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Another Roadblock for Freeway : Lawsuit: South Pasadena is going to court again in an effort to stop the planned extension of the 710.


WEST SAN GABRIEL VALLEY — The city of South Pasadena has resorted to the courts again in its battle against the extension of the Long Beach Freeway (710), filing a lawsuit to keep Caltrans from building the project without the city's approval.

Proponents of the proposed 6.2-mile strip of freeway, which include Caltrans and Alhambra, say it is one of a number of lawsuits they expect the city to file as a last-ditch effort to stop the project. The federal government may issue "a record of decision" this summer, or early in the fall, about the environmental report on the $660-million project.

South Pasadena filed the suit in Sacramento Superior Court on Friday, Mayor James Hodge told more than 150 residents at a community meeting Monday.

Hodge made the announcement as he launched a three-month effort to raise $200,000 for the legal battle, asking residents to reach into their pockets to support their city, which along with Pasadena, Alhambra and the Los Angeles community of El Sereno, would lose as many as 1,000 homes on the planned route.

Under state law, cities generally have the power to approve or reject state projects within their boundaries. But state legislation, authored in 1984 by Monterey Park Assemblyman Matthew Martinez, whose area included Alhambra, exempts the 710 project from that requirement, as long as draft environmental studies for the route were completed within a year of the legislation's passage. South Pasadena's new lawsuit challenges that legislation.

City officials say the legislation applied to a freeway route abandoned in 1986, known as the Meridian freeway route, and not the eight-lane Meridian Variation route now under consideration. The environmental studies were completed within the timetable for the first route, but not the second, they claim.

The state abandoned the first route in 1986 after the Federal Advisory Council on Historic Preservation said it would destroy too many historic homes.

"We will prove not only that Caltrans no longer can take advantage of this special-interest legislation, but also that the law singled out South Pasadena," said Antonio Rossmann, the city's freeway legal counsel.

"Without the consent of this city a freeway cannot be built thorough this city," he said.

Alhambra, the El Sereno area and Pasadena have consented to have the freeway extension from Los Angeles to Pasadena pass through their communities.

Rossmann said South Pasadena's view of the legislation is supported by the state Legislative Counsel, the agency that interprets the intent of state laws.

Attorneys for Caltrans and Alhambra, a strong backer of the freeway, contend that the new route also was mentioned in the study, although the full environmental report for the second route is under way now.

"It's a desperate attempt at trying anything. We are going to see more of these lawsuits in the coming months," said Jeff Kightlinger, Alhambra's freeway attorney.

South Pasadena officials say the case should be resolved in Superior Court this summer.

At Monday's meeting, Rossmann encouraged residents to contribute to the freeway defense fund since even if the city wins the legal battle, a strong lobbying effort by freeway proponents for a new version of the 1984 legislation would be expected.

Defense fund organizers hope to raise $200,000 through mass phone solicitations, community events and the sale of a $10 card that gives discounts at certain city shops.

City officials also told the community meeting that they had lobbied federal bureaucrats and the Clinton Administration in recent weeks in an effort to kill the freeway extension.

The federal highway administrator has yet to approve the present route's environmental impact statement. A decision on the statement will follow a report by the Route 710 Mitigation Advisory Committee, which meets for a final time today. South Pasadena officials quit the committee last month, saying it was a sham.

City leaders are placing a lot of emphasis on the fact that key members of the Clinton Administration staff come from Little Rock, Ark., a community of neighborhoods like their own.

"They come from the same cloth as this community," said Councilman Harry Knapp.

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