The Beverly Hills Unified School District Board of Education increased the workload of the Washington, D.C., law firm it hired to lobby the federal government to oppose the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s under Beverly Hills High School.
"We now have engaged Venable based on board direction to enter into a —a National Environmental Protection Act—challenge in federal court,” board President Brian Goldberg said after being asked at Tuesday's school board meeting about the Venable payment by colleague Noah Margo.
With a 4-1 vote, the board agreed to pay $132,062, considerably more than the firm’s existing $15,000 a month lobbying contract. The fee covers bills submitted earlier in August that represent about two-and-a-half months of work preparing for the NEPA challenge.
“Those funds are being paid for from because [the subway tunneling] is directly related to our ability to use Measure E funds to renovate [BHHS],” Goldberg said.
BHUSD will tap Measure E funds to pay $117,000 of the bill, while $15,045 will be paid from the district’s general fund. Measure E is the $334 million bond passed by Beverly Hills voters in 2008 to renovate the city's aging public schools. The Venable payment does not cover actual litigation of the NEPA case, which is pending.
The firm has been working for the district since April 2011 when it was initially paid $7,500 a month. Its monthly retainer increased to $15,000 a month in July 2011 with a lobbying contract that currently goes through Nov. 30, 2012.
The Venable payment was included in the board’s so-called consent calendar—items that do not require board discussion before a vote. Margo pulled the item from the consent calendar for discussion.
Margo asked how much in total the board had allocated for Venable to file the NEPA challenge. His colleague, Lisa Korbatov, said that the amount was discussed at the last closed session held for board members. Litigation is typically discussed during closed sessions.
Margo told Patch that he voted against the spending because he could not recall being given information about extending Venable’s contract to cover the NEPA legal challenge. He also did not remember being told the total budget allocated for Venable’s work on the matter.
“My issue is that I don’t remember seeing the paper trail in closed session,” Margo said. ““I very well may have seen it, but I don’t remember seeing it and I don’t like to vote for things without a paper trail.”
He noted that he requested district staff to provide the contracts and billing statements related to the Venable fee. Margo, who of the Venable lobbying contract, said that he knew the firm “has been working hard” on lobbying the federal government to withhold support of the subway route. The route is being built as part of the , which will expand the Purple Line subway from its current stop at Wilshire Boulevard and Western Avenue, through Beverly Hills and Century City, to a stop at the West Los Angeles VA Medical Center.
The board also approved a payment to Hill Farrer & Burrell LLP totaling $58,788, which came from Measure E funds. Hill Farrer lawyer is the lead attorney for the district in its legal fight against Metro. Last month the board to the firm totaling $418,213.