By Christopher Yee, September 23, 2016
Alhambra council candidates, Mark Nisall who is against the 710 Freeway
tunnel option pointing to the traffic and potential area for the
underground 710 freeway tunnel on Fremont Avenue in Alhambra. Is
Alhambra ready to elect city councilmembers who don’t support the
completion of the 710? With the surface freeway option off the table,
the only other option to complete the freeway is an underground tunnel,
but two Alhambra council candidates, Mark Nisall and Ken Toh, oppose the
tunnel, bucking tradition in Alhambra.
ALHAMBRA >> For more than half a century, the battle over
whether to complete the 710 Freeway from its terminus in Alhambra north
to Pasadena has been divisive for San Gabriel Valley residents.
people often boil down the battle to Alhambra versus South Pasadena,
with the former in favor of completing the freeway and the latter
opposed. All five members of Alhambra’s current City Council support
Metro and Caltrans’ tunnel proposal and make that opinion known by
hanging banners over Fremont Avenue that read “Close the gap” and even
closing Fremont once a year on July 10 to host a street festival
centered around completing the 710.
After 51 years, are Alhambra residents ready to shed the
pro-710-extension mantle as they prepare to elect two new City Council
members, with Vice Mayor Steven Placido and Councilman Gary Yamauchi
Both seats are being contested by candidates who
oppose the 710 tunnel, but it remains unclear whether Alhambra voters
are ready to move in that direction.
candidates Mark Nisall and Ken Toh, running for the seats in districts 3
and 4 respectively, both said they started out supporting the tunnel
but changed their opinions after learning more about the project’s cost,
which has been estimated at $5 billion-$10 billion, and a 10- to
15-year construction estimate.
Nisall and Toh both said the money could be better spent elsewhere.
said he supports increased light-rail options, adding rapid bus lines,
improving traffic signal synchronization and the construction of an
above-ground north-south boulevard that lines up with the 710 terminus.
Toh said he supports increased light-rail and rapid bus lines.
Nisall also is concerned with the potential environmental impacts that boring a tunnel below people’s homes may have.
couldn’t support it after looking at the cost, the time it would take
to construct and the environmental dangers ahead,” he said.
Nisall said his position isn’t making him any friends, but he’s
hoping voters will take time to consider the alternatives to the tunnel
and, ultimately, not just make their council decisions based on the 710.
hope people won’t decide to vote for or against me or any other
candidate only on this one issue,” Nisall said. “I hope they look at our
positions on other issues as well.”
ANTI-710 SENTIMENT GROWING SLOWLY
years, a group calling itself Alhambrans Against the 710 has been trying
to rally locals to fight efforts to complete the freeway, including the
The group protests at Alhambra’s 710 Day and marches alongside the
“No on 710” coalition in the South Pasadena Fourth of July parade.
group has grown from 40 members to 90 in the past two years, which may
sound low but illustrates a shift in philosophy among residents, said
member and 10-year resident Melissa Michelson.
“It’s time for
nonestablishment candidates to come up,” Michelson said. “People are
sick of the old guard. To me, it’s historic that we finally have
candidates willing to speak against the 710.”
Michelson said November’s ballot results will tell just how ready the city is for that change.
SUPPORT FOR METRO REMAINS
and Toh are being opposed by Jeff Maloney and David Mejia,
respectively. While neither said they are specifically supporting the
tunnel, both said they would support whatever option Metro and Caltrans
deems most effective.
Mejia lives just off of Fremont near Valley Boulevard and said he has to deal with the traffic every day.
other candidates don’t see what I see every day,” said Mejia, an
investigator with the Los Angeles Police Department. “We have families
trying to walk around here with cars zooming through. (Traffic
navigation mobile app) Waze loves my block, unfortunately.”
Maloney said he is ready to support Metro’s best solution to
reducing traffic, gridlock, air pollution and damage to the streets
created by the 710 emptying into Alhambra.
“It looks like they will end up recommending a tunnel,” Maloney said. “If that’s the case, I would support it.”
Maloney also said that, ultimately, Alhambra won’t be the one deciding
to dig a tunnel; Metro and Caltrans will decide the 710’s future.
CAN CITIES' OPINIONS MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
and Caltrans may be leading the conversation right now with the 710
alternatives under environmental review, but the positions cities take
on the matter still bear weight, said Sam Pedroza, mayor of Claremont
and vice chair of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments’
“The environmental review process is out of the cities’ hands,”
Pedroza said, “But the advocacy for or against the project is still
largely in the cities’ hands.”
In 2018, Alhambra Mayor Barbara
Messina and City Councilmen Luis Ayala and Stephen Sham will term out of
their council seats, which leaves open the possibility of a new
majority opinion on the council.
Viola Rippon, president of the Alhambra Democratic Club, said she isn’t sure residents care anymore.
club held a candidates forum in August and endorsed Nisall and Toh, but
not because of their views on the 710. In fact, Rippon said she wasn’t
aware until recently that Toh opposed the tunnel.
Instead, Rippon said residents are more concerned with overdevelopment and accompanying traffic buildup in Alhambra.
now, the 710 is an antiquated issue,” Rippon said. “It could come up
again once Metro makes a final decision, but I think after 50 years most
people around here have moved on.”