Gridlock on Avenue 64
West Pasadena and Highland Park residents call for a halt to plans for 710 freeway extension
By André Coleman 08/09/2012
One week before the Pasadena City Council was set to discuss a controversial freeway extension that could place a highway through the west side of town, dozens of angry residents from those neighborhoods packed community meetings in both Pasadena and adjacent Highland Park.
Over the past several decades, Caltrans has been planning ways to connect the Long Beach (710) and the Foothill (210) freeways. Since an overland route has been all but scuttled due to a lack of federal funding, officials with Caltrans and the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro or MTA) four years ago came up with plans to build 4.5 miles of twin tunnels connecting the two freeways at the end of the 710 in Alhambra to the 210 in the north.
In the latest plans to build the tunnel, Metro has come up with a number of “alternative” routes for the proposed connector route, one of which includes tunneling underneath parts of Avenue 64 through Highland Park and West Pasadena. Another plan proposes turning the residential street into a six-lane highway. Both options would include the destruction of hundreds of area homes.
All of Metro’s ideas so far have been panned by the powerful West Pasadena Residents Association — whose members have vowed to fight any proposal that would destroy their neighborhood — as well as Nat Read, a longtime supporter of the freeway connector.
West Pasadena residents have placed signs in yards and contacted elected officials, including US Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Glendale, and Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich, a member of the MTA board of directors whose supervisorial district includes Pasadena.
The council, which has been silent on the issue to date, was unable to take any action on the proposals at its meeting Monday because the matter was not on the council’s agenda. The council is expected to take up the issue at its meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Conference Center of the Pasadena Convention Center, 300 E. Green St.
“I encourage and challenge every one of you to come over to District 6 and walk around, not drive,” area resident Lori Mushigon told the council at its meeting last Monday. “And ask your constituents to do the same thing, so you can all see how you are destroying our city by not acting. While you are there, imagine if you were in our shoes and your home was being destroyed and your families were being uprooted.”
“I have been a resident for 12 years and I support the city in many ways, and so do thousands and thousands of others,” said Josh Siegel during the public comment portion of the council’s weekly session. “Now it is time for the city to support us. The 710 extension issue is disturbing for many reasons, but most disturbing is my fear that the city of Pasadena will not find a way to support its residents in opposition to these routes. The Pasadena we know and love will forever be changed by many of these alternatives.”
In Pasadena, residents were focused primarily on the well-being of their homes and neighborhoods.
In Highland Park, however, where about 250 people on Monday packed the Ramona Center around the same time the council was meeting in Pasadena, residents questioned the safety of the cargo coming through their neighborhoods as it headed to and from Long Beach and the Port of Los Angeles.
Metro, which sponsored the event in Highland Park, will host another meeting on the proposals on Aug. 29 in Pasadena.
“Once they have that meeting, that’s it,” said Pasadena resident Dean Stringfellow. “They plan to cover the five plans they have, and that means for the next three years, I can’t sell or borrow on my house. Once that meeting happens, it is over, the damage will be done, and our homes will be ruined.”
This isn’t the first time residents in West Pasadena have banded together to protect their neighborhood. In 2003, residents from that area opposed a proposal that would have allowed the National Football League to seize control of the Rose Bowl and build retail facilities around the stadium. The proposal was defeated after the residents threatened to recall Councilman Steve Madison, who cast the deciding vote against the NFL.
Almost 50 years ago, Caltrans seized hundreds of properties in Pasadena, South Pasadena and the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles through eminent domain to connect the freeways, but residents in South Pasadena fought back and were able to stop the plans. After funding fell apart, officials decided a 4.5-mile long tunnel underneath South Pasadena and Pasadena was the best idea.
Even after plans to build the surface route fell apart, Caltrans hung onto the homes and refuses even today to sell them. Earlier this year, the South Pasadena City Council demanded the sale of the properties in a letter to the Southern California Association of Governments.
But there may be some wiggle room. Measure A — which passed in 2001 — provided city support for a surface street extension, but not a tunnel. Further, that measure supported a connection between the 710 and the 210 freeways, not Route 134, which Metro’s proposal connects with in all of its plans along Avenue 64.
“Although Measure A precludes the council from adopting formal opposition to a surface freeway that extends from the 710 to 210, whether the same constraint applies to a tunnel alternative is a question that requires further study,” said Pasadena Mayor Bill Bogaard. “There is no doubt in my mind that the council would be free to direct opposition to the alternatives that connect with route 134,” Bogaard said.
Nonetheless, residents want to see more action.
“Imagine if you ended up being hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt because you have a worthless home, and not because you purchased something outside of your means, but because the government came in and took it away from you,” said Mushigon. “I have to be here to protect my home and protect my family and my neighborhood because, as I see it, you’re not doing anything right now.”