Los Angeles NIMBY Lawsuit Succeeds in Killing Off Elon Musk's Futuristic Transit Tunnel

Neighborhood groups had sued to stop Musk's Boring Company from digging a tunnel underneath wealthy neighborhoods in West Los Angeles.



Elon Musk's plans for a futuristic private transit system running underneath Los Angeles experienced a setback yesterday, becoming the victim—like so many aspiring projects that have come before it—of an environmental lawsuit filed by local NIMBYs.

On Tuesday, Musk's Boring Company announced that it had "amicably settled" a lawsuit brought by two Westside Los Angeles neighborhood groups, the Brentwood Residents Coalition and Sunshine Coalition, who had objected to the company's plans to dig a three mile "proof of concept" tunnel under Los Angeles' Sepulveda Boulevard.

That tunnel was supposed to serve as a test of Musk's solution for Los Angeles' "soul-destroying traffic"—a network of underground tubes in which pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists would be whisked along on motorized electric platforms.

The Boring company has already dug one such test tunnel near Musk's SpaceX headquarters in the Los Angeles-area city of Hawthorne, and is working on another mile-long tunnel to connect Los Angeles' Dodger Stadium with a nearby subway station.

In March, Los Angeles' Building and Safety Commission granted the Boring Company initial permits for the Sepulveda tunnel, and also exempted it from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA)—which requires projects go through extensive, expensive reviews that can take years.

This approval rankled a number of parties, including the aforementioned neighborhood groups, the government of Culver City —under which part of the Sepulveda Tunnel would run—and Metro, Los Angeles' county's transit authority, which had already been working on a project in the area.

All expressed concern that this test tunnel could potentially become part of a larger, private transportation network. While that's exactly what Musk is working toward, the publicly funded Metro has obvious reasons for undermining his work. But it's not just Metro who's opposed.

"We've decided to tax ourselves in order to pay for a system that serves us all. And to me this looks like competition for something that, you know, we know actually works," Culver City Councilmember Meghan Sahli-Wells is quoted as saying in an April 18 letter sent by the Brentwood Residents Coalition to the Los Angeles City Council.

Similar sentiments were expressed by Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole, who told the Los Angeles Times in May, "We'll have people stuck in traffic on the surface, and this miracle fast lane underground for the people who can afford it. It'll be toll lanes on steroids."

In short, whether the new system works or not, the fact that it's not government-run means it has to go.

That the Sepulveda tunnel might link up with future tunnels also presented a real legal problem, given that CEQA requires projects be evaluated in full, not chopped up into smaller developments that, by themselves, might be exempt from the law.

According to the Brentwood Residents Coalition lawsuit, the City of Los Angeles' actions "violate CEQA's express prohibition against piecemealing of project approvals by improperly defining the scope of the project as merely a 'proof of concept' tunnel" adding that the city and Boring had "improperly evaded performing adequate and thorough environmental review of a major transportation infrastructure project."

Tuesday's settlement means that a judge will not rule on the merits of this case, and that Boring's plans for a tunnel in the area are dead for the moment. Musk will have to find another way to demonstrate the economic and structural viability of a subterranean, private, mass transit system. He's already succeeded in demonstrating how difficult it is to build something transformative in the city of Los Angeles.

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  1. “Similar sentiments were expressed by Santa Monica City Manager Rick Cole, who told the Los Angeles Times in May, “We’ll have people stuck in traffic on the surface, and this miracle fast lane underground for the people who can afford it. It’ll be toll lanes on steroids.””

    We need to ban those limousines next, right comrade.

    1. As expected, socialists want everyone to be equally poor.

  2. New idea: Cannons. Compressed-air cannons firing padded 55-gallon drums, calibrated to fire a given weight a given distance. The customer is sealed inside the drum and sent through a machine that weighs the drum and automatically adds the necessary weights* to bring the drum up to the desired weight and loads it into the cannon. “FOOMP!”, off you go to the next station where you’re caught in a restraining net and the process is repeated station-by-station until you reach your desired destination. Can I get a kickstarter going for this or should I apply directly to the DOT?

