Larry Wilson's Public Eye blog

BEING a house-hugger, I care a great deal about those hundreds of old shingled homes and other buildings in the path of the proposed 710 Freeway extension.

Oops - now that there are these necessary fictions about how a freeway might instead roar up San Rafael Avenue, where every home costs a million and most of them well over that, or turn into some kind of expressway up Avenue 64, where the young doctors and lawyers in their mid-century Moderns would sabotage any Caterpillar that got near - I should write, "the Fremont/Pasadena Avenue surface-route option."

I've cared about them since I was a little kid, and they tore down the gorgeous ancient brown-shingle Neighborhood Church at Sequoyah School on California Boulevard and the virtual freeway that is Pas Ave.

Thank goodness they didn't tear down the Whit Smith buildings that form much of the school now, some of the best mid-cent Mods in town and a great place for my daughter and her barefoot pals to have matriculated.

But last week, amid all the new talk about the freeway, and about whether the Measure J sales-tax extension on the county ballot in November, son of Measure R, will give $700 million toward building the 710, I got to thinking about one precious big Caltrans-owned property in the freeway route where there's no building except a gardener's shed.

That's the incredible people's success of Arlington Garden, the community-supported, water-wise oasis created by Betty and Charles McKenney on an empty lot.

And though City Hall leases it for a nominal $100 year for everyone's benefit, fact is the state transit agency does own it. And therefore would be required to sell it at fair-market value if the wooden stake is finally plunged into the old surface route's heart by a tunnel alternative or by a no-build. 
 "Right?" I asked Chuck McKenney one blazing afternoon last week while sitting in the shade of the garden over a glass of ice water in an Adirondack chair.

"Right," said Kicker, as his family and many pals call him. "If the surface route is eliminated, as through the current A.B. 204 in the Assembly, then the Caltrans properties go at market value. Zoned R-4. Twelve houses."

He waved his arms around the 3 acres of greenery he, Betty and dozens of volunteers have created
over seven years from what was a scraped, vacant lot, once home to Pasadena's biggest mansion.

Oaks, peppers, pines and sycamores. Cherokee roses. The big citrus grove the marmalade from which, bottled up at E. Waldo Ward in Sierra Madre, funds thousands of dollars of garden improvements a year. The tranquil seven-circuit stone labyrinth created by the girls of Mayfield Senior School. The new amphitheater built in memory of Sabra Clark, with a trellis arching over it centered around a pomegranate-colored piece of art glass.

In high summer, the garden part is just, as Kicker says, 35 shades of green amid the tranquil dust. But blooms will soon explode all around.
He's hoping there's a workaround. "See, if they go to a tunnel, or even something else, they'd have to mitigate. Just like BFI did when they added to their landfill, and far away from there, in the Lower Arroyo, they paid to recreate the natural open space there to make up for taking other land."

There's a real gleam in Kicker's eye here. It's not as if he hasn't thought this through. I mean, sitting there, in a water-stingy Southern California garden that redefines lush to what it should be for us, he's thinking legacy. He knows just how many passionate horticulturists he's brought on board who will make sure the future of Arlington Garden is not a dozen McMansions.