'Residents 1, Metro 0'
With Avenue 64 off the table, West Pas residents now say ‘no freeway anywhere’
By André Coleman 08/29/2012
Even after the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) last week took proposed plans off the table that would have extended the Long Beach 710 Freeway through their neighborhood, some local residents say the fight against the freeway remains far from over.
On Monday, homeowners from one affluent West Pasadena neighborhood said they oppose alternative plans by Metro and Caltrans to build a tunnel that would start in Alhambra and end in Pasadena, near Huntington Hospital.
“We want the 710 nowhere to be found,” San Rafael Neighborhoods Association (SRNA) Vice President and local businessman Robin Salzer told the Pasadena Weekly. “There is no financial benefit to this going anywhere through Pasadena. It never should have been proposed, and it never should have gotten this far.”
The association was created specifically to oppose two alternatives being considered by the two transit agencies. One called for the creation of two 4.5-mile tunnels, approximately 100 feet blow the surface of Avenue 64, a two-lane street that provides a southern route from Pasadena to Highland Park, Garvanza and other neighborhoods in northeastern Los Angeles.
The other plan called for turning the largely residential street into a six-lane highway from the 710 terminus in Alhambra to the Ventura 134 Freeway. Both options, if approved, would have ultimately led to the destruction of hundreds of area homes.
Last week, Metro narrowed the number of proposals for the extension from 12 to five, taking those two options out of the running. The remaining proposals include only one freeway route — the tunnel from Alhambra to Pasadena.
Other options still on the table include: creation of a light-rail route from East Los Angeles to South Pasadena; creation of a bus line from Alhambra to Pasadena via Fair Oaks Avenue; 50 traffic improvement projects; and encouraging ride sharing. The options will be examined as part of an environmental impact study currently being prepared by transit planners.
Metro staff was scheduled to discuss the options Wednesday at its technical advisory committee meeting in Los Angeles.
In an Aug. 23 statement, Metro attributed public opposition to the plans as one of the reasons the agency removed the proposed routes along Avenue 64 from consideration.
“Metro staff, working in conjunction with Caltrans, is recommending that the list of alternatives being studied for the SR 710 north-south connection from Alhambra to Pasadena be pared from 12 to five for further environmental study based on operational, engineering, financial and environmental considerations as well as public input,” according to the statement.
Salzer said the neighborhood was steadfast in its conviction to stop the extension. For several weeks, signs opposing the 710 extension plans were posted on the front porches and lawns of nearly every home in the affected neighborhoods.
“I said this would create a fury unlike anything ever seen in Pasadena, and it did,” said Salzer, who, along with his wife, former Councilwoman Ann-Marie Villicana, is relocating a historic home in an area of San Rafael in the path of the now-scuttled connector.
“The neighborhoods won. We took it to the streets,” said Salzer, who also owns Robin’s BBQ & Woodfire Grill. “It’s not completely over, but if I was scoring, I would say residents 1, Metro 0.”
Salzer was correct: Opposition to the Avenue 64 was virtually universal, unlike anything seen in Pasadena’s recent history. More than 300 angry residents attended a Town Hall meeting at the Church of the Angels in Pasadena last week, one day before Metro made its decision. Other meetings drew similar large turnouts, including an Aug. 13 Pasadena City Council meeting at the Pasadena Convention Center attended by more than 700 people — nearly all opposed to Metro’s plans.
That outrage continued simmering well into this week.
On Monday, El Sereno residents and members of the No 710 Action Committee showed up in full force at a Los Angeles City Council Transportation Committee meeting to protest the proposed extension. The committee voted unanimously to oppose any form of a freeway extension. The full LA City Council followed suit Tuesday.
“We are going to fight all the routes. We want to continue to work with surrounding communities like Glendale and Highland Park,” said San Rafael Residents’ Association President Ron Paler. “Everyone is affected negatively by any 710 Freeway extension. When your quality of life is in jeopardy and you find out about a freeway 12 weeks before a decision is made, this came out of the blue for the majority of people who never received notification from Metro or the city. We are awaiting the review of the final recommendations.”
Local politicians, however, are not waiting for the review. In published reports, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mike Antonovich called the Avenue 64 proposal senseless, adding that it never should have been on the table.
Last week, Assemblyman Anthony Portantino (D–La Cañada Flintridge) called for an end to the proposed 4.5-mile extension and an investigation into Caltrans, which, since the 1950s and ’60s, has owned more than 500 homes it seized through eminent domain in Pasadena, South Pasadena and the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno — all in the path of the original overland freeway connector route.
The overland route has long been shelved due to a lack of federal funding, and four years ago, local transit planners came up with the idea of building a tunnel to connect the 710 and the 210 freeways. Before the homes could be sold, Caltrans would have to first declare them surplus properties, which it has not yet done.
The Pasadena City Council and the South Pasadena City Council have both voted to support a bill that would force Caltrans to sell the homes seized for the freeway extension. Co-authored by state Sens. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Mike Gatto (D-Glendale), the bill would require Caltrans to sell more than 300 homes and use revenue from the sales for local transportation projects.
A small number of residents of the Caltrans-owned homes would be able to purchase the properties at below market rates, due largely to provisions of the Roberti Bill. Named for former state Sen. David Roberti, the law allows tenants inhabiting those dwellings to buy them at affordable rates. The tenant, in turn, would not be able to sell the home for at least 20 years.
The Weekly first began reporting on complaints by tenants living in those properties in a series of stories by author and reporter Chip Jacobs called “Corridor of Shame.”
An audit of the Caltrans homes by the California State Auditor found that, between July 2007 and December 2011, Caltrans lost $22 million in rent due to underpayment by tenants. The state agency had been charging tenants below-market rate rents. The report also found that Caltrans paid out $22.5 million for questionable repairs.
West Pasadena Resident Association President Bill Urban said he and his neighbors support LA’s efforts to stop the extension.
“We’re happier but we’re not quite happy,” Urban told the Weekly. “The tunnel would be a disaster for various reasons. The same residents that were fighting before will show up at the council meeting in Los Angeles to support the resolution the council is adopting. Metro thinks that everybody is going to go home, since Pasadena is off the table, but we are not going to go home.”