Subway Facts & History: Metro responds to errors in Beverly Hills Courier and allegations by Beverly Hills school district

The above slide is from a presentation given by exerts to the Metro Board Planning Committee on Wednesday. Click above for a larger image.

On Oct. 21 and 28, the Beverly Hills Courier published six news and analysis articles about the two reports Metro released last month on seismic and tunneling issues affecting the Westside Subway Extension project in the Beverly Hills, Century City and Westwood areas (Oct. 21 edition and Oct. 28 edition; both are pdf files and an email address is required to open).

The Courier articles included significant errors, misleading statements and omissions.

In addition, Beverly Hills Unified School District President Lisa Korbatov earlier this week posted online a letter to community members that contained incorrect information, as well as untruthful allegations about Metro.

In order to correct the record for residents and policymakers alike, here are responses from Metro about information in the reports:

COURIER: The Courier wrote that “The major fallacy of the Report is its conclusion that a subway station on Santa Monica Blvd would be “unsafe” but a station barely 150 feet away would be “safe.”

Metro’s response: The Constellation station site is more than 1,100 feet from the proposed Santa Monica Boulevard station. No evidence of fault rupture was found at or close to the Constellation site.

The purpose of the study was to locate areas of potential ground surface rupture and deformation, which is usually limited to the area immediately near active fault zones.

Earthquakes on the Santa Monica or Newport Inglewood fault zones could result in ground rupture — called “fault displacements” — at ground level or just below. Subway stations are two-story structures up to 1,000 feet in length and designing such a station to withstand ground ruptures without significant damage and loss of life is both impractical and without precedent.

The level of damage could require a complete rebuilding of the station and nearby tunnels — which could take several years. No subway stations in North America have been designed to tolerate active fault zones and their associated potential ground displacements.

This differs from ground shaking that occurs over a wide area during an earthquake. The subway stations and tunnels will be designed to withstand shaking, and there are special construction techniques available to reinforce the tunnels in the short distances where they must cross active fault zones.

COURIER: The Courier wrote that the new report may doom new construction along Santa Monica Boulevard and that the report calls into question any construction between Beverly Hills and the ocean, as well as high-rise development along Santa Monica Boulevard.

Metro’s response: The report provides technical data on the location and nature of the fault zones in the study area only and does not comment on the results of the findings – other than with respect to Metro’s subway project.

Based on the new information, the State of California will determine if the area qualifies as an Alquist-Priolo zone that would require local building departments to limit some types of development.

It is important to stress that both reports were prepared for purposes of planning the Westside Subway Extension and will be used in the preparation of the final environmental impact document for the project. All government agencies and private property owners can access and review the content with appropriate professional staff and/or consultants and decide if the information is needed for their own purposes.

Neither Metro or the Courier is in a position to advise other agencies or property owners on how to apply the information in these reports.


COURIER: The Courier wrote that Metro’s report “admits tunnel noise violates state levels” under Beverly Hills High School.

Metro’s response: There are no state regulations pertaining to noise and vibration from the subway. The agency used the applicable criteria from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to evaluate and predict noise and vibration levels from Metro trains operating under the school.

Based on ground testing, ground-borne vibration under classrooms is predicted to be 63 decibels — well under the FTA threshold of 75. Ground-borne noise in classrooms is predicted to be 33 decibels; the FTA threshold for schools is 40 decibels.

It is important to note that noise and vibration are measured independently and adding the decibels from noise and vibration together — as the Courier did — does not provide an accurate prediction of either noise or vibration.

California state standards do not include noise level limits for classrooms.

However, the 2009 Edition of the California Criteria for High Performance Schools Best Practice Manual has recommendations for maximum noise levels in classrooms from things such as heating and air conditioning systems and outside noise. The manual recommends that classrooms have no more than 45 decibels of noise from those sources and says a more ideal level is 35 decibels.

Again, the ground-borne noise from the Westside Subway is projected by Metro to be 33 decibels.

It’s also worth mentioning that Metro has not received any substantiated complaints to date about noise or vibration from trains using existing Red/Purple Line subway tunnels or the Gold Line tunnel under Boyle Heights.

SCHOOL DISTRICT: In her letter to the community, BHUSD President Lisa Korbatov wrote that Metro went to court to withhold information from the school district and that Metro “continues to withhold geotechnical data and test results that formed the basis of the Metro reports. This will force the Beverly Hills Unified School District to waste money and time replicating work already done by Metro.”

Metro’s response: In maintaining its commitment to full disclosure of final documents, Metro released the final reports to the public after the data had been fully analyzed, the reports edited and everything had been checked and reviewed by outside engineers and scientists. All raw data associated with the reports is available on-line to those who want to review it — and the school district has been informed of that.

