hills and make no representations about the allegations made in their CEQA complaint.)
centurycitysubway.org June 28, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Thanks, Jody. I appreciate you weighing in on this and your continued professionalism. One clarification for the record: Does your representation extend to Metro Board members and their staff?
JT June 28, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Century City: The same old statement, a weak argument, and repetition doesn't improve it. John Mirish: The idea that BHHS needs to preserve its ability to function is certainly valid. And part of its ability to function is associated with land (surface and subsurface) that will be needed. However, the question is what is realistic? Do you (and the school board) really think that you can clearly forsee educational facility needs for "centuries to come". Does your vision of the future include an increase in the number of students driving cars to school and requiring massive underground parking and classrooms? Is it more likley that the future will bring less cars, more mass transit, and more telecommuting and remote education? Perhaps a more clear (and reasonable) vision of the future educational needs would help find a win-win solution with Metro. I just don't see why BHHS and Metro can't get together on a solution for going under the HS without restricting future development and with little or no right-of-way cost. Then we are left to figure out how much the tunnel right-of-way is worth for the various residential properties along the way; will it be minimal (for subsurface space that will never be used), or will those affected essentially "hit the lotto".
deb levi June 28, 2012 at 06:10 PM
As an Iranian American woman I cannot believe Mr. Mirisch would equate the Metro issue to the turmoil in Iran. In addition, did he really refer to a female blogger with the quote "Oh, BHHS Mom, I love it when you talk dirty." Mr. Mirisch is demeaning to the Iranian community and Beverly Hills Moms. This is shameful for the Vice Mayor of the City of Beverly Hills. Who elected this guy?
Jody Litvak June 28, 2012 at 09:01 PM
Terry: In my official capacity, I represent the agency. If you want to know about the views of our Board members or their staff, including whether they are posting here under assumed identities, you should contact their press deputies directly. As a seasoned PR professional, I assume you already knew that but thanks for providing the opportunity for me to clarify for others. Jody Litvak Metro Westside Subway Extension
cutop June 29, 2012 at 12:31 AM
Maybe you can't build a high-rise safely in that area. Maybe Westfield is doing it anyhow. My point is that you're making a lot of conjecture based on fields in which you don't even have minimal expertise. It's all too easy to poke hole in your argument. If this is what you're going to court with... the "other crap exists" line of reasoning ... the one-agency-approved-an-above-ground-structure-so-why-can't-another-agency-approve-an-underground-structure argumentation... well, it's flimsy and BH will lose. You are making an apples-and-oranges comparison based on a weak knowledge of the subject area. And your assumptions about Metro's motivations are specious at best. Your position is formed by connecting too many dots and taking too many leaps. Instead of forming a solid argument, it comes off like a conspiracy theory. If you are going to spend millions of dollars of mine and my neighbors' tax dollars, please tell me that you have stronger argument with which to go to court.
cutop June 29, 2012 at 12:47 AM
Mirisch, if you go back a few months (http://bit.ly/LHkfyo, http://bit.ly/LHkfyo) you will find us having this conversation on Patch where I told you to drop the fabricated safety hysteria and instead focus on working out a deal with Metro to pay for any subway tunnel mitigation construction costs which BHHS might need during the proposed expansion/renovation. I warned you to work out a deal before you burned all of our bridges with Metro. I feel that you and BHUSD (and the Courier) have spoiled any goodwill which Metro could have shown us through insults and invective. I am glad that you're now on the "it's okay to dig under BHHS so long as Metro helps cover tunnel mitigation cost for future construction" train. And it seems that you've dropped the safety rhetoric from your argument. Good. I am happy to have you aboard. I just worry that it's too late. I feel that we could have struck such a deal with Metro well before it came to two lawsuits and burning through millions of your constituency's tax dollars.
centurycitysubway.org June 29, 2012 at 01:07 AM
Cutop: You are ignoring the fact that the DSA and the CGS would have to be a part of any deal and sign off on all future construction over the subway tunnel. The DSA has never approved of construction over a subway tunnel, so the BHUSD is deali with a lot of unknowns. It is a real wild card that many people including you and Metro don't seem to understand or even acknowledge.
