When Edward Zareh built his home in Arcadia in 1951, he set out to create what he described as an ideal living environment--a place with a pool, a big yard, a badminton court, a bar, a fireplace.
"Just nice little features," he said.
Then came the Foothill Freeway, which roared through in 1971 just 60 feet from his rear property line. Zareh said the steady traffic noise from that freeway has been like 15 years of subtle torture.
"It's like dripping water," he said. "A drop or two won't affect you, but if you live with that day in and day out, you go nuts. We live here 24 hours a day. We can't open our back windows at night. At 2 o'clock in the morning, when the big trucks go by, you hear it. It's so noisy you can't sleep."
Zareh, like many of his neighbors, has hoped for years that the construction of new freeway sound walls might restore some of the tranquility of his west Arcadia neighborhood, where home values exceed $250,000. But so far, repeated efforts to obtain necessary state funds have ended in roadblocks--largely because noise levels in the area are not quite high enough.
Measurements taken along the five-mile stretch of the freeway that runs through Arcadia have averaged just a few decibels below the sound levels necessary to obtain funding under Caltrans' sound wall construction program. Frustrated residents say the noise is enough to disrupt outdoor conversations, but Arcadia cannot even win a spot on the state's long waiting list for construction funds.
"We've appealed to Gov. (George) Deukmejian and to Gov. (Edmund G.) Brown (Jr.) before him," said 30-year resident Bob Caldwell, whose home sits about 200 feet from the freeway on the east edge of town. "As yet, we've not been successful."
City Council members are now taking up the fight. The city has commissioned an independent noise consultant to take new readings that may challenge Caltrans' previous measurements, said City Councilman Dennis Lojeski. If those readings help persuade state officials to place Arcadia on the funding list, he said, the city may build the walls as soon as possible and await later reimbursement under the state construction program.
Up to $6 Million
The cost--estimated at $5.5 million to $6 million for a 10- to 14-foot wall the length of the city--would make it difficult for the city to build the wall without at least some assurance of help from the state, Lojeski said.
"We're not broke," he said, "but we don't have millions of dollars sitting around. . . . If we can at least get on that (waiting) list, it would be more palatable for the council . . . to put up the money and get reimbursed down the road. I think you'd find the council very seriously considering building the walls."
If Arcadia were to make the list, however, there is little chance the reimbursement would come before the end of the century, according to Caltrans officials. William Minter, head of the sound wall construction program for the Los Angeles region, said Caltrans' priority list now includes about 240 neighborhoods across the state.
In the past two years, he said, only 25 communities have received new walls, and those still near the bottom of the list may face a wait of 25 years or more to receive state funds.
'I'll Be Dead'
"When I tell people at the end of the list how long it takes, they say to me, 'I'll be dead by the time we get a sound wall,' " Minter commented. "Actually, that's about the size of it."
If Arcadia cannot qualify for state funds, the city will probably study other options, Lojeski said. One possibility, he said, is that the city and the affected residents could share the cost of the walls by forming a special assessment district--a new approach that has been largely untested, according to Caltrans officials. Lojeski said that and other options may be considered early this year, after the new noise studies have been analyzed.
"The council is very sympathetic to these people. If you can't sleep or carry on a conversation" the traffic is loud, he said, even if noise levels fall below state funding requirements.
Lojeski said he became involved in the sound wall issue a few years ago while attending a meeting of homeowners in a garage near the freeway. "I was sitting in that garage with a microphone and the people still couldn't hear me," he said.
Higher Noise Levels
Caldwell, who has spent 12 years fighting the issue, said some Arcadia residents cannot understand why their city has been bypassed while the state has approved funds for walls in neighboring Monrovia. Noise levels measured in the yards of Monrovia homeowners were higher than those measured in Arcadia, he conceded, but both communities share the same freeway.
"We've got the same traffic going by our back doors as they do," Caldwell said. "It doesn't make sense."
Caldwell said one of his neighbors was recently told by a real estate appraiser that freeway noise had devaluated her home by $30,000.
"It changes the value of our house considerably," Zareh believes. "(But) I don't want to move. I've got everything in my house just the way I want it. I'm going to stay here . . . and I'm not going to give up."