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My Sunday Column: Activism and the 710 Freeway Tunnel — How People Power Has Stopped the Machine for 60 Years

Joanne Nuckols has put the people she calls “transportation bullies” in their place for decades.

She reels off the long, sordid history of South Pasadena’s fight against extending the 710 Freeway through her town, lawsuit by lawsuit, injunction by injunction, community action by community action, as the grassroots movement spread to include residents all along the corridor.

On Saturday, Nuckols and dozens of other activists joined by a cadre of elected officials from Glendale, La Cañada, Pasadena and South Pasadena were to stage a rally and press conference at Blair High School in Pasadena before the start of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority‘s community meeting intended to sell the public on the virtue of a multi-billion-dollar, four-mile tunnel from Alhambra to Pasadena.

It has been a tough sell for 60 years, but transportation officials keep trying, with the full support of those who would benefit most: the engineers, contractors, truckers, unions as well as the politicians they keep in office.

“It’s so exciting to be involved, it’s like a revolution,” said Nuckols, who has been active on transportation issues almost since she and her husband moved to town in the late 1960s. “They treated us like we were just a little fly they could swat away. The defining moment came in ’73 when we got the first injunction against the freeway.”

Saturday’s protest, coming on the 14th anniversary of yet another injunction that blocked freeway construction, was called because of the fire that occurred a week ago in the northbound tunnel connecting the Pasadena Freeway to the I-5 when a tanker spilled 8,500 gallons of gas and set off an inferno, causing damage that will take a long time to repair.

A similar fire occurred six years ago in Santa Clarita when two dozen trucks crashed and burned in the southbound I-5 bypass tunnel — an event that prompted Nuckols and other activists to create a banner and yard signs to show “what can go wrong in a tunnel.”

Doug Failing, who was regional Caltrans director at the time of that crash but joined Metro as its highway construction expert after passage of the Measure R sales tax for transportation, is the target of much of the criticism from the No on 710 activists.

“You ask questions and you get no answers,” Nuckols said. “It’s like they’re tone deaf. They try to feed us this pablum, but we’re not eating it. They just ignore the fact that those tunnels should never be built and will never be built.”

The anti-freeway movement gained momentum and much broader support last summer when Metro included a possible tunnel or surface route on Avenue 64 through much of L.A.’s Eastside and the San Rafael neighborhood in west Pasadena.

All along the route, people got organized and forced Metro to abandon the plan that affected them directly. But they didn’t stop there; they kept working with other neighborhoods to pack meeting after meeting to challenge transportation officials, the community relations firm they hired and their technical experts, as well as rounding up support from the Pasadena City Council as well as La Cañada-Flintridge and Glendale officials.

The coalition now has multiple websites as well as Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep everyone informed and involved.

“It’s very multilayered and complicated, but we have different guerrilla groups that go out and deal with different issues as part of the overall umbrella group.” Nuckols said.

“What’s so incredible is we get no response from Metro to the information and questions we raise,” she added. “That’s one of their big problems. They think we’re going to go away, but our group is just growing.”

One of the strongest supporters of the No 710 Action Committee’s campaign has been former Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, who reached out to Nuckols even before he first ran for a seat on the La Cañada-Flintridge City Council.

“The fight against the 710 has turned from a local issue into a regional issue of significant importance precisely because of the mounting public activism and the horrible approach taken by proponents,” said Portantino, one of the political figures who was slated to be at Saturday’s protest.

“Nothing gets folks more engaged and active than a poorly acted charade and MTA’s advocacy for a project that most folks feel will negatively impact the San Gabriel Valley and the city of Los Angeles,” Portantino added. “As a result, neighbors from across the region are seizing the moment, the initiative and making a difference.”

With a new L.A. mayor in Eric Garcetti, who is on the record as opposing the tunnel and has hired former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole, a long-time 710 opponent, as a top aide, the Metro board has the votes to kill the tunnel project once and for all and end the waste of tens of millions of dollars on something that is never going to happen.

In this rare case, where the people have gotten so well-organized, so informed, so strong, it should be clear that they are going to keep on truckin’ against the 710 gap project for as long as it takes.

The “transportation bullies” and the greed merchants who want this should be shown the door and the $780 million set aside for this boondoggle should be used to expand rail and rapid bus service in the region, synchronize lights and take other steps to improve the flow of traffic and movement of people.

