DOWNEY — Like thousands of residents living along the Century Freeway corridor, Kathy Englehart and her neighbors on Adoree Street have seen their neighborhood disappear house by house to make way for the project.
All that remains on one side of Adoree--where hundreds of middle-class homes once stood--are six vacant houses splotched with graffiti.
Residents have watched the houses deteriorate since 1980, when homeowners vacated them after selling out to the state Department of Transportation.
"For six years I've watched this neighborhood go downhill because of these eyesores," Englehart said as she pointed to the houses. "We were told then that the houses would be torn down but we haven't gotten any answers from the city or from Caltrans and we are tired of waiting for something to happen."
In September, Englehart and 64 of her neighbors petitioned the city asking that the houses be demolished and that a park be built on the site. The homes and their land are no longer needed for the freeway right of way.
While neighbors say that Caltrans has forgotten about their neighborhood, Caltrans officials argue that a 1972 lawsuit that put a halt to freeway construction until 1981 postponed its plans for vacated houses along the corridor.
According to Robert Norris, assistant to the executive director of the Caltrans Housing Program, disposition of residential and commercial properties taken along the right of way was put on hold while the courts sorted out hundreds of legal issues surrounding environmental concerns.
"I really sympathize with the residents who have had to look at these houses over the years, but the lawsuit really messed things up," Norris said. "We have about 600 houses left to deal with along the corridor, so it will probably be six or seven months before we get things rolling in Downey."
Another setback occurred in 1981 when the federal district court required Caltrans to scale down the freeway from 10 lanes to six--leaving Caltrans with more than 70 surplus properties, including the houses on Adoree.
"A few parcels got caught in limbo because of the changes in the route," Norris said . "Some of these surplus houses may be scheduled for demolition, some for refurbishment, depending on revisions in the route. Somehow these houses on Adoree got ping-ponged back and forth through the process."
19 Homes to Be Refurbished
Norris said these houses are among 19 in Downey scheduled for rehabilitation. But residents argue that the houses have deteriorated beyond repair.
"They might be able to save the frames, but the rest is a disgusting mess," said resident Dee Harris, who moved a block away after selling her home to Caltrans in the early 1970s. "I don't mind if they build nice, big houses there, but these are beyond help."
But residents say the houses are more than just eyesores because they are are often the target of vandals and teen-agers who party there on the weekends, as well as home to vagrants who spend the night, according to Englehart and her neighbors.
"We see people climbing out of there at all hours," Englehart said, pointing to the houses that neighbors say were not boarded up until Caltrans and city officials toured the site two weeks ago. "There is satanic writing on the walls, rats, fast-food containers, tattered blankets--all the junk in the world. I don't know about the other neighbors, but I'm not going to rest until those houses are cleared away."
Downey Police Chief William Martin said the city has not suffered from any major crime problems because of the houses.
'Bound to Be Some Problems'
"Anytime you have empty houses like that there is bound to be some problems," Martin said. "There is no doubt that the area is a nuisance, but we have had no major incidents."
Downey and Caltrans officials, after meeting in City Hall, agreed last week to hold a public meeting next week in Downey to discuss the fate of the houses, according to Councilwoman Diane Boggs, who represents that district.
"These people have been given the run-around from Caltrans long enough and I'd like to put an end to it," Boggs said. "It's been aggravating for everyone, but hopefully, now that we have made our concerns clear, things will speed up."
Downey is one of 10 jurisdictions affected by the freeway, which begins in Norwalk at the San Gabriel River Freeway and ends at Los Angeles International Airport. Other cities along the corridor include Paramount, Lynwood, South Gate, El Segundo, Hawthorne, Inglewood, Los Angeles and unincorporated areas of Lennox, Willowbrook and Athens.
Concerns among Downey residents are all too familiar to other cities in the corridor.
Charles Gomez, city manager of Lynwood, a city that is divided in half by the freeway along Fernwood Avenue and Imperial Highway, recalled past problems surrounding hundreds of buildings that have now been cleared.
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