Warner June 29, 2012 at 01:23 AM
Building on Santa Monica Blvd is not the best choice. Not only is it unsafe but more expensive due to the extra earthquake reinforcement sharper tunnel curves and added length to mileage costing billions more to tax payers. BHSD must drop this suit. Constellation is an excellent location for it's close proximity to job centers, the mall, residents, bus terminal, etc.
cutop June 29, 2012 at 01:24 AM
"have never approved" and "would never approve" are two different concepts entirely. Don't be such a defeatist. You're in PR. Sell it to them. Let's make it happen. It seems now that this debate is all about future construction at BHHS. What was with all of the subterfuge about safety? I still contend that this is truly about the Southwest Homeowners Association; the first punches thrown in this fight came from them and it began as being about protecting their property values. They created the wedge issue of children's safety, then slunk into the background. But if this is now all about future construction at BHHS... well, let's be honest about that. Getting government dollars for subway mitigation costs is a battle that I can get behind.
Warner June 29, 2012 at 01:26 AM
No matter what race will always be a factor in transportation projects.
centurycitysubway.org June 29, 2012 at 01:39 AM
Cutop: Like I said earlier, we are dealing with a lot of unknowns. The BHUSD has been pretty consistent with trying to convince Metro that SM/AOS would make a better option, that the construction issues are a major concern and to raise the point that the safety concerns can only be mitigated and cannot be eliminated. But there are many other opinions and voices in BH, including various factions on the City Council, former council members, the PTA, civic organizations and the Courier and the BH Weekly, to name a few. Even though they all seem to agree that the subway tunnel under BHHS would be a very bad thing, it is unreasonable to expect that they would all agree on what is the best approach to prevent it from happening. Hence there have been mixed messages and arguments conveyed throughout.
Iranian BH Resident June 29, 2012 at 02:07 AM
John Mirisch continues to act in a selfish, childish manner and completely ignores all the facts and rational statements made by all the educated commentors, who have actually read the data, reports, evidence, etc. All he can do is go back to his old tired arguments, yet ignore the fact that the BHHS tunnel will be completely safe and is the best choice for everyone, including Beverly Hills. Mirisch, you don't build a subway station next to a golf course - did they not teach you that in Sweden or Germany or France or China or any other country you've been to (hence your claim to being a transit expert)? We have world renowned experts telling us it's NOT SAFE to build on Santa Monica and yet, like a child, John Mirisch refuses to accept the pure hard facts. Mirisch, be prepared for a very tarnished legacy. Enjoy wasting millions of dollars fighting a useless fight - you will lose, LA and BH will get an efficient subway (with a station on Constellation) and you will forever be remembered for this ridiculous battle against science.
Iranian BH Resident June 29, 2012 at 02:09 AM
Also, you have managed to infuriate the Iranian-American community in Beverly Hills - get ready for the terrible consequences (for you and any political career you hope to have here). Beverly Hills: we must fight to build the subway as quickly as possible and in the SAFEST location that will attract the most use.
centurycitysubway.org June 29, 2012 at 02:16 AM
Your contentions are wrong. According to Metro's own studies as documented in the Draft EIR, a station at SM and Avenue of the Stars would be closer to more office space m have higher ridership, be $60-100 million less and would be faster. You can see links to these FACTS at www.centurycitysubway.org.
