By Sara Cardine, May 12, 2016
Representatives from Glendale Unified, Burbank Unified and neighboring school districts recently drafted a joint resolution opposing a potential tunnel extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway because of the negative impacts they believe it would have on student and employee health. They hoped...
They hoped the message that school leaders from Glendale, Burbank, La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena and South Pasadena — assembled collectively as the 5-Star Education Coalition — had regional concerns about the pollutant effects of the 4.5-mile underground passage proposed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority would sound alarm bells to state lawmakers and compel the agency to refine its plans.
However, that hope was dashed last week when Pasadena Unified School Board member Larry Torres opted not to support the resolution, blocking the unanimity required for the document to be officially adopted by the coalition.
The disagreement marks another chapter in a tale of two perspectives about whether a multibillion-dollar tunnel project would be a boon or a burden to cities along the 710 and Foothill (210) freeways and whether local elected officials should weigh in for or against it, or not at all.
La Cañada Unified Governing Board member Ellen Multari, whose district passed its own resolution against a tunnel option in July, believes the adverse impacts the project and its construction would bring to students, school staff and families is unquestionable and merits opposition.
"I think this is a bit more of a show of strength among the five of us," she said of the resolution when it was still being drafted, indicating all five member cities seemed interested in going that route. "That's why the 5-Star was created — so we could have power collectively that we don't have individually."
But to Torres, the wisdom of educators speaking out against the project wasn't quite so clear. When he took the resolution back to the Pasadena Unified board for input at a March 10 meeting, he confessed he wasn't certain the 710 issue was relevant to educating children.
A former teacher in the Los Angeles neighborhood of El Sereno, Torres expressed his belief something needed to be done to address "the exceedingly troubling" problem of street traffic in and around Alhambra and surrounding environs.
"I'm of the opinion, probably where most folks are, that something needs to happen," Torres told the board. "I'm not sold that a tunnel is the answer, but I'm also questioning whether or not for me, as a school board member, this is a child-related issue."
His fellow Pasadena Unified board members largely agreed.
"I am personally opposed to the 710 tunnel, but I kind of agree with Larry," board member Patrick Cahalan said at the meeting. "I don't see this is an area of governance that we should be weighing in on as a school board. I also don't think there's a clear impact here that has to do with education."
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Glendale school officials were of a different mindset when they unanimously approved their own resolution on March 15 opposing the tunnel in anticipation that the 5-Star Coalition's resolution would follow.
"We are a part of the impact, there's no question about it," board member Greg Krikorian said at the March 15 meeting.
Two days after the Glendale school board opposed the tunnel, Burbank school board members voted 3-2 in favor of a similar resolution.
Burbank school board member Larry Applebaum declined to vote in favor of the resolution.
He pointed to Burbank's past and said the development of the Golden State (5) Freeway in the 1950s bisected the community. One of the early rationales in extending the 710 was to mitigate truck traffic that for decades has moved directly through Burbank, he added.
"We take 100% of the pollution now. You know what I read here," Applebaum said of the resolution, "'Not in my neighborhood.' And you know what, we've had it in our neighborhood for 50 years...It's hard for me to stand on the playground at Washington Elementary School and look at that freeway and not think about the billions of tons of pollutants that those kids are within a hundred yards of everyday that they're there for their six or seven years. This will happen for the next three or four or five generations because nothing's going to change. All this does is continue to stall [the 710 extension]."
Fellow member Steve Ferguson, however, voted in favor of the resolution, saying, "I think it's important to stand with our neighbors on this."
Charlene Tabet, board president, and member Armond Aghakhanian also voted in favor of the resolution, while school board member Roberta Reynolds voted against it with Applebaum, but she did not elaborate on her reasoning.
Tabet, however, in voting for the resolution opposing the tunnel, said: "My hope is this opens up an opportunity for the powers that be to look past the tunnel and find another solution."
Meanwhile, Multari remained firm in her district's conviction that the tunnel could pose a health risk to many schools situated near the 210 Freeway, which would see an increase in truck traffic were the 710 gap filled.
"We felt it was a legitimate concern for our districts to address," she said in an email Tuesday.