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Subway to the Sea moves forward, but Beverly Hills High tunneling unresolved

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The Metro board on Thursday decided to move forward with the Red Line subway’s $5.5 billion extension to Westwood. But the board did not make a decision on the project’s most contentious issue: Whether to dig a subway tunnel under Beverly Hills High School.

At a meeting overflowing with people and TV cameras, the board voted 11-1 to certify the final environmental impact report on the Westside Subway Extension and chose the route and stations for the first part of the line.

Stephanie Kimmick, who commutes from Echo Park to UCLA, was one of nearly 100 people who spoke during the public comment period before the vote.

"I support the Metro subway extension because it means expanded access for students, who cannot afford to live in Westwood and the surrounding communities," Kimmick said. "It will mean an ease of travel from east to west L.A. It will mean people who live and work on this route will be able to spend more time with their family and less time on their commute."

But after hearing contentious testimony from many angry parents and school officials from Beverly Hills, the board voted to allow a public hearing specifically devoted to the issue of tunneling under the high school before finalizing the last segment.

The Beverly Hills City Council had voted unanimously Sunday to request the public hearing, which must be heard wtihin 15 to 60 days.

"I am pleased that the Metro board listened to the city of Beverly Hills concerns and granted a hearing so that we have an opportunity to cross-examine their experts and also present our data that they have not had an opportunity and have not have yet looked at,"  said Brian Goldberg, president of the Beverly Hills Unified school board.

Beverly Hills councilman Julian Gold is one of those against the project. He argues that digging the tunnel would endanger kids.

"This is about science," said Gold. "It demands an answer— not a guess, not your preference, not a convenient solution. This demands a true answer to serious questions that have long range impact on [...] the future of our historic high school buildings."

The City of Beverly Hills and school district officials told the board they’d done more extensive studies of tunneling dangers that Metro hasn’t considered. The first section of those studies was submitted to Metro earlier this week and will need to be reviewed before Metro can respond, said Metro spokesman Dave Sotero.

The hearing, where this study will likely be parsed, is set to take place next month.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky and Metro board member told KPCC Wednesday that the hearing was "a blip" in the subway plans.

"It’s a blip, it’s a delaying tactic frankly," Yaroslavsky said. "There's nothing that’s going to be discussed at this hearing...that’s not going to be discussed in court when the city of Beverly Hills and the Beverly Hills school district challenge our environmental impact report. So to have a second trial, effectively, on the experts and to have dueling experts will be interesting, but it's not going to be fatal."

Tami Abdollah can be reached via email and on Twitter (@latams).

With contributions from AP

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