Members of a community group, saying a semi-rural Claremont neighborhood is threatened by a $14-million plan to widen a crowded commuter route along the San Gabriel Mountain foothills, this week filed a lawsuit seeking to force more detailed environmental reviews.
In its suit, filed Monday in Pomona Superior Court, the Community Assn. for a Responsible Environment (CARE) said their neighborhood of historic houses would be altered by the state's plan. A species of garter snake, Thamnophis couchi hammondi, also may be endangered by the plan, the suit charges.
Caltrans intends to widen portions of a six-mile stretch of Route 30, a state highway known locally as Base Line Road. Some parts of the road already have up to five lanes; its two-lane portions would be widened at various points in La Verne, Claremont and Upland.
"Think of putting LAX runways through the middle of Claremont," said CARE member Mark Peterson.
The suit also attempts to force Caltrans to explain more fully how the planned widening relates to an $800-million proposal to extend the Foothill Freeway from San Dimas east to Interstate 15 in San Bernardino County sometime in the next 15 to 20 years.
The proposed extension would run parallel to--and at some points within several hundred feet of--the widened Base Line Road.
"We're supporting these people whose houses are in San Bernardino County and whose jobs are in Los Angeles," said Peterson, a mechanical engineer whose two-story, salmon-colored stucco house is sandwiched between Base Line Road and the proposed path of the freeway extension. "We ought to charge them $1 each to pass."
Peterson, who commutes to work in East Los Angeles, made his comments as he watched a line of evening rush-hour traffic crawl along a narrow bend in the two lanes of blacktop passing his house.
Although Peterson's 300-member group has vocally opposed the projects for about a year, civic leaders in Claremont, La Verne and nearby San Bernardino County communities generally support both the Base Line widening and the planned freeway extension. There have been few signs of the widespread contentiousness that has plagued the proposed extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway at the western end of the San Gabriel Valley.
The CARE opposition irritates Tony Malone, executive vice president of the Upland Chamber of Commerce, who has worked for decades with San Bernardino County officials in promoting the freeway extension.
"It galls me. They must think they breathe different air than we do," Malone said. "They don't seem to realize that transportation problems don't just stop in Claremont, or in Upland. They ought to think of the whole valley--from La Verne, San Dimas to Fontana and Rialto. The whole foothill corridor is becoming unbelievable with traffic."
Ronald Kosinski, chief of environmental planning for Caltrans in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, maintains that residents and officials in eastern Los Angeles County and western San Bernardino County "have been clamoring for 20 years" for such road improvements.
He said Caltrans has fully considered the environmental effects of the road widening, which will result in the loss of trees and will mean that some residences will lose parts of their front yards. The project will not threaten the habitat of garter snakes, Caltrans maintains.
And CARE's contention that the projects, taken together, could cause cumulative damage to the environment "is so insignificant," Kosinski said. The Base Line work is planned for the next two to five years, he said, and the freeway may not be completed for another 15 to 20 years.
He said only two houses would have to be moved for the Base Line widening project, although he acknowledged that 207 houses would be affected by the freeway extension. Still, he said, "almost every house that was built in the path of the freeway was built after the freeway was a well-known fact of life."
The CARE opponents disagree.
"It's just beyond me why we need to widen Base Line and put in a freeway. Money could be better spent on proper placement of the freeway extension and building it sooner," said Thomas Nycum, who fears that his front yard will be sliced off for a wider Base Line Road.
Some of his neighbors fear that their front yards will suffer the same plight.
Among them are Jeffrey Biben and Peggy Bosley, a husband-wife architect team, who worry about the effects on the landscaping and atmosphere of their refurbished 1912 Craftsman house, which was featured in the February, 1991, Metropolitan Home magazine.
Biben and Bosley contend that the road projects ignore alternative ways of coping with regional traffic problems. "I'm not convinced that increases in asphalt are going to move more people around effectively," Bosley said.
Unless the CARE suit stalls the road widening, Caltrans officials intend to proceed with the work in the next several years. As for the freeway extension, funding and environmental reviews are still unresolved.
Opponents and proponents are awaiting a draft environmental report--scheduled to be released in about three weeks--on the freeway project.
"That," said Gary Moon, director of programming for the San Bernardino Associated Governments, "is when the fun is going to really begin."