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Strategies Set for Hearing on 710 Freeway : Development: Battle lines are drawn once again as supporters and opponents of the proposed extension prepare to state their case.


THE REGION — To build or not to build the extension of the Long Beach Freeway?

That will be the question as hundreds of freeway opponents and advocates gather in Pasadena on Monday before the California Transportation Commission.

For the first time in nearly a decade, the commission will hold a formal hearing on whether the freeway should be extended from the Los Angeles-Alhambra border north through South Pasadena and into Pasadena.

Supporters and opponents of the project are marshaling their forces and plan to testify throughout the day and night at the milestone hearing, which will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center on Green Street. A final decision on the freeway is expected this fall, and the hearing is one of the last opportunities for citizens to state their views.

To promote their anti-freeway cause, South Pasadena officials--fresh from lobbying efforts in Washington and winning a recent court case in the controversy--are bringing a transportation consultant from Florida to testify that improving traffic flow on city streets and expanding public transportation would render the freeway unnecessary.

South Pasadena officials and other freeway opponents say they will reiterate their view that the freeway would wreak havoc in the name of facilitating the smooth flow of traffic through the Los Angeles Basin.

Building an eight-lane roadway through mainly residential neighborhoods for 6.2 miles would tear the city in half, they say, causing environmental damage and destroying historic neighborhoods.

The hearing, said South Pasadena City Manager Kenneth C. Farfsing, is a waste of taxpayer money, just as he says the roadway would be.

The two sides can't even agree on how much an extension would cost. Freeway opponents say it would cost $1 billion, while state highway planners put the price tag at $651 million.

Freeway supporters hope to use the hearing as a forum to stress what they consider the crucial regional implications of the project.

"This is not just an Alhambra versus South Pasadena issue. We're fighting for the regional benefit of this freeway," said Alhambra City Manager Julio J. Fuentes, whose city is among the leaders in the battle for the roadway. "We want to get the traffic off our streets and onto the freeway."

Freeway advocates plan to tout economic studies that show the extension would create as many as 29,000 jobs--perhaps half of them permanent.

"Freeways are powerful engines of economic growth and job creation," said Joseph E. Haring, former head of Occidental College's economics department, who plans to testify before the commission.

Both sides are planning to stage simultaneous rallies and news conferences to boost their causes.

In support of the freeway, a small army of unemployed construction workers, representing seven different building and trades unions, is scheduled to demonstrate.

At 1 p.m. today in El Sereno, freeway opponents will be detailing aspects of a newly minted study on the "low-build" alternative to the freeway proposal, an idea that has gained political currency during the past few years in South Pasadena.

"We're putting this forward as an olive branch of how the problem can be solved," said South Pasadena's Farfsing, whose city is spending $30,000 on the study.

The report favors reliance on public transportation and improvements to existing local streets as a solution to the traffic problems of the western San Gabriel Valley and adjacent eastern Los Angeles.

"This approach builds on the investment we are making in rail, bus and electric trolley transit facilities rather than detracts from it as a freeway will likely do," the report by an Orlando, Fla., engineering firm says.

Fuentes said he was not impressed by his preliminary review of the report. "They haven't really offered anything new," he said.

Although the freeway combatants seek a different outcome, each side hopes the hearing will be the beginning of the end of the decades-long debate.

This is the third time the commission has held such a hearing. In 1964 and 1984, thousands of citizens showed up to testify for or against the freeway. But each time lawsuits, lobbying and negotiations over the route thwarted a resolution.

During the past 20 years, at least seven different environmental studies have been prepared. But now state highway planners say all environmental and preservation issues have been addressed, and the list of routes has been winnowed to one.

The state transportation commission will decide if that route, the Meridian Variation, is the best. It roughly parallels Meridian Avenue in South Pasadena.

If the commission adopts the route, the next step would be for state and federal officials to decide whether to issue formal, final approval on the environmental studies.

At that point, any legal challenges to the environmental studies must be made within 30 days. If the freeway wins final approval, there are sure to be challenges.

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