A bill passed by the state legislature could lead to the selling Caltrans-owned properties along the SR-710 extension after Jan. 1, if Gov. Jerry Brown signs it into law.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Carol Liu, D-Glendale, directs Caltrans to sell any homes no longer needed for the proposed 710 extension. Passed Friday, it puts the proceeds into a fund for local transportation improvement projects in the cities where the properties are located.

"We're very excited," said Liu's Chief of Staff Suzanne Reed. "We're very grateful for the bipartisan support and we're anxious to get the process moving forward."

The bill, sponsored by Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, prohibits revenue from the homes' sale from funding a tunnel freeway. It also requires that 25 percent of the funds go to pay for sound wall construction along the 210 Freeway in Pasadena and La Canada Flintridge.

South Pasadena and Pasadena officials praised the bill's success in the legislature, and La Canada Flintridge officials expressed support for the bill's prohibition against tunnel funding.

South Pasadena City Manager Sergio Gonzalez said the sale of the Caltrans homes will have significant benefits for the region.

"The bill does three important things," Gonzalez said. "It removes Caltrans from the equation, as they've been a terrible landlord, it puts the properties back on the tax rolls and, most importantly, it returns the pride of home ownership."

 

 
 
Caltrans officials said it was premature to comment on Liu's bill before it is officially signed into law.

"We must refrain from discussing pending legislation," said Matt Rocco, Caltrans' chief of public affairs, "however Caltrans continues to explore alternatives to state management of these properties to ensure it remains focused on its core mission: improving the safety and mobility of California's driving public."

A 2009 bill by Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, D-Pasadena, requires Caltrans to give current tenants the first opportunity to purchase the homes at an affordable price. It then opens up the sale to affordable housing agencies before allowing Caltrans to sell the homes at the market rate.

Opponents of Liu's bill voiced concern about some of its provisions, including the formation of a special committee of Caltrans and city representatives to create the transportation plan. The bill gives Metro the authority to carry out the projects and also allows the agency to advance money even before Caltrans' sales are complete.

"These are state funds and they should go back to the place they were allocated from," said Assemblyman Curt Hagman, R-Chino Hills, who voted against the bill. "We want to make sure the process is always followed. Once we do this once then every other piece of surplus property can be used ... for a pet project."

Last week, a study team from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it has eliminated a surface route from consideration in its efforts to close the 710 freeway "gap" between Alhambra and Pasadena.

Still under consideration are: light rail, bus route, "no build," traffic management solutions and a tunnel connecting I-10 and I-210.

Reed said the remaining options would likely require Caltrans to retain ownership of fewer homes than the surface route, which appears to be out of contention.

The homes' sale is especially important, she said, after a state audit commissioned by Portantino slammed Caltrans last month for its "poor management" of the more than 500 properties and its loss of millions in state funds.

"Caltrans ... continues to maintain that they want the homes in case they need them at some point in the future," Reed said, "but I think we've had enough Caltrans management of the homes. I think everybody believes that."
lauren.gold@sgvn.com, 626-578-6300, ext. 4586