SOUTH PASADENA — If there was one thing that most of the contentious crowd of about 500 seemed to agree on at the meeting, it was that Caltrans freeway planners were somehow deficient.
Tom Nuckols, an engineer and a South Pasadena resident, said that the state Department of Transportation had been insisting for decades on "pushing the route (for the Long Beach Freeway extension) through the middle of town."
Nuckols gestured perplexedly. "For what reason I don't know," he told Caltrans officials. "Straight line syndrome? Unable to admit to early design and planning errors? Stubbornness or even ignorance?"
"All of the above!" shouted someone from the audience.
Hearing on Meridian Variation
The occasion was a public hearing at South Pasadena High School Thursday night on the so-called "Meridian variation," the latest of a dozen different plans that Caltrans has considered to complete the Long Beach Freeway, which now comes to an abrupt end on the north at Valley Boulevard in Alhambra.
Caltrans and the communities that would be affected by the freeway extension have been arguing for 22 years about various proposed routes to link it to the Pasadena and Foothill freeways. From the looks of things at the raucous hearing, with its shouting, placard-waving participants, the debate is hotter than ever.
After a description and slide presentation of the latest proposal, four stone-faced Caltrans officials and a state hearing officer looked on as speakers marched to the microphones, alternately excoriating Caltrans or begging it for faster action.
There were Alhambra residents bemoaning the constant flood of traffic through their city's streets from the truncated freeway.
"Quit dumping hundreds of thousands of cars in Alhambra," urged Robert J. Hays.
'Call It a Draw'
There were champions of various alternate routes, such as the 7.1-mile Westerly route bypassing the central business district, that the city of South Pasadena has long favored.
And there was a large, vociferous contingent of "no build" advocates, urging Caltrans to, as Nuckol put it, "call it a draw and go about other pressing business." This group included even formerly staunch advocates of closing the Long Beach Freeway gap. Their numbers are increasing because of frustration with Caltrans, spokesmen said.
"There's a groundswell of support for 'no build,' " said Mary Ann Parada. "All you have to do is look at the freeways and you'll know why. The answer isn't more cement roads."
Former South Pasadena Mayor Alvalee Arnold said that she had just joined the no-build ranks.
"Regional transportation needs will not be helped by the Long Beach Freeway," she said. "What we require now is rapid transit."
She cited a recent report from the Southern California Assn. of Governments predicting massive traffic increases on the area's freeways by the year 2010.
"There will just be more gridlock (if the freeway extension is built)," she said. "We should put that money instead into a rapid transit system."
City Councilman J. S. Woollacott said that Caltrans was, in effect, calling for the seizure of 10.8% of South Pasadena's land area for freeway and for the displacement of the equivalent of 12.5% of its population.
"In Los Angeles, that would be the equivalent of 101,696 people," he said. "You'd be holding tonight's meeting in Dodger Stadium."
The latest Caltrans proposal comes largely as a result of complaints from preservationists, who had charged that the Meridian corridor, another route that has been prominently discussed, would have forced the destruction of an inordinate number of historically significant structures.
Both Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission had endorsed the Meridian corridor. But the Federal Highway Administration's advisory body on historic preservation in 1984 supported the preservationist groups, recommending that federal funds be denied the project if it went ahead as planned. Federal approval would mean that the U.S. government would pay up to 92% of the freeway extension's cost.
Comments and testimony from the hearing will be included in Caltrans' environmental planning branch's final environmental impact statement, said Cleave Govan, senior environmental planner for Caltrans. Residents who were unable to speak at the hearing can submit written statements to Caltrans until March 30.
"At this stage, we still don't know which route we'll recommend," said Govan.
Both the Meridian corridor and the Meridian variation would cut a 6.2-mile swath through El Sereno and downtown South Pasadena.
The variation, however, would swing west at Bank Street, as far as Orange Grove Avenue, until Arlington Avenue in Pasadena. The two- or three-block westward swing would allow the freeway extension to avoid a host of historic structures. According to Caltrans, the Meridian variation would affect 37 such structures, while the Meridian corridor would affect 102.
In other respects, however, the two routes are similar. The variation's estimated cost of $425.5 million would be about $3.7 million cheaper, but it would displace more people and jobs.
"The project is not programmed or funded," said Joseph Sanchez, Caltrans' deputy district director. "The earliest that it could get under way would be the mid-1990s."