7lO ‘Demise’ Bills Pass, But Questions Remain

Midnight has not officially struck regarding the demise of the 710 tunnel proposal through South Pasadena, but even skeptics seem to agree the clock has hit 11:59, leaving just a tiny and unlikely window for the controversial and long-pending project to become a reality.

Two bills with similar language — one authored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, the other by Assemblyman Chris Holden — passed the state Legislature last week, and now await signing by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Both Portantino and Holden issued press releases following passage of their bills (SB7 and AB29), attesting to the death of the 710 plan pending Newsom’s signature. But some longtime tunnel foes — citing the fact that a stretch of land in South Pas would not officially come off the state’s freeway roster until 2024 — were not planning the big victory party quite yet.

South Pas Council Member Diana Mahmud, in an interview with the Review, pointed out that, through some last-minute negotiations with Caltrans, a new section was added to the bills that includes language in which “the 710 (corridor) is described as inclusive of Route 1 near the City of Long Beach to Route 1 near the city of Alhambra’’ and — particularly relevant to South Pasadena — “Route 10 near the City of Alhambra to Route 210 near the City of Pasadena’’ until 2024.

Only then would those sections of undeveloped road be “deleted” from the freeway system.

In regard to the latter section, Mahmud said, “Well, obviously that goes through the City of South Pasadena.’’

“I don’t know why that was added,’’ she said. “So I need some clarification.

“Why not the immediate elimination (of those stretches of road)?” she said. “There may be reasons — it may have to do with Caltrans wrapping up the sale of properties.’’

Dr. Bill Sherman of South Pasadena, another longtime opponent of the tunnel proposal, also expressed concerns, in an email to the Review, about “problematic provisions’’ in the bills.

“The first (concern) is that the bills do not take effect until January 2024,’’ Sherman wrote. “Why the delay? If the bills are good, they are good now. This is a compromise with Caltrans. Caltrans is not giving up on the tunnel. These bills give Caltrans four years to do something. I do not know what Caltrans has in mind, but I am concerned it involves a high-capacity connection between the 10 and 210.

“The second problem,’’ he added, “is that the bills remove the ‘710’ from the state highway map from California Boulevard to Alhambra Avenue. This leaves both stubs on the state highway map. In the latest version there is a provision that the portion of the 710 in Pasadena may be given back to the City of Pasadena by the California Transportation Commission, but the posted version also mandates that ‘the City of Pasadena shall ensure the continuity of traffic flow on the relinquished portion of Route 710,’ if the commission decides to relinquish it to the city.

“What does this mean? If Pasadena Avenue, Saint John and Fremont are to be kept, how can they develop the northern stub? There is no specific mention of the stub in Alhambra. The stubs are the source of congestion on Fremont which so troubles the people of South Pasadena, Pasadena, and Alhambra. They act as funnels to clog the streets. If the stubs were developed, the tunnel, the surface route or any other high-capacity connector would be impossible. Caltrans has kept their options open.’’

More likely, both Sherman and Mahmud said, economic realities will be the death knell of the tunnel proposal more than any legislation.

“SB7 and AB29 specifically say the freeway or tunnel alternative to close the interstate 710 North gap is no longer to be deemed a feasible alternative for consideration in any environmental review process for the Interstate 710 North Gap Closure project,’’ Sherman said. “This is the legislated death of the tunnel in 2024.

“I believe Anthony Portantino when he says that the tunnel is dead. (But) it is dead because there is no money to pay for it and there is no public support for this project. I just do not trust Caltrans to keep its word. Giving them four more years worries me.’’

Mahmud agreed, saying: “I see no appetite to use public funds to construct the tunnel, and I see no appetite to use private funds to construct the tunnel. I see no realistic money coming from either the public or the private sector to build the tunnel.’’

What’s more, she said, the environmental approval process would also take longer than the end of the 2024 window, unless the project were fast-tracked.

“There is no way … to complete the environmental analysis’’ before 2024, she said.

“Sen. Portantino has worked on this for a long time, and he has said trust me, and I trust him, and he has said it’s dead,’’ Mahmud said. “When he says it’s dead, I believe it’s dead.’’

Development or redevelopment of those Caltrans properties remains a big question for the city.

Portantino’s bill addresses the properties. It would, among other things, freeze rents in the Caltrans-owned houses along the route, as well as help non-profit tenants in the 710 corridor purchase, at below-market prices, their properties.

Portantino’s measure “follows through on a promise that the senator made to the activists, non-profits and tenants in the 710 corridor when he helped negotiate the end of the 710 tunnel in December of 2016,’’ a release from his office said.

“In the final hours of the negotiations with the administration, the proposed bill language included a provision that would dramatically interfere with the City of Pasadena’s plans to develop the left over freeway stubs. Senator Portantino subsequently negotiated with Caltrans language that solved the Pasadena issue making SB7 a comprehensive fix for the 710 corridor that will facilitate solutions for the corridor. ’’

Holden’s bill is the leaner of the two, simply specifying that State Route 710 is from Route 1 to Route 10, abolishing the freeway tunnel once and for all. “The legislation will close loopholes in both Caltrans’ Final Environmental Impact Report and the 2017 Los Angeles Metro motion that drops the tunnel concept for strictly financial reasons,’’ Holden’s release said.

South Pasadena’s Joanne Nuckols, a longtime leader in the anti-710 movement, told the Review, “Confusion is the right word for the situation.’’

“I think we need to pursue this farther,’’ she said. “Why do we have to wait till 2024?

“(Eventual development of the tunnel is) highly unlikely, maybe 1 percent,’’ she added. “(But) maybe in 20 years … some public or private partner would come along and say we’ll build the tunnel for you’’ — a move that would require rewriting the law.

“The good thing is, yes we’re appreciative of the both of them (Portantino and Holden) and their hard work, and we couldn’t have done it without them,’’ Nuckols said. “But as far as tying up the loose ends, having an elegant solution, that is yet to come. Because included in this is the Caltrans houses … that’s another factor that’s no even mentioned. … There’s still a lot of work to do.’’

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