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, August 8, 2015

El Sereno Residents Feel Left Out of SR710 North Debate


By Jacqueline Garcia, August 6, 2015

About 30 people attended a meeting at the El Sereno Senior Center last week to discuss alternatives for closing the “transportation gap” between the end of the 1-710 Freeway in El Sereno near the Alhambra border and the northbound 210 Freeway in Pasadena.

It was the second such meeting in the neighborhood since Metro released its Draft Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (DIR/EIS) for the controversial transportation project in March, and the final meeting before the comment period on the report ended yesterday, Aug. 5.

El Sereno residents do not feel they have been given enough information “to know what the problem is or what the solution is,” said the meeting moderator, Kevin Ocubillo, planning deputy for Councilman Jose Huizar. They have not yet had an open conversation with Metro or Caltrans, he said.

The SR-710 project has been on the books for nearly 60 years but languished for decades when residents living along the path — including in El Sereno — strongly objected and won court injunctions against what was then to be a surface freeway.

During the 1960s, Caltrans purchased 500 houses along the then proposed freeway expansion route; nearly half, 220, were in El Sereno. The properties are still owned by Caltrans, which plans to sell the properties since the surface freeway has been eliminated from consideration.

Residents of El Sereno voiced their concerns about feeling excluded in the SR 710 meetings during a community meeting last week. (EGP photo by Jacqueline Garcia)
Residents of El Sereno voiced their concerns about feeling excluded in the SR 710 meetings during a community meeting last week.

Instead, the five alternatives for improving traffic in the region in the current Draft EIR/EIS now include: a bored freeway tunnel; light rail train; rapid bus lines; a traffic management system and the required “no build” option.

The proposed alternatives, however, have done little to lessen heated views on the project.

Last week’s meeting in El Sereno was co-hosted by the El Sereno Organizing Committee (ESOC), Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and the Office of Councilman Huizar, who represents the area. The councilman felt it was important to hear directly from El Sereno residents about their concerns, said Huizar Spokesman Rick Coca.

But “Not everybody knows about these meetings,” lamented El Sereno resident Olivia Trujillo. She complained that language barriers  — the meeting was in English — busy work schedules and too little information in public places, like libraries restaurants and on bulletin boards, have made the meetings and the issue “a hidden secret.”

Longtime resident Simon Fuentes said the local neighborhood council years ago opposed “any type of connector road.”

“For the past 56 years, Pasadena and South Pasadena want to dictate how El Sereno should live,” Fuentes said.

“It is not fair, not constitutional,” he complained. Fuentes said El Sereno residents did not have the same financial resources as those cities “to fight state and local government.”

During the meeting, people complained that Caltrans and Metro have done a poor job of listening to El Sereno residents.

It doesn’t seem to matter to the transportation agencies if eastside residents provide input, ESOC President Hugo Garcia said. From the beginning, “[Metro/Caltrans] made their choices and we weren’t taken into consideration,” he said.

Just 4.7-square-miles in size, El Sereno is home to about 44,000 people, the vast majority Latino and working class. The Los Angeles neighborhood is right where the 710 Freeway now ends, forcing thousands of vehicles onto local streets.

The Draft EIR does not really mitigate the traffic issues in El Sereno, Garcia told EGP. Instead, it causes more traffic, environmental, health and safety issues for local businesses and residents, he said.

“If a tunnel is built, there will be a lot of danger,” Garcia said. “What if there is a fire? Innocent people could pay the consequences,” he warned.

He wants Metro and Caltrans to go back to the drawing board and develop a better multimodal traffic diffusion plan to synchronize traffic signals and implement traffic calming measures.

“Prior to release of the Draft EIR/EIS, Metro and Caltrans conducted 92 community meetings, participated in six city-sponsored community forums and held over 200 briefings with community stakeholders,” Metro spokesperson Paul Gonzales said, defending the agency’s outreach.

“Any story indicating Caltrans and Metro have not provided opportunity for comment while the comment period [was] still open is based on opinion and not fact,” he said, pointing out that five public hearings were held on the Eastside, including one at the Christian Presbyterian Church in El Sereno on May 7.

State law only requires that we allow a 45-day period to comment on the Draft EIR/EIS, but we extended the period to 120 days, Gonzales told EGP.

Huizar, however, was not happy with Metro/Caltrans’s outreach and decided to join with community groups to host meetings focused entirely on the needs of El Sereno and the surrounding communities, Coca said.

According to Coca, the comment letter submitted by Huizar yesterday included the feedback he received from residents, as well as his longtime opposition to the tunnel option and the failed logic of the other proposed routes.

Huizar believes there isn’t any consensus at this point because no truly viable, vetted and well thought out proposal has been offered to the residents of El Sereno, he said.

“People do think, and we agree, that if we focus on local alternatives that improve traffic and access using a combination of street improvements and increased public transportation, that would be a much-more cost-effective answer to traffic issues than building a $5.6 billion outdated and bloated freeway tunnel model that will likely be a toll road,” Coca said.

Metro/Caltrans will now gather all the comments submitted since March—either at public hearings, by email and mail—to create a final report on the recommendation of the agencies’ final alternative.