The City Council voted 4-1 at Tuesday's study session to take no position on Measure J, a Nov. 6 ballot initiative sponsored by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority that would extend the Measure R half-cent sales tax until 2069 in an effort to expedite regional transit projects.
The decision came after a dozen public comments, more than two hours of council discussion and a half-hour recess during which Councilman Barry Brucker and Councilwoman Lili Bosse drafted a resolution on Measure J for the council to vote on. The wording of the resolution ended with the sentence, "The City Council and the City of Beverly Hills does not take a position in support of Measure J."
Mayor William Brien and Councilman Julian Gold joined Brucker and Bosse in voting for the resolution. Vice Mayor John Mirisch cast the dissenting vote.
"I think that not supporting something is not the same as opposing it," Mirisch said. "I think that's what we would have needed."
The discussion prior to the recess brought out many views from the council members. Gold was conflicted with the council taking a stance on a ballot initiative, and Bosse and Mirisch supported the idea of representing the community on the matter. Brucker said he wanted to have a resolution drafted before any vote was taken, while Mirisch said they could "simply say 'no.'"
Bosse suggested the council adopt the same language used by the Beverly Hills Unified School District in its resolution opposing Measure J, which passed unanimously at the Oct. 9 school board meeting. One project that would be expedited by Measure J is the Westside Subway Extension (WSE), an expansion of Metro's Purple Line subway, which calls for tunneling under Beverly Hills High School.
Both the district and the city have filed lawsuits against Metro in an effort to stop it from routing the WSE under BHHS, citing safety concerns and plans for future development at the campus. However, Brien sought to disentangle Measure J from the city and school board's pending litigation over the subway's placement.
"Metro has chosen the route. Measure J does not impact the route," Brien said. "Measure J is not a vote regarding the route. It's regarding accelerated funding for Metro projects throughout the entire county."
Representatives from the Beverly Hills PTA Council, Bus Riders Union, CORE California, Southwest Beverly Hills Homeowners Association and Beverly Hills Municipal League attended the meeting, along with some district parents and school board members, to request that the council take a stance against Measure J.
For some who spoke at the meeting, the conflict with Metro over the WSE remained raw.
"Before you take a vote on Measure J, you should review how Metro has treated this community," said PTA Council President Jennifer Terrell-Schwartz, referring to Metro's refusal to tunnel along Santa Monica Boulevard so the subway could avoid the BHHS campus. Metro contends that the safest way to pass through Beverly Hills en route to Century City is to go below BHHS, rather than Santa Monica Boulevard.
Board of Education member Lewis Hall, who said he was speaking as a private citizen and not a member of the school board, chastised the Metro Board of Directors for the way it has dealt with residents' concerns about the WSE.
"By saying no to Measure J, you are not taking a position against mass transit," he said. "What you are saying is that you are not ready to commit [billions] of your children's money to a Metro board that is arrogant, irresponsible, unreasonable and has demonstrated an utter lack of sensitivity to the community's needs."
Out of the 12 people who spoke during the public comment period, one came out in support of the measure.
"Measure J is not an issue of whether or not we should be tunneling under the high school," said A.J. Willmer, president of the Rotary Club of Beverly Hills, who was speaking as a private citizen. "Measure J is about whether we are going to affordably, for a generation or more, build this infrastructure cheaper and faster than we could without Measure J."
Editor's Note: The article has been amended to reflect that A.J. Willmer made his statement as a private citizen.