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Topics / TRANSPORTATION : South Pasadena's OK No Longer Needed for 710 Extension : Legislation signed by Gov. Wilson gives final state sanction to the freeway project. But federal approval and potential legal hurdles still loom.

October 06, 1994|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The long-delayed Long Beach (710) Freeway extension got another boost Friday when Gov. Pete Wilson signed a bill eliminating the need for South Pasadena to approve the highway's passage through the city.

For more than three decades, tiny South Pasadena has stalled Caltrans' efforts to close the 6.2-mile gap between the San Bernardino (10) and Foothill (210) freeways with legal challenges, lobbying and a refusal to sign an agreement required by state law to allow the freeway to cut through the city.

Although the other cities on the route--Los Angeles, Pasadena and Alhambra--have agreed to the plan, South Pasadena has vowed never to approve the extension, which would split the historic city in half, threaten nearly 1,000 homes and destroy 6,000 trees.

But the law signed by a Republican governor and written by a Democratic lawmaker stripped the city of any veto power.

"The completion of the Long Beach Freeway is of critical importance to the Southern California economy. It is years overdue," Wilson said.

South Pasadena officials this week promised to consider more litigation to challenge the constitutionality of the law's erosion of home rule for local governments. Meanwhile, they downplayed its significance in the freeway's construction.

"Naturally we're disappointed. It is bad law that erodes home rule for cities, but I don't think it is going to have much effect on the freeway with so many other major hurdles," Mayor Amedee O. Richards Jr. said.

Wilson's action comes two weeks after the California Transportation Commission gave final state approval to the project.

All eyes are now on Federal Highway Administrator Rodney E. Slater, who must approve the route for the $670-million project to go forward. Although funding problems and litigation could delay the extension beyond its projected construction in 10 years, Slater is the freeway opponents' last chance to kill the project, according to highways lobbyists.

With that in mind, freeway supporters hailed the governor's decision as a consensus for construction and a signpost for Slater to follow.

"This sends a clear message to the folks back in Washington that we have a unified effort under way. The region as well as the state want the gap closure completed," said Julio J. Fuentes, Alhambra city manager.

Assemblywoman Diane Martinez (D-Monterey Park), who was author of the bill and represents the Alhambra area where much of the traffic now travels, applauded Wilson's action, saying it would lessen traffic congestion on surface streets and create jobs.

The new law revitalizes 1982 legislation written by her father, Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park), when he was a state legislator.

The federal government expects to make a decision on the route in February or March of 1995, said Eugene W. Cleckley, Federal Highway Administration chief of environmental operations.

The project also faces an expected legal challenge by South Pasadena to the route's environmental impact assessment, which would delay the project for at least two more years.

If all these hurdles are cleared, the cost by the time construction would start is expected to have risen to $1 billion, with 85% from the federal purse.

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