cutop June 29, 2012 at 02:22 AM
I guess all I can do is thank you for you honesty about the safety issue. Under no circumstances can safety concerns be completely eliminated. Like you said, there is always the unknown to deal with. That said, Metro and BH's experts have shown us that it is safe within all reason – that there is either no active faults or that the existing fault can be mitigated; that methane gas concerns can be mitigated; that undocumented oil wells can be mitigated. As for the city, I've seen how the anti-Constellation message was sold to them. Plain old fear mongering. But again, I saw early on where this originated from: the Southwest Homeowners Association in effort to deflect accusations of NIMBYism created this wedge issue. And how could a public official or local newspaper stand against that. Once enough citizens bought into the cries of "the children, the children", public officials and newspapers had to cave... else face the charge that they don't care about the safety of our children. If the children's safety wedge issue was your handiwork, kudos on a PR job well done. But let's be honest. This has never been about safety. I've noticed that you and Mirisch have dropped the safety line from your recent argumentation, and are now opting to just stick with "the subway will jeopardize BHHS expansion". Well it's not nearly as sexy as "child endangerment", but that tune already seems to have done its purpose. I guess now you're moving onto what is actually defensible in court.
Joe Parker June 29, 2012 at 03:48 PM
I trust that those reading this blog have the insight to understand that those posting as "Iranian BH Resident" and "Angry Beverly Hills Resident" are bloggers paid to discredit John Mirisch who has valiantly presented sound arguments (with humor) on why Metro is wrong and how Metro is politically driven. These bloggers are attempting to throw up a smoke screen to hide the real issues. Sorry JMB. These tactics might work in Chicago, but they don't work here. The community of Beverly Hills, as well as Los Angeles, should be grateful that Mr. Mirisch has taken the time to present the facts in a logical manner that we all can understand.
deb levi June 29, 2012 at 04:22 PM
Mr. Parker, are you assuming that those who are Iranian cannot have an independent mind and are being paid to discredit John Mirisch for his negative comments regarding the Iranian community in BH and his sexist comment "Oh BHHS Mom, I love it when you talk dirty". I for one am a BH resident and am NOT on the subway payroll. I don't know who JMB is but your defense of Mr. Mirish's comments is scary. We can all agree to disagree on issues, but we should ALL speak respectfully. Mr. Mirisch's ethnic slur and sexist slur and your defense of such as simple "humor" is sickening.
centurycitysubway.org June 29, 2012 at 04:48 PM
"Iranian Resident": Constellation consists of blocks that dead end at Century Park East and Century Park West. It is not as good a location as you and Metro make it out to be. Santa Monica Blvd., which is less than 1000 feet away from Constellation, is a better location because, among other things, it has a border on only one side (the golf course ), and it is a major thoroughfare that opens it up to riders outside of Century City. With regard to safety, the "world renowned experts" that you reference are basing their peer review studies on flawed data and information provided by Parsons Brinckerhoff, a construction and consulting firm that stands to make hundreds of millions dollars for their work on this project. Parsons Brinckerhoff has been routinely criticized for past flaws and manipulations related to the California High Speed Rail project, Boston's “Big Dig” fiasco and the Metro Red Line disaster. Numerous experts have pointed out the many flaws in their studies and conclusions, but Metro is refusing to consider any other data or opinion regarding the route to Century City. That is why the City of Beverly Hills and the BHUSD were forced to file lawsuits.
Warner June 29, 2012 at 08:00 PM
Joe Parker. I am a Los Angeles resident and no I am not grateful for his protest, rather heated would be proper for me.
