Proving they are a force to be reckoned with, opponents of the 710 Freeway extension filled the grounds outside Pasadena’s oldest church Wednesday night for an informational and organizing rally to protest MTA’s plans that threaten their neighborhoods.
Drawing a crowd of more than 400 people to the Church of the Angels on Avenue 64, San Rafael Neighborhood Association president Ron Paler urged the crowd to work to see the 710 extension proposal is “buried completely” once and for all.
Other speakers during the 90-minute rally included Claire Bogaard, wife of the Pasadena mayor; Bill Sherman, a South Pasadena Transportation Commissioner, and attorney John Shaffer who called the freeway plans a “20th century” solution to traffic congestion when “21st century” transit options are available that are less costly and more efficient.
“I want everyone here to remember that feeling you felt the day you learned that our neighborhood was in the path of this highway or freeway and don’t ever forget that feeling,” Shaffer said. “Because even if we manage to defeat the routes through our neighborhood, there are other families that are going to be feeling that same feeling and we have to be there for them the same way they are for us.”
Last week, more than 500 packed the house for a special meeting of the Pasadena City Council on the 710 issue that continues to come up despite more than a half century of community opposition.
The council voted unanimously to oppose various extension proposals from a 4.5 mile tunnel from Alhambra to the 134/210 — the longest tunnel in America — to turning Avenue 64 through San Rafael and the LA neighborhood of Garvanza into a highway, destroying numerous homes and the quality of life for thousands.
Wednesday night’s rally came amid a series of events that show the anti-710 movement is rapidly gaining strength as activists reach across city boundaries and organize to block increasing the 710 freeway to 14 lanes coming out of the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles and stop the extension from Alhambra north.
It represents a serious threat to MTA’s efforts to Measure J in November to extend out until 2069 the 30-year, $40 billion sales tax increase that is being mortgaged over the next 10 years to fund freeway projects, the subway-to-the-sea and other transit projects.
On Friday, the LA City Council takes up a motion to oppose most extension proposals the MTA has put forth, and like many in the Northeast LA area, South Pasadena and Pasadena calling for public transit alternatives that are less destructive.
Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, a long-time 710 opponent as a legislator and La Canada-Flintridge mayor and council member, sent a scathing four-page letter to the California Department of Transportation detailing how Caltrans and the MTA have misled the public repeatedly over the years and calling for an immediate end to planning for the project.
“I have personally witnessed actions and activities by proponents of a tunnel option, which have been questionable at best, but more accurately, would be portrayed as biased and tainted,” he said. “Representatives of the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) have routinely misrepresented important information while hiding the true cost and benefit of this project from the public . . .
“Community after community is coming forward and speaking in a united and heated voice: ‘We don’t want this extension.’ Never before has there been this much opposition from so many communities. The public backlash has been so strong that some policy makers arc endeavoring to split the coalition or communities by suggesting that one route might be more preferable than another. This is planning at its worst.”
Portantino also jumped on the state audit released last week that was highly critical of how Caltrans management of nearly 500 homes acquired decades ago along the expected 710 right-of-way.
“The recent state audit highlighted the complete lack of trust that I have for the folks shepherding the 710 corridor and this historically massive project,” Portantino said. “If these folks can’t be trusted to fix a roof, how can we trust them to build a $15-billion tunnel.”
According to the Pasadena Sun, not everyone wants the 710 Freeway project killed.
“On Wednesday, state Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) and Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Silver Lake) announced that they’ve amended a bill that would speed up the sale of Caltrans-owned homes not needed for a new connector. The amendment calls for 25% of home-sale proceeds to go to build sound walls along the 210 Freeway, where opposition to the 710 extension is strong.
The measure, Gatto said in a statement, “is a creative way to turn a negative, the 710 extension, into a positive: relief along the nearby 210 corridor.”
The audit, sought more than a year ago by Portantino, found Caltrans “lost $22 million in rent from the homes between July 2007 and December 2011. During the same period, the agency spent $22.5 million to conduct repairs on some of the 499 properties it owns, but only collected $12.8 million in rent,” the Pasadena Sun reported.
Among the beneficiaries as tenants were 15 state employees who paid below-market rates for rent which the audit called either a “fringe benefit or a gift of public funds.”