By Jason KUROSU
On Tuesday night, Caltrans and Metro held the second of four public hearings regarding the SR-710 Study’s Draft Environmental Impact Report, which was released in March and available for public comment until July 6.
Residents hailing from various cities within the approximately 100 square mile study area ventured to the Pasadena Convention Center to view maps of the five alternatives and voice their concerns directly to those who prepared the draft EIR.
Project Manager Yoga Chandran reviewed the EIR’s five remaining alternatives for connecting the 210 and 710 freeways: light rail, bus rapid transit, transportation demand management/transportation system management, a freeway tunnel (single bore and double bore variations) and a no build alternative.
Chandran noted that the draft EIR “does select a preferred alternative.”
Among the study findings that Chandran and Environmental Task Lead Deborah Pracilio presented were land use impacts, of which only light rail was said to impact community character and cohesion. Light rail was said to require the greatest number of property acquisitions, temporary parking losses and business relocations.
Light rail was said to result in the greatest number of future employment opportunities, while the freeway tunnel would result in the greatest number of construction jobs.
All alternatives, including no build, were said to result in an increase in air quality, a reduction in cancer risk and a reduction in traffic within the study area by varying degrees.
Members of the public were able to weigh in on the EIR, with familiar opposition from certain cities to specific alternatives: generally, Pasadena residents opposed to the freeway tunnel, East Los Angeles residents opposed to light rail and Alhambra residents supported the freeway tunnel as a means of reducing surface street congestion.
Alhambra City Councilmember Steven Placido referred to the freeway tunnel as the “missing link” between the freeways.
“A system doesn’t work unless it’s fully functional and I don’t think it has been for the last 50 years,” said Placido. “What it has done is force cars and people onto our city streets. Our kids walking to school are forced to deal with freeway traffic that needs to be on a freeway. If we finish this freeway, our streets would be safer, our traffic would be where it belongs – on the freeways – and there would be less congestion in the whole system.”
Monterey Park City Manager Paul Talbot spoke on behalf of the city in support of the freeway tunnel.
“The answer is obvious. We need the BRT. We need the LRT. But the only thing that is going to remove the cars off of the surface roads is the completion of the 710 freeway. The city of Monterey Park strongly urges that you move forward with the tunnel completion.”
Assemblymember Anthony Portantino called for a cost-benefit analysis in the EIR and noted that, though Metro and Caltrans authorities were listening to public responses, they were not responding to questions from the public.
“One thing that might be healthy for the process is, as you write down all the questions at this meeting, next meeting bring all your answers.”
A few Alhambra residents came out against the freeway tunnel alternative, a stark contrast to narratives regarding the city of Alhambra’s opinion towards completing the tunnel.
Linda Delaney said that the tunnel would not reduce traffic on Alhambra surface streets, as tolls and a lack of exits in the tunnel would force more drivers onto surface streets in order to avoid the tunnel.
“So many people assume that if you live in Alhambra you’re for the tunnel. Our city council spoke earlier tonight and they do not represent the entire citizenship of Alhambra,” said Delaney. “Many Alhambrans believe that this tunnel is an antiquated, irresponsible idea. After all, the rest of the world realizes the importance of air quality, alternative energies to fossil fuel, and the effects of freeways on human health.”
Alhambra resident Gloria Valladolid said that traffic in Alhambra has resulted from poor development decisions made by city officials, such as complexes and multi-unit structures that bring in high vehicle traffic.
“My Alhambra City Council has an out of control, aggressive, irresponsible development policy,” said Valladolid. “Alhambra’s quality of life has degenerated as a result of this unbounded growth with its ensuing density. Consequently, our traffic congestion stems not from a gap in the freeway, but from the actions of my city council.”
Monterey Park resident Thomas Cendejas said that drivers would not necessarily flock to light rail, and was concerned about eminent domain.
“I have seen the Gold Line hurt businesses in East Los Angeles. Several were forced to close their doors,” said Cendejas. “I’ve ridden the Gold Line and have seen several seats empty. I’ve been to Japan, where people pack the rail systems. I’ve been to New York, where people pack the rail system. Unfortunately, we are a society of people that love cars. I don’t see the rail system as the answer.”
Two more public hearings are scheduled for early May. These include Wednesday, May 6 at the La Cañada High School auditorium and Thursday, May 7 at the Los Angeles Christian Presbyterian Church.