Warner June 29, 2012 at 08:18 PM
Centurycitysubway, keep in mind this subway had been studied long before your firm came aboard.when a final proposal and alignment was chosen thats when the safety of the high school was challenged. Prior to that race, funding, and closed minded politicians kept the subway at where it terminates today. Now that we have a green light to dig, now were stuck with closed minded individuals again. The red line goes underneath a lake, through an earthquake fualt, and under countless expensive property's with out issue, and yet despite proven fact and safety your going to still say no go. Sad
centurycitysubway.org June 29, 2012 at 08:47 PM
Warner: The BHUSD would have no objections and there would be no lawsuits if the station was going to be located on Santa Monica Blvd (or anywhere else that avoids tunneling under the high school). You say that stations can be put anywhere, so if that is the case it shouldn't be impossible to locate it on SM. To your point about the reasons for the dispute, it is very disapointing that you, and others, continue to ignore the fact that BHHS needs to be modernized and that all construction must be approved by the DSA and the CGS. The DSA has never before approved construction of a school building above a subway tunnel; let alone one that exists in an earthquake zone. There is nowhere else to locate a high school in Beverly Hills, so what would the community do if the DSA refuses to allow construction over the tunnel? Would BHHS be stuck with the current buildings for eternity, or would they be forced to shut down the school? No one knows the answer and that causes valid concern for the community. The bottom line, Warner, is that you and many others do not fully grasp the issues and concerns and that you are unfairly attempting to play the race/class card to argue against BH. We urge you to learn more about the facts by visiting www.centurycitysubway.org, or by conducting your own unbiased research into the issues and concerns raised by the BHUSD.
Joe Parker June 29, 2012 at 09:23 PM
@deb levi I do NOT assume that "those who are Iranian cannot have an independent mind and are being paid to discredit John Mirisch." I'm just encouraging readers to question whether those who have suddenly surfaced in these particular articles are indeed who they claim to be. If you click on your name on the top of your post you will see where you have posted before. Note: I did not include your name in my list. I saw that you made a valid point on another article and I don't question what you wrote. JMB is a large reality company based in Chicago that owns real estate on Constellation Avenue and that has pushed for the subway station to be at that location. They have contributed substantially to the campaigns of many of the Metro board members. If you click on John Mirisch's name, you will find more information. I'm not saying that what Mr. Mirisch writes is always humorous and I'm not defending his words. I'm just pointing out that a powerful company might be taking advantage of some questionable words of his to discredit all of what he has written or will write in the future. That would be disservice to the community.
Warner June 29, 2012 at 09:31 PM
First I never stated you can put a stations anywhere. The city of BH has open space along Santa Monica Blvd near the border of West Hollywood. I'm going by facts to and if your like the rest of us who are frustrated with the lack of a class one transit system because of all the protest you be upset too. You clearly missed my point that we have the modern technology to co exist subways and buildings. BHHS needs to understand compromise. Not necessarily do they need to construct underground for there parking garage. They can always built on top. But again if concerns over a subway and parking garage can exist then I highly recommend you take a look at Hollywood and Highland!!! Large underground parking mix with the subway and with a huge structure above ground....BHHS is nothing but a joke compared to the major feats accomplished.
centurycitysubway.org June 29, 2012 at 09:43 PM
Warner: You continue to ignore the issue with the DSA and the CGS, which approve all school construction projects in California. The fact that you or Metro say that they can build is completely irrelevant. BHHS can't install new lockers without the DSA's approval. BHHS modernization plans, which are being funded by a voter approved bond measure, include the potential for building new classrooms directly above the proposed subway route that will have have a ceiling approximately 40 feet under the school. Hollywood and Highland is not subject to the strict requirements of the Field Act and does not need approval from the DSA or the CGS, so it is an irrelevant comparison. As far as your suggestion to move the school, the strip of land near West Hollywood that you reference is not large enough to house a high school, among other things.
cutop June 29, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Beyond that, Warner, the subway won't be reaching BHHS for at least 10 to 15 years... IF everything stays on schedule. BHUSD has $300 million in bond money specifically allocated for school construction. With that much time and that much money, we could construct any number of incredible improvements before the first UBM shows up on the scene.
Warner June 30, 2012 at 12:22 AM
True...
LAofAnaheim July 02, 2012 at 07:27 PM
Actually, JMB will make less with a Constellation choice than a SM boulevard choice. So maybe BH is tied with JBM? Here are the facts presented by LA Streetsblog: http://la.streetsblog.org/2012/05/15/fact-check-there-is-no-38-7-million-payout-to-jmb-realty-in-westside-subway-plans/

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