> Caltrans has relinquished full ownership of the 50-plus acres, known as the North 710 Stub, back to the City of Pasadena. This action presents a new opportunity for the City of Pasadena to repurpose this land into a future that does not include the 710 Freeway. (Read Part 1 and Part 2)
The Impact of Beyond the 710 Coalition on South Pasadena, Pasadena, Glendale, La Cañada, and Sierra Madre.
By Marina Khubesrian
The next generation of city leaders needs to be cognizant of the visionary work of their predecessors in establishing the Beyond the 710 Coalition and leading in the critical 2.5 years proceeding May 25, 2017. That is the day the Metro Board voted unanimously to pitch the 710 Freeway into the dustheap of history and open new possibilities for transportation and land use. New city leaders have inherited from the Coalition a solid foundation for good mobility and land use solutions and cooperation and teamwork among cities in western San Gabriel Valley and Northeast Los Angeles.
Over the course of a two-year long campaign, we were able to unite decision makers around a plan and to address actual needs that a key Environmental Impact Report metric had identified: more than 85% of commuters exiting the 710 Freeway at Valley Boulevard are intent on reaching local destinations. The vision of the BT7 plan was to use 21st Century planning solutions to reduce congestion and promote smart growth. We proposed removing the freeway “stubs,” at both the 10 and 210 freeways to free up land for smart development. We also employed transit to connect people to their destinations and utilized modern strategies for increasing bikeability and walkability. As a physician, one crucial factor to me was impact on community health: the Tunnel portals created “hot spots” of pollution that would raise the risk of cancer 15 fold in an area chillingly known in the local medical community as “the cancer corridor.”
We reached out to all stakeholders that would benefit from addressing the stubs, including leaders in Alhambra, the City of Los Angeles, and Cal State LA. The plan re-imagined the South 710 Stub as a 4-lane boulevard with direct connections to the Cal State LA campus and with land to spare for campus needs. A Coalition delegation traveled to Sacramento to discuss the benefits of the BT7 Alternative with then California Secretary of Transportation, Brian Kelly. Our discussion cited a number of freeway removals that had changed their cities for the better with less traffic and safer and more efficient cities. The Secretary made it clear that the locally preferred and funded alternative would determine the project.
We met with LA Mayor Eric Garcetti and City Councilmembers to present the BT7 Alternative and its alignment with the post-freeway era in LA County. We soon joined the campaigns of Metro and Mayor Garcetti in support of Measure M, which funded transportation projects and, wisely, did not include funds for controversial projects like the 710 Tunnel.
The San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG) controlled the Measure R funds for the 710 Freeway project. Our best stand was a three-hour public comment debate at the June 19, 2015 meeting of the SGVOG when the EIR alternatives were on the agenda. This was a big milestone for the BT7 Coalition. SGVOG still chose the tunnel as the preferred alternative from the five in the EIR. However, the SGVOG 16 – 7 vote to endorse building the Tunnel was a big shift from prior 34 – 1 vote in support of the 710 Freeway. It was clear to all that the Tunnel had become a much more divisive project.
We continued our outreach and met with organized labor, chambers of commerce, school board alliances, and public health communities throughout SGV and LAC to share the BT7 vision of a better alternative: one which was feasible, created jobs, stimulated local economies, re-imagined land use, enhanced infrastructure for all modes of travel and reduced pollution near schools and hospitals. This package of benefits was in stark contrast to the unfeasible Tunnel alternative.
Hard Won Victory
The vigorons public discourse generated in part by the BT7 alternative during the EIR comment period led to the 12 – 0 vote of the Metro Board on May 25, 2017. This hard won victory resolved the SR-710 Freeway conflict once and for all. The votes were counted following 30 public comments and a Metro Board debate. Not everyone was happy with the vote, but everyone was glad that the conflict had ended in a definite manner outside of the courtroom.
The resolution of this conflict by the unanimous Metro Board vote was a pivotal moment in the history of the San Gabriel Valley. It had taken place following a vigorous yet respectful public debate. Board members noted their relief at the fine example of democracy and diplomacy they had witnessed in contrast to comments and debates previously experienced whenever the contentious subject of the 710 Freeway was on the agenda. Shortly thereafter, representatives from affected cities began to work with LA County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Supervisor Hilda Solis to carve a path forward in the new era of cooperation and collaboration.
It was an honor and a privilege to work with so many of the region’s policy leaders on the “Beyond the 710” effort. State Assemblymember Chris Holden studied the BT7 alternative and helped other decisionmakers see the benefits of the alternative over the Tunnel. He introduced legislation to remove the 710 Freeway from the State’s Highway Code in February 2017 at a press conference at South Pasadena Station Park. It was with the leadership of then Mayor Terry Tornek in April 2015 that the City of Pasadena made an official shift from supporting the Tunnel to opposing it. The BT7 plan’s better ideas succeeded in changing hearts and minds, and hence the political landscape. This was made possible by consistent efforts of many city leaders over the course of the 30 month campaign, especially: Ara Najarian (Glendale), Marina Khubesrian (South Pasadena), Terry Tornek (Pasadena), Jonathan Curtis (La Canada), and John Cappocia (Sierra Madre). When their schedules allowed, Councilmembers Margaret McAustin (Pasadena), Terry Walker (La Cañada), Paula Devine (Glendale), John Harabedian (Sierra Madre), Rachelle Arizmendi (Sierra Madre), Diana Mahmud (South Pasadena), Suzie Abajian, PhD (SPUSD Board Member) and others joined the Coalition’s meetings and events. We had the privilege of receiving the concerted support of professional city staff from the five Coalition cities, and excellent service from all the consultants we worked with (of special note, Teresa Highsmith Esq./City Attorney, Sergio Gonzales, City Manager and Margaret Lin, Senior Analyst, all of South Pasadena, Coby King, High Point Strategies, and Paul Moore, Nelson\Nygaard.)
There is still much work to be done in the San Gabriel Valley, particularly with the looming climate crisis which requires cooperation and collaboration to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. When debating planning policy, we must consider smart development with access to all modes of mobility and land use for all income levels to mitigate the impact of long commutes for the workforce.
I look forward to seeing what becomes of the “stubs,” and urge leaders and activists to prioritize public health in every single one of their policy debates.
Marina Khubesrian, M.D. is a San Gabriel Valley based physician, and a former councilwoman and Mayor of South Pasadena.
■ PART 1: Beyond the 710 – It Was Bleak.
■ PART 2: Beyond the 710 – A Vision Shapes Up
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