Jul 26, 2014
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Commentary: Subway Debate Turns Uncivil, Nasty

A Beverly Hills resident and BHHS alumnus says uncivil comments from Beverly Hills officials has tarnished the city's reputation.

Commentary: Subway Debate Turns Uncivil, Nasty

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Commentary submitted by Beverly Hills resident and Beverly Hills High School alumnus Shlomy Kattan.

Polarizing issues, by their very nature, bring out extremist views. Those opposed to abortion, for example, call doctors who perform these procedures and the women who undergo them "baby killers." Those opposed to government intervention in the economy nonsensically label Barack Obama "a NAZI communist." And in Beverly Hills, those opposed to the Constellation Boulevard alignment of the Westside Subway Extension liken L.A. Metro to the regime of Ayatolah Khomeini.

critiquing BHUSD's lawsuit against Metro on the grounds that it served no purpose other than to delay progress on a project that, as city officials agree, offers great environmental and economic benefits to residents and workers in Beverly Hills and the rest of the Westside. I questioned the School Board's premise in filing this suit by pointing out that Metro had adhered to due process in their debate of the issue and that BHUSD's assumption of dramatic student-population growth was faulty. Implicit in my comments was the suggestion that BHUSD and the Beverly Hills City Council would serve the best interests of city residents not by antagonizing the MTA, but by sitting down with Metro and hashing out a plan that would make sense to both parties.

I saw a need to publish this opinion because residents like me who support the expeditious construction of the subway extension—even one that tunnels under BHHS—have been, so far, conspicuously silent. In fact, that the majority of Beverly Hills residents I know—who represent a broad demographic and political spectrum—support this very alignment, suggests that the City Council and the more vocal residents of our community have hijacked this issue without listening to our side.

I expected City Council members to react to my commentary. Indeed, I want my representatives in local government to engage with residents. What I did not expect was for a civil debate to deteriorate into a fusillade of demeaning barbs fired by those elected officials. Comments made by Vice Mayor John Mirisch in response to my essay not only confirmed that city leaders are out-of-touch with the general population in their continued belief that Beverly Hills is an island unto itself, but also illustrated that the utter lack of civil discourse among the denizens of City Hall makes it impossible for our City to work with any other government agency.

Beverly Hills' elected officials have begun to depict the subway debate as a David and Goliath battle, where Beverly Hills is the little guy standing up to the big, bad Metro on behalf of all trod-upon communities. As Vice Mayor Mirisch noted in one of his comments to my article, "by challenging [Metro]…Beverly Hills will not only be standing up for itself, but also for other smaller communities who perhaps have neither the resources nor intestinal fortitude to resist the Metro machine." Yet, in talking to residents of other L.A. municipalities, the tide of public opinion is rising against such a stance. In fact, there is nothing more out-of-touch than the belief that the City of Beverly Hills can align itself with the little guy.

More disturbing than this disconnect between reality and perception, however, is the tactlessness and catachresis of Mr. Mirisch's words. Responding to comments made by an Iranian resident of Beverly Hills, the Vice Mayor wrote, "Should we assume that you embraced 'change' in Iran when Ayatollah Khomeini took over after years of the Shah's rule?" In a city with a large and growing Iranian population, such insensitivity is a slap in the face to Mr. Mirisch's own constituents. To bring up a national trauma that resulted in countless deaths and decades of oppression, one that directly affected the lives of many Beverly Hills residents who escaped Iran as refugees, and to liken that national trauma to a debate about a subway, is an insult not only to the Iranians residents of Beverly Hills, but to all its citizens.

I respect the right of Mr. Mirisch to voice his opinion publicly, and even vehemently. Yet, one hopes that one of our city's more prominent leaders would engage in productive conversations with Metro instead of insulting other commentators on chat boards. John Mirisch is an accomplished executive, and undoubtedly an eloquent writer. One would hope he'd have better things to do than post comments on patch.com where he demeans himself and his city by stooping to name calling and hyperbolic false alarms.

Shlomy Kattan, a resident of Beverly Hills and an alumnus of BHHS, received his Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Berkeley, and recently left The Boston Consulting Group to start an educational technology company.

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