By Ted AYALA
The war of attrition that has characterized the battle between CalTrans and residents of Glendale, La Cañada, Pasadena, South Pasadena, and northeast Los Angeles over the proposed 710 extension entered a new phase this week. CalTrans announced that ownership of 17 of the homes in its possession across Pasadena, South Pasadena, and northeast Los Angeles could be relinquished, selling the homes on the open market.
CalTrans acquired the properties in the 1960s via eminent domain in anticipation of an overland extension of the 710 that would connect Alhambra to Pasadena. Instead, the extension has stalled for over half a century, becoming a flashpoint of tension between cities that lay on the proposed route, outlying cities that could benefit from completion of the extension, and CalTrans. In the decades since CalTrans obtained the properties, critics have attacked the agency accusing mismanagement of the properties. A state audit released last year confirmed these allegations.
“Because of CalTrans’ poor management, we estimate that it missed the opportunity to generate roughly $22 million in rental income for the SR 710 properties,” read the report. The audit found that CalTrans had kept the rent in these properties well below the going market rate, effectively undercutting taxpayers.
“Rental of these properties at below-market values constitutes a prohibited gift of public funds,” the report continued.
It also stated that CalTrans had not ensured that funds allocated for the 710 project were being properly spent. The state audit identified roughly 330 hours that may have been inappropriately charged by “laborers to projects related to the SR 710 properties.”
In light of CalTrans’ inclination to explore alternative measures to the original overland freeway extension – including a controversial tunnel proposal – the agency has found that some of the homes set aside for the original project are now “surplus.”
State Sen. Carol Liu (D-La Cañada Flintridge) had put forward a bill last year that would have obligated CalTrans to sell properties it no longer needs for its projects, but it was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown.
CalTrans has said that regardless of the outcome, its properties would not be going on sale in the near future.