SOUTH PASADENA — The City Council has decided to ask voters whether they want to continue the 22-year fight with the state Department of Transportation over a proposed extension of the Long Beach Freeway.
"It is now time to find out just how the people feel," said Mayor Lee Prentiss. "To pursue (the opposition), we need the support of the people."
City officials said an advisory measure will be placed on the November ballot to assess community feelings about the conflict, in hopes that a massive endorsement by voters will aid whatever steps the city decides to take.
Opposition to the proposed extension along Meridian Avenue, which would run through the middle of the city, suffered a setback when the Federal Highway Administration in June denied the city's request for an independent study of an alternative route the city favors.
Hoped for Support
City officials had hoped that the study would show that Caltrans erred in rejecting the alternative.
In a letter to Prentiss, Federal Highway Administrator R. A. Barnhart said that the highway administration does not hire "consultants to evaluate a state's actions or its decision-making process."
South Pasadena long has favored a westerly route, which would skirt the city boundaries. The Meridian route would divide the city and destroy 106 historical landmarks.
Because of the destruction of so many landmarks, the National Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, which advises the highway administration on federally funded transportation projects, voiced concern over the Meridian route.
In response last April, Caltrans came up with the Meridian variation, which would save half the historic structures but still cut through the center of the city. The variation would bypass the business district, moving two blocks west of the original plan.
City officials are also opposed to this route.
The Long Beach Freeway ends at Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, dumping traffic onto north-south surface streets from that point to the Pasadena and Foothill freeways.
In his letter, Barnhart said that the agency does take steps to ensure that federal laws are followed.
"The (highway administration) has exercised that role with regard to this project and is satisfied that the documented studies of alternatives have been adequate and forthright," he said.
Praise for Caltrans
"Based on our continued involvement in this project, we believe that the analysis conducted by Caltrans is being handled in a highly professional, objective and equitable manner," Barnhart concluded.
The highway administration's role is critical because it will provide 86% of the $400-million cost of the project.
"The letter dumps on us," said City Manager John Bernardi.
If the vote shows that residents no longer want to fight Caltrans, the city would attempt to negotiate the least offensive route, Prentiss said, since the only other alternative, not to build the link at all, is not acceptable to South Pasadena.
Bernardi said that he hopes voters will "give the City Council something more to fight with."
Added Prentiss: "It takes a lot of energy to oppose the freeway, so if we are going to pursue this we need the support of the people."
Caltrans will hold public hearings on the variation this fall, said spokesman David Kilmurray.
"I assume our choice would be between the original Meridian and the variation," he said. "When the plan is final, we will send it to the federal government. We hope to have clearance early next year."
But even if the federal government qualifies one of the two Meridian routes, Caltrans officials agree that construction could not begin until the mid 1990s.