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Battle Over Freeway Corridors Pits East Side of Town Against the West

December 25, 1988|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

SOUTH PASADENA — The big, square house with the overhanging balconies was designed for long-range views. On a clear day, Bobbie Libster and Mark Nansen can see planes taking off from Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena Airport.

Built three years ago on a hillside near the southwest corner of the city, the house overlooks a series of progressively receding mountain ranges and, just below, a sparsely developed little valley.

If the city has its way, the house will also overlook the last link in the Long Beach Freeway.

Nansen and Libster, who are married, concede that their dismay is not unique. "No one wants a freeway in their front yard," said Nansen, who envisions the completed link as a massive concrete structure in the middle of the valley, which will produce toxic fumes and a perpetual roar of traffic.

The hard part, he says, is having elected officials putting all the resources of city behind the plan. "There's something inherently unfair about paying to be screwed," he said.

Residents of the western part of South Pasadena have been expressing similar sentiments for seven or eight years--ever since the city, desperate to prevent an 8-lane corridor being plowed through its heart, endorsed a westerly route.

The argument for that alternative was summed up by Mary Ann Parada, a member of the Committee for the Westerly Route. "It's a matter of cutting off your arm rather than cutting out your heart," she said.

But the view from the western part of town perceives a City Council dominated by special interests (South Pasadena's own version of the "Eastern Establishment," according to one longtime activist), sacrificing western homes and neighborhoods to a longer, more destructive freeway route.

"They should be trying to protect all their citizens," Nansen said.

City officials respond to such charges with melancholy indulgence. "I don't want to be placed in the position of destroying anyone's home," Mayor James Woollacott said. "Unfortunately, if you build anywhere, you're going to hurt someone. It's the kind of thing that wakes me up at 4 in the morning and makes me pace the floor."

But in fighting the state's preferred route, the so-called "Meridian Variation," the council is responding to the overwhelming sentiment of the voters, council members say. The most recent indication of public opinion, a 1986 referendum that asked whether the city should continue to fight the Meridian route, garnered "yes" votes from 71% of the voters.

Dissenters' Concession

Even veteran dissenters concede that a large majority of the public prefers a westerly route. "We were hoping for 35% to 45% voting 'no,' " said Robert Cook, whose house would be destroyed if the westerly route is built. "We were disappointed."

But Nansen, Libster and their neighbor, Tyler Shaw, reject the notion that the 1986 referendum, Proposition GG, was a mandate to build in their neighborhood. "It disturbs me that they're using Proposition GG as their banner," said Libster, who maintains that many of those who voted yes on the referendum could really have favored a "no-build" option.

Not only is the council unfair, says Shaw, but it lacks common sense. He contends that the city-favored route would actually do more damage than the Meridian Variation, whose consequences he says the city exaggerates. "To say that the Caltrans route would ruin the city is melodramatic. It's fictional," he said.

Caltrans says that the westerly route would be almost a mile longer and cost $50 million more to build, while destroying 200 more residential units and displacing 400 more people.

But the city is proposing its own version of the westerly route, one that would bypass some of the populated area of Caltrans' version, says Woollacott. The city version would slant across the southwest corner of the city and follow the city limits to the Arroyo Seco, the dry riverbed south of the Rose Bowl. Then it would "co-mingle" with the Pasadena Freeway, either running side-by-side with it or joining it as a second deck.

The city's route would require demolishing only 950 homes, compared to the 1,426 that the Meridian Variation would flatten.

The problem is that, in 1975, the Legislature specifically made the Arroyo Seco off-limits to freeway builders, Woollacott conceded. "But we think that bill was flawed," he said.

Waste of Time?

Old-timers think Libster, Namsen and Shaw are wasting their time. "If they think they're going to persuade South Pasadena that the westerly route is no good, they're spinning their wheels," said Richard Mulvin, a construction consultant who is a bruised veteran of the West's battles with the Eastern Establishment. "It's impossible to do that." Mulvin has been active for eight years in opposing the westerly route.

The dissenters aren't sure what they will do if the city prevails. They talk vaguely about organizing a defense committee "sometime after Christmas."

For the moment, however, they don't see much of a threat from the city. "Right now," says Nansen, "the city's westerly route is simply a line on a map."

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