HEARTS of the CITY / Exploring attitudes and issues behind the news

A rotating panel of experts from the worlds of philosophy, psychology and religion offer their perspective on the dilemmas that come with living in Southern California.

Today’s question: Homeowners in the Runyon Canyon area are fighting plans by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to tunnel through the Hollywood Hills for the Red Line subway. They fear damage to their homes and loss of property values, despite MTA’s assurances. Others want more money before ceding underground property rights. Is it ethical for homeowners to put their interests before the larger community’s?

Sharon Presley

Executive director, Resources for Independent Thinking, Oakland


“The phrase ‘community good’ is often used to manipulate well-meaning people. Historically, what it has typically meant is the good of some in the community, as opposed to others, as decided by those in power. Ultimately there is only individual good, the sum total of which actually comprises the community good. If some individual rights, property or otherwise, can be abrogated for the convenience of some others (even a majority), then no one’s rights are safe. The homeowners have every moral right to say no to the MTA. Those who will accuse them of being selfish are the truly selfish. They want to take away something that belongs to someone else for their own benefit.”

The Rev. Ron Benefiel

Senior pastor, First Church of the Nazarene, Los Angeles

“It’s a judgment call. In order for society to work we all have to submit to the will of the whole. That means giving up a degree of our personal lives and liberties for the greater good. But one of the great things about our country is that the needs of the state are always held in balance by the rights of the individual. We should be willing to reimburse and protect homeowners as much as we are able to while still moving ahead with tunneling for the greater good. But ethical questions arise when people with greater resources are able to influence government decisions to the detriment of those with fewer resources.”

Rabbi Joel Rembaum

Senior rabbi, Temple Beth Am, Los Angeles

“There is precedent for the larger community to lay claim to private property. The principle of eminent domain has been used over and over again for that purpose, to build freeways, to build baseball stadiums, etc. The issue, I think, becomes a very pointed one because of the questions that have arisen with respect to the MTA’s ability to make accurate assessments of the impact that their work has had on neighborhoods. Witness the situation on Hollywood Boulevard. The MTA has an ethical claim, but because of the credibility problems the homeowners also have an ethical basis for their position. The MTA must make valid good-faith gestures to alleviate the concerns of homeowners.”