Earlier this year, the school district had filed a petition in Los Angeles Superior Court in an attempt under the California Public Records Act to force Metro to release data collected for the seismic and tunneling reports before the reports were complete.

In September, a Superior Court judge ruled that Metro did not violate the California Public Records Act. The judge wrote: “A review of the verified Petition, however, fails to identify which items on Petitioner’s series of requests remain outstanding. Therefore, it is virtually impossible for Metro to counter the allegations. And, even worse, it makes it impossible for the Court to determine whether Petitioner’s claims of non-production are, in fact, correct.”

COURIER: The Courier said that Metro’s reports are tainted and that “no engineers reviewed or commented to the study.”

Metro’s response: In addition to Metro’s engineers and consulting engineers at Parsons Brinckerhoff and AMEC, a number of pre-eminent engineers were involved in preparation and/or review of the report’s findings. These engineers included Dr. Harvey Parker, Dr. Ed Cording, Dr. Paul Jennings, Dr. Tom O’Rourke and Dr. Geoff Martin. Biographies of these experts were posted on Metro’s web site on October 19th.

COURIER: The Courier wrote that Metro’s reports did not discuss the area along Santa Monica Boulevard between Century Park East and Avenue of the Stars.

Metro’s response: Two major fault systems, the Santa Monica Fault and the West Beverly Hills Lineament, converge in this geologically complex area. Fault rupture and deformation in this zone can’t be precluded. In addition, the area is not long enough to build a station.

COURIER: The Courier writes that a new fault could slice through the Constellation station.

Metro’s response: Metro has investigated active fault zones that are hundreds of feet wide and that have occurred over time scales of hundreds of thousands of years. No faulting was found to have occurred in the area where the Constellation station would be located.

Furthermore, experience has shown that new faults are not likely to suddenly appear away from existing fault zones. Thus, structures in earthquake country are designed to avoid areas where there have been past ruptures in active fault zones.

COURIER: The Courier wrote that the Metro seismic report “purports to locate a series of unmapped faults along the Santa Monica Fault and West Beverly Hills Lineament on the proposed subway route.”

Metro’s response: The fault zones located in Metro’s investigation were not previously unmapped and are not new. They have been shown for some time on California Geologic Survey maps but had not been investigated in this area.

However, the Metro studies used underground testing to identify new information about those fault zones in this area. Detailed information about earthquake fault zones is difficult to obtain since much of the evidence is underground. It’s even more difficult in an area that has been paved over and developed.

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10 replies

  1. I appreciate the fact that Metro responded to the reports from the Beverly Hills Courrier and the school district on the misinformation they both provided. It is quite obvious that both parties are strongly opposed to the Westside Subway project and will even go to great lenghts to mislead people about it. This is unfortunate, and it is quite saddening that a newspaper was involved in it as well as media have a obligation to provide accurate and unbiased information to the public. Regardless of the extent of their opposition to the Westside Subway project, it will eventually fail like what had happened to the opponents of the Expo Line.

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  2. “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”

    Thanks for your fact-based approach. Sorely needed.

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  3. I am pleased to see Metro is dispelling the misinformation that has unfortunately been haphazardly published. People should realize that Metro and the geotechnical engineers have gone to extraordinary lengths to fully investigate the faulting issues and vet the information through some of the best experts in the field before publishing and releasing all data publicly. This is such a serious issue that they can’t afford to not do it right. Information about general fault locations in this area have been publicly available since the 1970s when the Alquist-Priolo act was passed and extensive studies were funded. This project just happens to highlight this fact in more detail than some people want to know.

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  4. Thank you Steve. If I were a resident of Beverly Hills, I would be embarrassed about the extent to which the Courier and even School District Officials are willing to go to defeat a project that has broad support, is fully funded and will dramatically improve mobility for everyone in Central and West Los Angeles.

    I just hope the truth (and cooler, rational minds) will prevail in this debate. Also, way to go Professor Dolan! Your earthquake engineering class rocks (no pun intended).

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  5. I guess we’ve all gotten used to a certain amount of soundbites and misleading statements but if the Courier actually added two dB measurements together, that would be nothing short of scientific fraud and they should be called out on that.

    Decibels are on a logarithmic scale which means each 10-point increase represents energy level that are twice as large. A 50-dB sound is 10 times as loud as a 40-dB sound. Adding the two figures together would be like saying that two 4.0 earthquakes released the same amount of energy as an 8.0.

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  6. In the previous comment I meant to say that that 10-point increase in dB represents a 10-fold increase, not two-fold. Thanks.

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  7. Why argue? Avoid Beverly Hills altogether. Run the subway south at Fairfax to Pico, then connect to Century City south, and angle up to Westwood, and finally over to the 405. This could put the Expo line Westwood station within a mile of a Purple line Century stop, and provide some north/south mobility for an area very much in need of it.

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