Tribute to the Freeway Fighters

Program speakers and fellow longtime No on 710 Freeway leaders gather around their de facto matriarch Mary Ann Parada (front center). She is joined by Dr Bill Sherman, Clarice and Harry Knapp, Joanne Nuckols, Ernie Arnold, Don Jones, Dr Richard Schneider and current mayor Marina Khubesrian. Photos by Henk Friezer

Los Angeles County is known for many things, not the least of which are its innumerable congested freeways that have been continuously constructed since the 1930s. The county’s tangled web of asphalt and concrete – always under construction in one way or another – has never solved the region’s gnarled traffic situation for very long, if at all. In the past, too many government officials have too often believed that adding more freeways would be the solution to the problem. The addition of a freeway has traditionally been considered an enhancement to a community’s quality of life and more important than neighborhoods, trees, architecture, and even the air it breathes.

Joanne Nuckols, longtime transportation commissioner has been involved in the  opposition fight for many years.

Typically, a concerned group of private citizens bands together to fight a freeway no matter where it’s proposed. But all too often the group is worn down and ultimately defeated and the freeway plows through the town. A glance of an LA freeway map quickly gives an idea of just how often this has occurred. A shining example of a freeway fight that succeeded is the 35-year effort to quash the Beverly Hills Freeway that was first proposed in the 1940s. Another is South Pasadena’s epic war on the 710 Interchange which began in 1949, a staggering seven decades ago, making it easily the longest running successful freeway fight in LA history.

South Pasadena’s visionary ‘No on 710’ Freeway Fighters are not even the small city’s first grassroots group to fight a freeway. That honor belongs to the group that unsuccessfully opposed the Arroyo Seco Parkway in the 1930s. The parkway’s proponents purported that the proposed roadway’s path was sensitive to environmental concerns, even though it ran alongside a major watershed. Its detractors claimed it would ruin neighborhoods and lower property values. But for better or worse, the Arroyo Seco Parkway was built and the twisting roadway, with its narrow lanes, tight onramps, and shortages of escape shoulders, has carried millions of vehicles between Los Angeles and Pasadena ever since.

Although the opponents of the Arroyo Seco Parkway did not succeed, South Pasadena’s fearless underdogs, the ‘No on 710’ Freeway Fighters have continually thwarted the 710 Interchange. If constructed, the massive project would wipe out significant portions of South Pasadena historic homes and innumerable trees while connecting the 10 and 210 Freeways in a large transportation corridor leading from Long Beach to the San Gabriel Valley and vice versa.

State Senator Anthony Portantino who led fight in legislature addresses the attendees.

On Wednesday, May 22, 2019 the California State Senate passed Senate Bill 7, putting a “formal legislative end” to the 710 Freeway extension by prohibiting the construction of a freeway tunnel between the 10 and 210 Freeways. The bill passed by a 38-0 vote and now moves to the Assembly. If it passes there, it could be signed by the governor this year. Despite their many victories while facing David vs. Goliath odds, the heroic Freeway Fighters had yet to be honored with a large public celebration in their hometown until June 7

A free, public event showcasing the words and images of many of the Freeway Fighters was presented at the library. They told of their involvement in the resistance movement to protect South Pasadena from a freeway that threatened to barrel its way through the very center of the small city. Because of the Freeway Fighters’ dedication, South Pasadena has preserved a way of life that is quickly disappearing or has been long gone elsewhere in the LA Basin.

The event was presented by the City of South Pasadena/South Pasadena Public Library, the Friends of the South Pasadena Public Library, and the South Pasadena Preservation Foundation. Special thanks to Rick Thomas, 210eastsound, Henk Friezer, The Quarterly, California Listens, Ron Koertge, The California State Library, The StoryCenter, Joe Lambert, John McDonald, Brad Colerick, Chip Jacobs, Occidental College, Frank Girardot,  Joanne Nuckols, Clarice & Harry Knapp, Sam Burgess, Glen Duncan, Mark Gallatin, Dr. Bill Sherman, and all Freeway Fighters past and present.