To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Caltrans begins drafting regulations for sale of homes in 710 freeway corridor


By Lauren Gold, October 26, 2013

PASADENA >> The sale of the state-owned homes in the 710 Freeway corridor has been a goal of many state legislators, freeway fighters and tenants for years, but with the transition into private ownership finally on the horizon, the mood in the room is largely one of concern and fear.

Tenants turned out in droves to two community meetings this week to express questions, comments and concerns about the process of selling the houses. The meetings, in El Sereno and Pasadena, were the first step in Caltrans’ process to create a set of regulations for the home sales.

Three Caltrans attorneys recorded comments from the audience at the meetings and answered questions in what they said was an effort to be “transparent” and involve as many people as possible in creating the regulations.

“We are in a very unique situation here. We will be disposing of many of the homes that are in the 710 corridor, and we’re going to be doing so under a scheme that is absolutely unique in California,” attorney Glenn Mueller said. “(Existing) laws are merely a skeleton. They don’t answer all the questions, and I’m sure folks in this room have a lot of questions. Generally speaking, administrative regulations add meat to those bones, they offer the details on the procedure and the process.”

The process to sell the homes was expedited this year after Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill by State Sen. Carol Liu, D-Pasadena, which requires Caltrans to sell the homes it will no longer need to demolish for the freeway extension now that the originally proposed surface route is infeasible.

Revenues from the home sales will going into an account that will be used to fund home repairs and, after all the homes are sold, go toward local transportation projects.

Tenants raised concerns about the timetable for the home sales, the cost of the houses and the possibility that current tenants might not qualify and will get kicked out of their houses. A bill known as the Roberti Bill gives residents first priority to buy their home, but only if they have low or moderate income.

“What we want is some kind of goals and timetable so staff members in Caltrans understand their goal is to move forward quickly,” Caltrans tenants attorney Christopher Sutton said. “There needs to be some kind of accountability if and when this process does not go as you are proposing.”

Some also suggested that Caltrans create a task force to involve the public more in the process and also asked that Caltrans freeze the rent hikes that it recently implemented as a result of a scathing report from the California State Auditor.

Many of those who spoke at the meeting Thursday in Pasadena had logistical questions about their properties, complaining that they can’t get a response from Caltrans any other way.

Officials said they plan to release a draft of the regulations by the end of the year, conduct another public review process, then release the final regulations in fall 2014. They said the agency will not begin selling the homes until the draft environmental impact report, expected in spring 2014, which will delineate the specific routes for each of five possible alternatives for the freeway gap closure.

But, Mueller said, that doesn’t mean the agency plans to stall the process.

“We are really trying to get this done,” he said. “You usually don’t see Caltrans attorneys out here like this.”

Though the three attorneys addressed many of the concerns and vowed to respond to all of them, some tenants were still skeptical.

“I think it was a little bit of a placebo,” Pasadena tenant Jessica Rehg Susnar said. “They are doing this hoping that maybe they can avoid other issues down the road and fly under the radar. They are going to do whatever they want.”