A rendering of a car in one of Musk’s proposed tunnels.

Test tunnels for the “Loop” would be exempt from environmental analysis

A City Council committee is set to vote Wednesday on a proposal to expedite Elon Musk’s plans to drill tunnels under Sepulveda Boulevard.

The public works and gang reduction committee will consider a motion from Los Angeles City Councilmember Paul Koretz, who represents the Westside, to exempt Musk’s plans from environmental analysis.

Musk’s Hawthorne-based The Boring Company wants to drill a 2.7-mile “proof of concept” tunnel beneath Sepulveda Boulevard on the Westside, roughly from Pico Boulevard to Washington Boulevard.

The tunnel would be used as a testing ground for Musk’s “Loop” system, a series of underground tubes for cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Musk claims pods would speed through the tunnels at speeds of up to 150 mph, easing traffic in Los Angeles.

“It sounds like they can do it really fast, a lot faster than anything else that anybody else has done,” says Alison Simard, a spokesperson for Koretz.

Koretz is trying to exempt the project from California’s Environmental Quality Act. The keystone environmental law requires large construction projects to undergo exhaustive environmental analysis, and experts say it poses one of the biggest hurdles to the tunneling project.

In many cases, CEQA review can take years. For example, environmental analysis for Metro’s 1.9-mile Regional Connector took 2 years and 8 months.

Should the public works and gang reduction committee sign off on Koretz’s motion, it would still have to go before the entire City Council for a vote.

But there’s confusion over whether the city of Los Angeles can even dole out a CEQA exemption for Musk’s project.

In a letter to Musk, Metro CEO Phil Washington says Metro, not the city, has the final say on transportation projects in Los Angeles County.

“It’s important for you to know that based on Metro’s legal authority through state law, all plans proposed for the design, construction, and implementation of public mass transit systems or projects in Los Angeles County must be submitted to Metro for approval,” Washington wrote.

“I suggest that Metro and The Boring Company commit to cooperating through our respective planning and engineering efforts to ensure that our projects are compatible.”

Metro is planning its own transportation project for the Sepulveda corridor, which will one day link the Valley, the Westside, and LAX.

Juan Matute, associate director of the UCLA Lewis Center and the Institute of Transportation Studies, agrees with Metro.

He says he suspects that any analysis or exemption would require cooperation from Metro, the cities of Los Angeles and Culver City, and the LA County Flood Control District.

Several letters from the public submitted to the city of Los Angeles are critical of the proposed exemption.

“It would, in essence, sell off one of the most valuable underground rights of way in LA County to a private entity, potentially prohibiting, or vastly increasing the cost of, a major transit project,” Mehmet Berker, a cartographer, wrote.

An initial environmental analysis for Metro’s Sepulveda corridor has not yet been completed—and its alignment has not yet been determined—but a repeated concern is whether Musk’s tunnels might one-day conflict with Metro’s project.

“Environmental review can be a lengthy process. And I would see why if your MO is to ‘move fast and break stuff’ that you wouldn’t want to do that,” says Matute. “But, CEQA is designed to avoid using the ‘move fast and break stuff’ modus operandi for projects that affect the environment of California. That is its purpose.”

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