Posted Tuesday, August 09, 2011-4:12 pm
By Marla Schevker, Beverly Hills Courier
The small city of South Pasadena (pop. 25,000) had CalTrans’ bulls eye painted all over it from 1949 on.
That year, California’s then-Gov. Earl Warren (grandfather of current
Beverly Hills Vice Mayor Willie Brien) ordered a study of connecting
Long Beach to Pasadena.
That study started the move to slice South Pasadena in two.
California’s all-powerful state transportation agency and nearly all
the players in L.A. County transportation planned to split the historic
little city in two with the final leg in the 710 Freeway, starting in
Long Beach Harbor and ending at the 210 Freeway on its way to Interstate
5 and Bakersfield – the “SR-710N”.
No one gave South Pas a chance.
Like Beverly Hills, South Pas faced the giants–this time the entire
state of California (not just the MTA), the Federal Transportation
Highway Administration, the MTA/Metro, Pasadena, Alhambra, San Gabriel,
the entire Alameda Corridor interests, the LA County Board of
Supervisors, the Port of Long Beach, the Port of Los Angeles, and the
cities of Long Beach and … of course, Los Angeles.
They all said the same thing. The 710 Freeway completion through
South Pas was “vital,” a “necessary link between the Ports of Los
Angeles and Long Beach and the entire country,” “without the extension,
traffic will strangle all the surrounding cities,” “Los Angeles must
have it,” “the Ports must have it,” it was “something that had to be
done for regional interests.”
Against that, all South Pasadena had was a united city —a staunch
city council led by an indefatigable mayor, a partner in the South
Pasadena Unified School District, and nearly all its citizens (well,
about 70 percent of them).
True, some dissented—mainly engineers and planners who fell in love
with the idea of completing that small portion of the LA freeway system,
but all-in-all, the little city stood up to the giants.
That tiny city’s mayor and city council did not pester the school
board for data even though the proposed freeway would run right up
against their only high school.
You did not find city staffers claiming there would be “no danger” to
the students from a major freeway spewing hydrocarbons, oxides of
nitrogen, particulate matter and all the other products of freeway
traffic over their property line for students and teachers to breathe
That city’s council did not tell the residents “it needed more information.”
They simply decided to fight, looked for allies, became relentless in
their opposition, and defended their city against all odds.
Guess who won?
The fight goes back to the council’s first resolution against the SR-710N in 1949.
South Pas did not start the discussion by begging for audiences with
bureaucrats and neighboring mayors who were already on record to split
Their council simply passed a resolution to oppose Caltrans’ plan to put the freeway through the middle of their town.
That route would destroy historic homes, threaten their high school, and make bad air quality worse.
The South Pas city council had no idea the powers it faced, but it
knew the freeway would endanger the city and its schools, if not
actually destroy them.
The danger and the risk seemed pretty obvious to everyone.
At first, South Pasadena was almost helpless to stop Caltrans.
According to preservationists, South Pasadena Design Advisory Group
members and Joanne Nuckols, the former chair of the South Pasadena
Preservation Foundation and the South Pasadena Transportation
Commission, the fight was led in the 1960s by community activist and
later mayor Alva Lee Arnold, the “mother of the freeway fight.”
Arnold strode into a world of engineers, planners, bureaucrats and politicos that was nearly all male.
She followed the etiquette of the era as she attended Caltrans
meetings in “very proper” hat and gloves and would obediently wait to
By the time Arnold and the other activists were allowed to speak, Caltrans’ decision had already been made.
“Thank you very much, now you may leave” was about all they got.
That all changed in 1973.
South Pas did not meekly seek audiences with bureaucrats and other officials, it took a stand immediately.
The Gettysburg battle would be fought on the basis of the
newly-enacted California nvironmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the new
federal National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA).
The 710 final Environmental Impact Report had already been completed
and sent to the Federal Highways Administration (FHWA) that would be
funding most of the project.
Its conclusions were foregone.
Everything South Pas offered as alternatives and concerns had been rejected.
Looking for friends wherever they could, South Pas found an ally in
the Sierra Club, challenged the EIR, and obtained a “golden injunction.”
South Pas claimed that the EIR failed to address material impacts and
risks—exactly the same basis on which the Beverly Hills Unified School
District is preparing to defend Beverly Hills High School.
The court agreed.
It ordered Caltrans to stop buying any more land or conducting any
more work on the SR-710N until it could gain approval of a thoroughly
revised EIR—one that did not ignore South Pasadena’s concerns.
Few cases had tested CEQA’s provisions. South Pas was a pioneer.
South Pas made the case that the first “final” EIR from Caltrans failed to address many significant issues.
CEQA does not allow a court to block an agency decision, just make sure that its EIR covers all the risks and impacts.
If the author of the EIR knows what’s coming, that report can address those issues.
The courts then must approve the EIR even if it disagrees with the
legislative body’s conclusions. That’s what BHUSD is preparing to fight,
just like South Pas.
It took Caltrans from 1973 to 1992 and four “final” EIRs to gain FHWA approval.
By the time this first injunction was lifted in 1999, South Pas had bought 26 years.
Back then, Caltrans and MTA had not yet learned to extract
confidential expert evidence from their opponents in advance so that
they could deal with them in their first “final” EIR.
They learned their lesson in part from battling South Pas for the past 60 years.
