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710 Panel's Action Angers Residents

Confusion over project leaves some fearing loss of homes along the busy Long Beach Freeway.

May 30, 2003|Deborah Schoch | Times Staff Writer

A panel representing the ports and cities along the Long Beach Freeway has recommended ways to improve traffic flow on the chronically clogged roadway, but the panel's action has baffled and angered some residents fighting to save homes and prevent increased air pollution.

Just last week, the MTA board of directors voted 10 to 0 to shelve three construction designs to upgrade the freeway -- designs that would have meant eliminating homes, businesses, schools and parks.

On Wednesday night, the panel representing cities and ports, known as the I-710 Oversight Policy Committee, took a vote on improving the freeway as well. Did the policy committee agree with the MTA's recommendation about not taking homes and businesses? On Thursday, some people said yes. Others said no.

The confusion left some people wondering who was in charge of the $3.9-million study of how to improve an outmoded route crowded with trucks from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. While many residents and public officials agree that something needs to be done to improve the outmoded freeway, many differ on just what that something should be.

Some feared the vote by the policy committee was an effort to expand the freeway, despite staunch opposition from hundreds of residents.

"Nobody's being clear on this," said Dave San Jose of Long Beach, who helped organize his neighborhood to oppose expansion plans. He questions whether policymakers will listen to the concerns of residents. "At the end of this, does any of it really matter? Are they still going to do what they want to do? Are they just stroking us?"

Long Beach Councilman Frank Colonna said the policy committee does not intend to force residents out of their homes.

"We have no interest in taking housing in this freeway recommendation. There isn't an elected official who'll support that. I don't know how much clearer we can be," said Colonna, co-chairman of the policy committee, the panel representing 14 cities, the ports and four regional and state planning agencies.

The confusion points up the myriad cities and agencies involved in a project as large as the 710 freeway study, launched 29 months ago in hopes of easing congestion along an 18-mile stretch of the freeway from East Los Angeles to the ports of Long Beach and Los Angeles.

It also points at the tangled communication that can result.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority is the lead organization for the project and is working with three other agencies: the California Department of Transportation, the Southern California Assn. of Governments and the Gateway Cities Council of Governments. All four agencies have representatives on the 20-member policy committee that met Wednesday.

Last week, the MTA board supported a plan to improve traffic flow that would not involve construction. Instead, it would attempt to ease traffic through operations changes, such as moving to a 24-hour schedule for the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

The MTA board also directed its staff to work with local cities to devise a "hybrid" alternative that would not force the acquisition of homes and businesses where feasible.

But on Wednesday, the majority of the policy committee supported a "hybrid" plan that would "minimize" the taking of homes. On Thursday residents and officials involved in debate over the freeway's future were debating what the panel meant by "minimize."

"Now this word 'minimize' keeps coming up. I don't know what it means. Maybe they'll take half of a house," said San Jose, who attended the meeting.

Maywood Councilman Samuel Pena, co-chairman of the panel, said after the meeting that minimizing home acquisition meant that maybe just five homes would be taken or maybe none at all.

"The idea is how to go into this process minimizing taking homes," Pena said.

Some members said the panel needed to move ahead by next month if the project was to receive funding in a major multiyear funding bill to be considered by Congress this year. Local officials submitted a request last winter for funds to improve the freeway in several ways, such as rebuilding the interchanges with the 5, 91 and 405 freeways.

Representatives of the cities of Long Beach, Downey, Maywood and South Gate voted for the policy committee motion, along with those from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, Caltrans and the MTA. Representatives of Huntington Park and SCAG abstained.

Representatives of Commerce, Bell Gardens, Compton and Carson voted against the motion. Absent were representatives from Bell, Cudahy, Lynwood, Paramount and Vernon. Also absent was Supervisor Gloria Molina, who represents Los Angeles County and who wrote the motion that the MTA board passed last week.

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Times staff writer Jose Cardenas contributed to this report.

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