    *If the customer weighs more than the target weight, they must have missed the “No Fatties” sign at the entrance. Alternatively, a 3-D spectroscopic body scan can recommend which organs the would-be passenger must allow to be harvested in order to bring his weight down below the threshold weight. Unless he’d like to pay a visit to the on-site liposuction clinic conveniently located next to the Kidneys-R-Us, just across from the Livers2Go kiosk.

    1. This idea actually exists in Secret of Mana. So you’re behind the times.

  3. a network of underground tubes in which pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists would be whisked along on motorized electric platforms.

    Isn’t his a subway?

    1. Isn’t his a subway?

      No, a subway has cars that are fully enclosed and somewhat intrinsically linked. The digitized cocktail napkins visions I’ve seen of Musk’s ideas are maybe better described or conceptualized as ‘floating platforms’.

      Assuming you don’t think the whole thing is hogwash to begin with. Honestly, from what I’ve seen/heard with Musk it’s borrowing from Peter to pay Paul until the project gets finished and, ultimately, won’t be much more effective and certainly not much cheaper than the alternatives. At least, not without subsidies.

      1. But now we’ll never know because of NIMBY

    2. like Jetsons. or Futurama.

      1. Conceptually, Jetsons. Realistically, Futurama.

  4. How does Los Angeles’ Building and Safety Commission get to grant exemption from the California Environmental Quality Act? Is this local government overriding state reviews?
    I realize this is only California, and LA at that, but for those of us who woke up and smelled the coffee and left LA in the early seventies, a bit of context would be helpful.

  5. In short, whether the new system works or not, the fact that it’s not government-run means it has to go.

    Yeah, this feels like a libertarian hill worth dying on.

    You distinctly skipped over the neighborhood groups who don’t want Musk drilling under their homes for what may be between bait-and-switch and a pipe dream.

  6. Anyone with money and a hare-brained transit idea should be able to dig up the street in front of my house for as long as they like. Got it.

    1. they’re not digging up your street, it’s completely underground, where the fuck have you been for the past 3 years this idea was being pitched?

  7. That’s too bad. It probably would have been physics that killed it off had they just let it be.

    1. Sure, after a tunnel had been dug under peoples homes, a tunnel which could collapse and create sinkholes.

      1. “We should never go to the moon because we might split it in half if something bad happens with the rocket” . You’re showing the double failure of NIMBY and being a luddite.

        1. You equate a purely imaginary/speculative risk with a real quantifiable risk. The hyperloop would never be completed, it’s not economically feasible. The collapse of an incomplete tunnel in an earthquake zone is a known and quantifiable risk.

  8. We’ve Some decided to tax ourselves others in order to pay for a system that serves us all a few.

  9. Maybe Greyhound Lines should be prohibited from running specific passenger bus routes that might draw paying customers away from other similar government funded transportation services, right? I mean who ARE Greyhound that THEY should operate a privetely owned and operated for profit service that certain people might actually USE, and that is NOT thought up, designed, constructed, and operated by, government?

    FASCISM defined: government control of private means of production. Much as I despise the man’s ethics, Musk has the RIGHT to spend his capital where and how HE pleases….. and can solicit the custom of whichever individuals he desires to sell his services to.
    So the dweebs of Culver City have condemned themselves to continue in the oppressive traffic conditions currently extant. There ARE no people more deserving of their fate. Did those who chose oxcarts as their preferred means of transport lobby against the railroads providing an alternate means of transport for goods and people? I rather think not. The railroads provided passage in four days what formerly took four months to two years to realise.

    1. Greyhound lines operate on already existing public roadways. What Musk is doing with the hyperloop is the equivalent of Greyhound deciding to build it’s own road for express service across other peoples private property.

  10. Why is it that Musk gives the impression of somebody who smokes primer herb while reading back issues of Popular Mechanics?

  11. You mean a subway. It was a sub-par subway that would have been stupidly expensive (have seen how much it costs to build a subway? There’s a reason it’s not done in most of even the largest cities) That would have been built with taxpayer and sucker money and never have a chance to break even.

  12. Shouldn’t that be NUMBY in this case?

    They prefer everyone cutting through their side street on Waze instead of whizzing by silently underground?

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