The Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education agreed Tuesday to a six-month extension of its with a Washington, D.C., law firm hired to lobby the federal government in opposition to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s under Beverly Hills High School.
The board approved the extension, at a total cost of $90,000, at the same meeting in which it debated potential budget cuts for the next school year. The item was initially part of the board’s consent calendar—items that do not require a separate vote—but it was pulled for further discussion at the request of board member Noah Margo, who voted against the extension.
“I do not find a solid reason to approve the contract at this time,” Margo said, noting that the MTA had already made its decision to route the under BHHS and litigation is pending. The BHUSD and the city of Beverly Hills have both filed to block the MTA’s plans.
The firm, Venable LLP, has been working for the BHUSD since April 2011. It was initially paid $7,500 a month, but its monthly retainer increased to $15,000 a month in July 2011. The contract has been extended several times since then.
“Now that the MTA has approved the final EIS/EIR [Environmental Impact Statement] for the project, things will be busy at the federal level for the next several months,” Scott Gluck, a senior attorney at Venable, wrote in a June 1 letter requesting a contract extention from June 1 to Nov. 30.
Gluck said the Venable needed to liaise with the Federal Transit Administration, which must approve the MTA project for “final design.” Venable also intends to monitor federal legislation under consideration “that will have a direct impact on the project including reauthorization of the Surface Transportation bill and federal appropriations measures.”
Board of Education president Brian Goldberg told Patch that the BHUSD still needs Venable because its contacts in Washington, D.C, could help the district’s legal challenge against the MTA.
“We are engaged in a National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) challenge, which requires lawyers familiar with the federal process and with an understanding of NEPA,” Goldberg said.
Margo, however, had a different view of how BHUSD funds should be spent on the MTA fight.
“We are now engaged in a local battle with the MTA that will consume an even larger portion of our future construction budget and I would like every dollar spent on this challenge to count,” he told Patch.