Opposing Views Shared About Proposed Route Under SoPas
By Sally Kilby, March 31, 2015
Sponsored by the university and its Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs in partnership with the League of Women Voters Pasadena area, the event featured two known opponents and two known proponents of the extension.
It was moderated by Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Brown Institute, who said that since the longstanding battle over extending the 710 was relatively new to him, he could serve as an unbiased moderator. He had learned, however, that every word in the 710 issue has meaning, and he refused to call the noncontiguous 710 a “gap.”
Traveling to the event highlighted the major issue that the 710 options are supposed to resolve: getting from place to place along the 710 corridor. Freeway extension opponents and proponents alike were stuck in traffic along Fremont at rush hour, most probably driving solo.
Anyone traveling from the north along Fremont drove under large Alhambra-sponsored banners urging drivers experiencing the “Fremont Freeway” to voice their opinions at numerous public hearings. And then, some 200 meeting attendees converged on the hilltop campus of 27,000 students on the first day of the new quarter. The parking lot adjacent to the destination Golden Eagle building was a mad unsafe mashup of cars and pedestrians. The Brown Institute, predicting the parking nightmare, instructed all attendees to park at a nearby court and take a special shuttle to the event. However, many rejected this direction and happily claimed spots in student lots close to the building. Amazingly, resident and freeway fighter Sam Burgess purposefully walked from South Pasadena to Cal State LA, arriving before many motorists.
Panel members supporting the 710 extension with a tunnel were Barbara Messina, an Alhambra City Councilmember since 1986 who said she has worked on the 710 issue for 30 years; and John Fasana, a Duarte City Councilmember since 1987 and a member of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency (Metro) board. Opponents were South Pasadena Councilmember Michael Cacciotti, a councilmember since 2001 and a member of the South Coast Air Quality Management District board; and Ara Najarian, a Glendale City Councilmember since 2005 and a member of the Metro board. Written questions were solicited from attendees by League of Women Voters volunteers, and Dr. Sonenshein posed his own questions along with those submitted by the audience.
The debate was timely in that a voluminous environmental impact report (EIR/EIS) had been released in March. This was the first debate in recent history held by a neutral party, and Councilmember Najarian said, “It was a long time coming.”
n response to a question about which of the five transportation alternatives studied in the report each favored, Messina replied, “I definitely support the tunnel because the tunnel is the only alternative that addresses what the EIR is looking for … mobility, air quality, and congestion.” She also said that the tunnel is the only alternative with identified funding. Fasana agreed that the tunnel, along with traffic changes, is the option “that we should be looking at seriously” to “make the system work more effectively.”
Cacciotti took a broad historical view of the transportation needs of the exploding population in the region, advocating for light rail in all four directions to transport workers, 100,000 college students, and others to and from schools, jobs, airports, shopping, and entertainment. Why waste money on a small project, he said, “when a number of light-rail projects can reach people in Los Angeles, Riverside, and San Bernardino counties?” Najarian said a combination of methods like light rail and bicycles, not a freeway tunnel, will resolve issues of gridlock, bottleneck, and congestion. “We want a transportation system that will get people to jobs, make the quality of our lives better, and provide economic vitality,” he said.
Panelists’ responses elicited a number of audible reactions from supporters and opponents, causing Dr. Sonenshein to remind the audience on several occasions to refrain from making comments. “This is not a political rally,” he said. Prior to entering the large ballroom, attendees were screened for any visible signs of their political position on the issue, e.g., buttons, clothing signage. For the most part, the large audience, comprised of many with strongly held positions, restrained itself. The panelists were similarly civil to each other, while at the same time challenging opponents’ claims.
When asked which of the five alternatives voters would choose if on the ballot today, Cacciotti and Najarian said light rail. Messina said the tunnel. Regarding the issue of trucks using the proposed tunnel, Najarian, representing the Metro Board, said that goods movement transporters will be the only ones willing to pay the tolls (currently estimated at $14 per trip he said). Fasana, also on the Metro Board, said he opposed allowing trucks to use the tunnel. All agreed that trucks should be diverted east, not traveling north on the 710.
Sonenshein, who grew up using the Lincoln Tunnel between New Jersey and midtown Manhattan, asked panelists to comment on the good and bad features of tunnels. Messina said, “To say a tunnel is dangerous is very, very lame.” Najarian said he would caution members of his family, “Never enter a five-mile tunnel with no exits used by trucks.” Fasana admitted that the issue of trucks adds to the safety issue but said the technology is improving. Cacciotti opposed allowing trucks, stating that he had seen numerous tunnel accidents while working for Caltrans.
Each response to subsequent questions was predictable. The two tunnel opponents argued that light rail and other non-tunnel alternatives would provide the most efficient transportation option, improve economic vitality, create jobs, and reduce environmental and health impacts from traffic. Proponents said the tunnel would do the same.