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Plan B: Another Variation on a Freeway Theme : 29-Year Continuing Battle Over Route of Long Beach Extension Becomes Heated as Decision Time Nears

February 26, 1989|EDMUND NEWTON | Times Staff Writer

Plan B must overcome state law, which specifically prohibits the use of Arroyo Seco land for building a freeway, and federal law, which prohibits any federal project on previously designated parkland.

Recent arrivals to South Pasadena's west side have provided new energy in building resistance to what some refer to as the "Eastern Establishment," the city's elected officials, and their determination to shunt the freeway westward. Organized as South Pasadenans Against the Westerly Route, they have begun forging alliances with residents groups in adjoining cities.

Nevertheless, city officials are optimistic that they can wrest major concessions from the state.

"South Pasadena is not a freeway obstructionist," Woollacott said. "Everywhere we go, we get the response, 'Oh, you guys are the freeway fighters.' But we've been trying to get this thing built since way back in the late 1960s. It's just that we thought that there was a better way to do it."

Door-to-Door Campaign

Feisty residents in the western part of the city, who would be most affected by Plan B, have no such qualms. South Pasadenans Against the Westerly Route (S.P.A.R.) has appointed block captains to carry the message door-to-door that the city has been "unfair" to their community.

"We're saying to the mayor, 'We don't think you should save the city by sacrificing the west,' " said Mavis Minjares, a member of the group. "We're a part of the city, too."

The choices are clear cut, city officials insist: Caltrans can split the city in half and demolish 1,267 homes in South Pasadena and neighboring El Sereno to build the Meridian Variation. Or it can skirt the center of town and demolish only 762 homes in the two communities under Plan B.

The Meridian Variation would be 6.2 miles long and cost about $425 million to complete. The Westerly Route studied by Caltrans, somewhat similar in configuration to Plan B, would be 7.1 miles long, and cost $476 million. No one knows how much Plan B would cost.

Caltrans officials say they're open to city suggestions. "We're talking to them," says Jack Hallin, Caltrans' chief of project development for the area. "We're listening to what they have to say."

'Two Problems'

Caltrans is in the midst of a preliminary feasibility study of Plan B, to determine approximate costs and consequences to neighborhoods in its path. Pressed, however, Hallin expressed doubt. "There are two problems with that alignment," he said, "state law and federal law."

The city has appealed to state Sen. Art Torres (D-Los Angeles) to help overcome a 1975 state law prohibiting further encroachments of freeways into the Arroyo Seco. According to city officials, Torres, who represents South Pasadena, is preparing a bill to permit a freeway corridor of about half a mile, where the Long Beach and Pasadena freeways would merge.

But a spokeswoman for Torres would not confirm that the senator was committed to such a course. "We're still looking at a variety of options and trying to gather all viewpoints," said Torres' aide Beth Bonbright. "It's a very difficult, emotional issue."

She noted that Torres has until March 10 to "drop something into the hopper" during the current legislative session.

Assuming state restrictions are eased, Hallin said, federal constraints may be even more resistant. The crucial federal law is a section of the Transportation Act of 1966, prohibiting the construction of federal projects on parkland unless "there is no feasible and prudent alternative to the use of such land."

"Congress has not been disposed to waiving environmental law," Hallin said.

The city has adopted a we'll-cross-that-bridge-when-we-come-to-it stance on the federal question. "Somewhere in the great United States there must be a freeway that runs through a park," says Woollacott. "Where there's one, there can be two."

"All we can do is take care of the local (or state) level first," adds Bernardi. "Then we can move to the federal level."

Federal Injunction

The Long Beach Freeway's missing link has been debated, railed against and fought in South Pasadena ever since Caltrans first adopted the Meridian Route in 1964. In 1973, South Pasadena, which has always prided itself on its small-town atmosphere, joined with environmental groups to successfully sue for a federal injunction on the project. The plaintiffs argued that the state's environmental review procedures were inadequate.

The injunction still stands. Even if the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) approves the project in May, state attorneys acknowledge, Caltrans must go to Los Angeles Federal Court to ask that the injunction be lifted. The city has already stated its intention to challenge that request, should Caltrans proceed with the Meridian Variation.

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