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South Pasadena Sues to Stop 710 Extension, Alleges Law Violations

Court: Activists also say congressman pressured Clinton administration to ignore issue's merits.

June 11, 1998|RICHARD WINTON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In a last-ditch effort to block the Long Beach Freeway extension through South Pasadena and surrounding communities, the city and its preservationist allies Wednesday filed a promised lawsuit against the state and federal government.

In seeking a court order blocking further work on the 6.2-mile roadway, the lawsuit alleges many violations of federal law, including failures to comply with clean air requirements and to adequately consider alternatives to the freeway extension, which would connect the San Bernardino and Foothill freeways.

It also alleges that a local congressman interfered in the U.S. Department of Transportation decision to approve the project by swapping his support on a trade bill for the Clinton administration's support on the extension. The suit contends that Rep. Matthew G. Martinez (D-Monterey Park) pressured administration officials, who are required by federal environmental law to evaluate the project strictly on its merits.

Martinez, whose district's streets are clogged with traffic that would be relieved by the extension, said the accusation is outrageous. "All I did was my job. What am I supposed to do as a congressman?" he asked.

Martinez said in an interview Wednesday that he mentioned the freeway project to a Clinton aide last year. When a White House congressional liaison asked how he would vote on the fast-track trade proposal, Martinez said he complained that he supported the administration but the administration did not support him. The congressman said he told the aide he was unhappy the administration had delayed a decision on the freeway.

Later, Martinez said he received a telephone call from U.S. Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater, and found himself in a conference call with President Clinton. He said Slater did most of the talking and updated him on the federal review of the project. "The president never asked me about fast track nor did Rodney Slater," the congressman said. Two days later, the fast-track trade bill died on the House floor without coming to a vote. But a few days later the Federal Highway Administration tentatively approved the extension.

The U.S. Department of Transportation declined to comment on the suit Wednesday. In formally approving the project April 13, officials said they complied with all legal requirements and set out strict conditions to reduce the impact of the route. The extension would slice through El Sereno, South Pasadena and Pasadena.

However, South Pasadena officials noted Tuesday that many other agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, had opposed the project, which would destroy 900 homes and 6,000 trees.

"Our opponents should not underestimate our resolve to save our community. We have just begun to fight," said South Pasadena Mayor Wallace Emory.

The nation's environmental and preservation lobby lined up behind the city, with National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Sierra Club and the Los Angeles Conservancy by joining the city in the litigation.

"We are here today to draw a line in the sand and to say enough," said Claire Bogaard, National Trust trustee. "We in Southern California have already sacrificed too much in the name of progress--too much of our precious heritage is buried beneath tons of concrete."

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