That’s what people want, the people who pay the bills for all of this.

(THIS COLUMN WAS WRITTEN FOR AND PUBLISHED IN THE GLENDALE NEWS-PRESS AND OTHER LA TIMES COMMUNITY NEWSPAPERS)

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9 Responses to My Sunday Column: Activism and the 710 Freeway Tunnel — How People Power Has Stopped the Machine for 60 Years

  1. Wayne from Encino says build MORE FREEWAYS! says:

    We need MORE FREEWAYS—So people can get the hell out of L.A. and into L.A. much sooner and return to human-ran areas like Valencia, Porter Ranch, Etc.

    • Rita-of-Sunland says:

      Wayne, WAYNE—Ya got it all WRONG—According to the LADOT, (and I take every word they say as Gospel) we gotta go green! We, as “Angelenos,” have gotta rethink transportation ENTIRELY! They want us to give up our fossil-fuel-ridden V8 atrocities and start biking everywhere!!! YAY fer BIKING and all the fabulous BIKE LANES that must now be created for us Uber-Cycle Freaks!!! Just think— we can start wearing sweaty blue and black spandex, wrap-around sunglasses, woodpecker helmets, carry re-fillible water bottles wherever we go, and yell rudely at all those selfish Luddites still driving “pollution- mobiles”– otherwise known as Cars. Let’s make everyday a “Sick-o-L.A.Via” day! I know! Let’s start a brand-new non-profit! We can donate our cars to the city and then the city’ll waste all the money they make!! Ah! I can see it all now: “GARCiTTI’s CAR-CITY!” Woo-woo!! Who’s on board?? (SILENCE) Well, at least the crickets’r on board….geez….

      • Anonymous says:

        Too funny! So true!

      • Scott Zwartz says:

        Garcetti is beyond bicycles; he’s into Walkability. That’s The Millennium Project; it makes LA walkable!

        Don’t think; just believe. Yes, The Millennium makes LA “walkable.”

        What does walkability mean? It means that LA is filled will idiots who love buzz words that are devoid of any rational meaning. It’s like “Green,” which means more concrete and less lawn space. Yes, yesterday the city council even called The Millennium a “park.”

        We should really also have the buzz words “ThirdWorldability.”

        How about? “Urban Serfs.” That’s what Garcetti and the Greenies want. They want people to be confined to small little areas like their own mixed-use projects. Just as serfs in the middle ages seldom went beyond their own little village, Garcetti wants people to stay within their own TOD and pay tribute to CIM Group and Philly Aarons.

        CIM Group will decide who gets to be the grocer in your TOD and who will run the dry cleaners. No, No, you can’t go to Ralphs, Garcetti was paid $25 gazillion to give the supermarket concessions to Vons. Oh wait, no it’s back to Ralphs; they’ve paid $26 gazillion.

        BTW, on June 28, 2013 the Grand Jury told Garcetti to return the $200 Million he stole from the paramedics. Garcetti says No, he needs to give another $52 Million to some altercocker billionaire.

        There’s more integrity in Weiner’s weiner than there is in all of LA City Hall.

        • MissAnthrope says:

          You may have a point (pun intended) that there’s more integrity in Weiner’s wiener than in all of L.A.’s City Hall, but either way, they both know what they want and go after it with a vengeance.

          • Rita-of-Sunland says:

            Yup– FREE Wi-Fi all over town!! (Gotta give KABC’s John Phillips credit for THAT one!)

  2. ex valley says:

    It’s nice to see that some things never change. Like your politburo , errr city council voting unanimously. Great to see that all the new members fell in line and know exactly what hand feeds them–developers.
    This millennium project is a win-win for the ruling powers : developers will get richer, clowncil will get more moolah, garcetti will get a few goodies and will claim he created jobs, durazo and her clique will get more union dues to bribe the above clowncil.

  3. teddy says:

    My new address

  4. teddy says:

    In my opinion, the 710 freeway and the problems the poor decisions
    have created for so many years show that we need better people
    planning. Too many look at how much money is involved and who
    will get the contracts. The result is the mess called the 710.

    Pasadena must never be second best to the people who want to have
    a prestigious address called PASADENA but they want to live in cheaper
    areas.

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