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The Westside subway and Beverly Hills 0-0-oh-no

November 1, 2010 |  6:12 pm

In politics, as the Watergate adage goes, to figure out the game, you follow the money.

In Los Angeles, you follow the traffic.

Of course, traffic is about money too, and that’s where Beverly Hills comes in – or opts out.

As my colleague Dan Weikel just reported, the 90210 town could be the fly in the ointment for the Westside subway extension.

From the sound of it, BH is sharpening its legal knives. Which is – thanks, Yogi – déjà vu all over again.

Once upon a time, there was a Beverly Hills Freeway on the state’s transportation drawing board. It was to be the great east-west link across Los Angeles. And as anyone who’s driven through Beverly Hills at rush hour knows, it didn’t happen.

BH says it’s concerned that a subway route might require tunneling under homes and Beverly Hills High School [I think the word "subway" pretty much encompasses the notion of "tunneling."]

And even if there is a subway, the closest stop to Beverly Hills would be in Century City – which is like all those real estate listings for houses boasting of being "Beverly Hills-adjacent."

Reading Weikel’s story sent me back into The Times' archives, to stories about the genesis of the BH Freeway in the late 1950s. The plan had the early support of a board of officials from cities in Los Angeles, Orange and Ventura counties. It had the blessing of the L.A. City Council, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and the state; at one point, even Gov. Ronald Reagan backed it – or at least he didn’t stop it.

[Poignantly, L.A. City Council member and future county Supervisor Ed Edelman argued for spending some gas tax money for rapid transit instead, concerned as he was that "auto fumes will choke us to death someday."] 

And then … and then …

The push-back began. There were petitions from BH residents to put the freeway underground, a "cut-and-cover tunnel," as it was called. [BH evidently liked the tunnel idea back then]. There were studies aplenty. The city insisted that there would be no freeway ramps in Beverly Hills itself; you could only drive on or off the freeway at the city limits, not in the city itself. Gossip columnist Hedda Hopper covered the indignant BH celebrities who wrote $100 checks and organized a "mass meeting" to stop the freeway. "Steal their girls, beat them at poker, take away their star billing," Hopper wrote, "but invade their homes and you’ve got a fight."

Nothing ever came of it. The BH Freeway got talked to death. Over the course of 20 years, it got studied, analyzed, meetinged and redesigned, polled and compromised into a faded line on a planner’s map.

Maybe it was a good thing, the no-go BH Freeway. But this time, it's different -- and the  same. Fifty-plus years later, subway planners should learn those history lessons lest they be repeated. And this time it’s the Westside subway at issue, something that could serve the city far better in the long run than another freeway might have, and something that also touches on Edelman’s wistful worry about L.A.’s lungs – or could, if this time Beverly Hills can see its way clear to let it.  

-- Patt  Morrison

 

 

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