As this article is going to press, Mayor Barry Brucker and Vice Mayor
Willie Brien are trying to convince the Beverly Hills Unified School
District to give them all of BHUSD’s expert evidence assembled to fight
the Metro tunnel under BHHS.
To date, the City Council majority of Brucker, Brien and Julian Gold,
M.D., have refused to enter into a joint defense agreement with BHUSD
that would protect the confidentiality of that vital information.
If the school board released that information as requested by
CityManager Kolin, all of that information would lose its
attorney/client (or “attorney work product”) protection and essentially
become public information readily accessible to Metro and their EIR
That would give MTA the blueprint it needs to beat Beverly Hills in the first round in court.
South Pas and its allies scored a huge win with their first injunction, one of the first under CEQA and NEPA.
Still, that victory streak ended in 1999.
Did South Pas only go to the courts?
Throughout, South Pas tried the “diplomatic” route, stubbornly
pursued by Brucker and Brien with L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and
Sup. Zev Yaroslavsky.
That tactic, which burned up a huge amount of energy and time, was a
huge flop according to former South Pas Councilmember Harry Knapp.
He was elected to its council in the 1990s and said: “We spent our
time politicking every official and bureaucrat they could find to try to
stop the EIR from being certified.”
(“Certifying” an EIR is the final step in approving it and is a requirement to begin construction).
Knapp said they tried to influence the local congressman and
assemblyman and “whoever else” they could talk to. It did no good and in
1993, the state certified the EIR.
Knapp said this meant they could start finding funding and begin construction.
The “diplomatic effort” was used and it failed. “Never had a chance,” according to Knapp.
Remembering the past, South Pasadena hired environmental lawyer Tony
Rossman and filed for another injunction in U.S. District Court.
Again, the court saved South Pasadena and issued its injunction in 1999, which is still in effect today.
That injunction only allowed Metro to spend money on investigating alternatives, but prohibited it from building a freeway.
Nuckols said that in the second round of the court fight, South Pasadena had more allies.
In 1973, their biggest and only ally was the Sierra Club.
By 1999, they had also had backing from the National Trust for
Historic Preservation, the California Preservation Foundation, the Los
Angeles Conservancy, Pasadena Heritage and the South Pasadena Unified
It wasn’t “just little South Pasadena” anymore, Nuckols said.
The cities of Pasadena and La Cañada Flintridge had also changed sides to block the freeway extension.
Then-Rep. Jim Rogan came to South Pasadena’s defense and that support continued when Democrat Adam Schiff took his seat.
In 2003, the Federal Highway Administration withdrew support for the freeway extension.
Metro has since suggested alternatives that would “help mitigate” some of the problems South Pasadena had with the freeway.
Also in 2003, Former Metro CEO Roger Snoble personally went to South
Pasadena and recommended building a tunnel under the entire city for the
SR-710N instead of the open gash Caltrans wanted.
Studies showed that the only remotely affordable tunnel required that
it become a toll tunnel with transit fees ranging from $5 to $15 each
time it was used.
As Nuckols figures, a toll tunnel would cause more traffic problems on surface streets than it would solve.
The tunnel would go underground at California Boulevard in Pasadena
and emerge at Huntington Drive on the southern border of South Pas,
nearly a five mile stretch.
The two entrances would draw massive amounts of surface traffic and add to local congestion, not help it.
For a city that already fails federal clean air quality standards,
excess cars on the roads means even more pollution and harm for South
Not just relying on pollution issues, South Pasadena also sued Metro
over Measure R. $780 million of Measure R was identified for the SR-710N
Knapp said South Pasadena alleged “it was illegal… before you can spend money on a project you’re supposed to have an EIR done.”
Although South Pasadena lost that lawsuit in court, the tunnel has still not been built.
The tunnel was one of five alternatives that Metro has been studying.
South Pasadena has objected to all of the alternatives that would cut its city in half.
Other alternatives included multimodalism, a “cut and cover” plan to
dig the tunnel then cover it over and rebuild the city on top of it, and
alternative routes for the SR-710N.
MTA is actively studying the tunnel alternative but faces a projected cost of nearly $6 billion.
Many of the same tunnel safety issues that confront Beverly Hills
exist with the 710 Tunnel proposal, although South Pas has no oil field
to contend with.
Recently, the South Pas city council amended its “anti-710” ordinance
to drop opposition to preparation of environmental studies for the
extension provided none involve a surface route.
Its opposition to actual construction of the 710 connector remains.
Sixty years into the battle, there is no resolution but South
Pasadena has not been split, impacted or polluted by a freeway through
Beverly Hills can learn many things from South Pasadena’s arduous journey.
Nuckols said she thought the people of Beverly Hills did “the right
thing” in the 1970s by saying “no” to the 2 freeway (which would have
run down Santa Monica Boulevard and split Beverly Hills in two) and are
doing the right thing by saying “no” now to the MTA tunnel under BHHS.
At least so far, the BHUSD Board of Education has said “no” and backed it with concrete action.
Nearly every City resident organization, business and civic group in
Beverly Hills and many individual citizens have urged the council to
take real action, not just talk.
The people of Beverly Hills are still waiting for the city council majority to take action.
Maybe the saga of little South Pasadena can shed some light on what a definite “no” backed by action, not talk, can accomplish.