June 12, 2014
The good news on the 710 Freeway extension front is that Caltrans is
trying to get out of the property-management business, which the transit
agency has never claimed to be adept at.
Caltrans’ charge is the
freeway business, and however well you think it does at that, it must be
acknowledged that in Los Angeles County, where the freeway was
invented, it’s a full-time job.
But half a century ago — when it
was first seriously proposed that the long-planned extension of the 710
Freeway from its terminus in Alhambra at Valley Boulevard north to the
210 Freeway in Pasadena actually get under way — Caltrans bought upward
of 500 homes and businesses in the route’s path.
Recognizing it might take a few years to get its act together and
take it on the road, the agency leased out the homes. Fifty years
later, what a nightmare that has been, first because of lax state
maintenance, then because of wild overpayment for shoddy fix-it jobs.
freeway was ever built, thanks at first to feisty little South
Pasadena, a lone rat terrier with Caltrans pants’ cuffs in its teeth for
decades. But that city has now been joined by Pasadena, Sierra Madre,
La Canada Flintridge and Glendale in opposition to the freeway, along
with every preservationist in Southern California. That’s because of
more good news: Some of the grand Craftsman-era and even earlier houses
owned by Caltrans include some of the best residential architecture and
solid construction techniques in the West.
But the surface route, whatever Caltrans keeps insisting because of
its legal need to pretend that “alternatives” are still being studied,
is entirely dead as an option.
The tunnel route is another matter for another time.
now, thanks to a bill by state Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Canada Flintridge,
that passed the Legislature last year after a state audit slammed
Caltrans for poor property management, Caltrans is required to begin
selling the homes it no longer needs to demolish for the freeway
project. The agency has selected 56 houses, outside the footprint of any
of the remaining five supposed options, that can be sold right away.
Of course the po
or little bureaucracy can’t catch a break,
because everyone is an expert, and everyone has an angle. Current
longtime tenants of the Caltrans houses understandably say they not only
should have right of first refusal on buying the homes, but also
shouldn’t have to pay market rates because they’ve been maintaining the
old places so long. The state more or less says fine — but in a move
aimed at stopping the former tenants from then turning around and
flipping the properties, wants to impose a 30-year moratorium on then
selling the homes.
Realtors in Southwest Pasadena and South Pasadena are desperate
for inventory in two of the hottest Southern California markets for real
estate. But they also note that putting dozens of properties for sale
at the same time could flood that market and greatly influence pricing.
understand Caltrans’ desire to not get ripped off by giving a price
break to tenants and then see them capitalize on it. But 30 years is too
long. What about a decade? And the sooner all these houses get back in
private ownership on the tax rolls, the better for us all.