By Ted Ayala
La Cañada High School’s auditorium played host to residents from as far out as El Sereno and Highland Park in a 710 Freeway scoping meeting organized by the Metropolitan Transit Agency (MTA). The scoping meeting, which began at 6 p.m. on Tuesday evening, offered no discussion with CalTrans and MTA representatives. Instead, it was merely a public airing of grievances that placed little pressure on the MTA and CalTrans to consider other options to the 710 freeway extension.
For nearly an hour-and-a-half, the scoping meeting served as an uninterrupted and unanimous voice of opposition against the extension of the 710 freeway. One resident was enraged by the terminology used by the MTA and CalTrans to subtly foment support for the extension. “The fact that they refer to a 710 freeway ‘gap’ is objectionable. It’s a semantically weighted and biased term. When people hear ‘gap’ they think of a hole that needs to be filled. There is no such need nor hole here,” he said.
One of the major grievances that local residents expressed repeatedly was the failure of the MTA and CalTrans to include the toll environmental impact that the 710 extension would exact on the residents of the northeastern section of greater Los Angeles in the final environmental impact report (EIR). South Pasadena resident Clarice Knapp rallied local residents to put further pressure on the two traffic organizations.
“The environmental health impacts here are a serious public issue,” she said. “We all have lungs in this fight. We need to demand that the MTA and CalTrans include us in the final EIR.”
La Cañada resident Nora Oliver too highlighted how deeply concerned she was that the freeway would be detrimental to the public’s health.
“I can remember living here in the 1950s,” she said. “Back then the air was so polluted, you could barely see the hills. The air was so toxic that it hurt to breathe. If this project is going to do this to my children and my grandchildren, all I have to say is that this project has to stop now.”
Odalys Suarez of the Crescenta Valley Town Council added that environmental impact of the extension construction needed to be considered as well.
Other residents expressed how viable a freeway extension would be during a period when California’s economy has been sagging and has had to suffer ever shrinking state budgets. La Crescenta resident Bill Weisman voiced his concern over the economic viability of
such a massive public project. One resident quipped that, “It’s a pity that we’re wasting $60,000,000 just to make a decision on this extension.”
Another concern of residents was the need to explore other transportation options beyond the automobile. La Crescenta resident Bill Weisman was one such critic. “We can no longer afford to look at car-centric solutions to our traffic problems. It behooves us as a society to set the emphasis of transportation away from cars. It’s much more efficient to have steel gliding on steel than rubber grinding on asphalt.”
Residents were also concerned over the vague language used by the MTA and CalTrans to describe the benefits of the extension. Anne Treba of La Canada was one of them. “What is this ‘public/private partnership’ the MTA keeps referring to and how is it supposed to work? I’m very concerned over the use of this nebulous language.”
But for many of the meeting’s attendees, there was merely bitter anger at a process they felt was a sham. Despite the unanimous opposition to the project from residents, there was a shared dread that it would all be in vain. Harry Leon of the Crescenta Valley Town Council was one of the many outraged by what seems to many to already be a forgone conclusion. “This is a joke,” exclaimed Leon. “[CalTrans and the MTA] already made up their minds about this matter. They’re stepping all over us. This whole scoping meeting is a fraud. They’re not fooling anyone.”