Candidates running for Antonovich's seat spar over 710 Freeway extension

Six candidates running for the seat being vacated by longtime Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich sparred mildly over a controversial proposed extension of the 710 Freeway at a debate in Pasadena. 

The forum, hosted by the Los Angeles League of Conservation Voters, was the first televised debate of the campaign and primarily focused on environmental issues.

The candidates included five Republicans -- Antonovich’s chief of staff, Kathryn Barger; prosecutor Elan Carr; Los Angeles City Councilman Mitch Englander; State Sen. Bob Huff; Glendale Mayor Ara Najarian and one Democrat, Darrell Park.

Antonovich, who has served on the county board for 36 years, is one of two Republicans on the panel and the most conservative member.

The candidates broke down along party lines on some questions, including whether the county should pursue a tax increase to fund initiatives to reduce homelessness, which Park said he supports and the Republicans opposed.

But on the 710 question, Huff was the lone candidate who voiced support for a proposed extension of the freeway from Alhambra to Pasadena.

"Yes, it is going to impact some people, but it's one of those things that's for the greater good," he said.

Najarian, who sits on the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority board, got a round of applause when he said he had nearly been kicked off the board over his opposition to the project and would "continue to fight against it until my dying day." 

Most of the other candidates also voiced opposition, with Park calling a proposal to bore a tunnel to extend the freeway "a death trap," and Englander and Carr pointing to the project's price tag, which is estimated at as much as $5.6 billion for an option that would build a 4.5-mile tunnel between Alhambra and South Pasadena.

"Crime is up, murder is up, our schools are crumbling and quality jobs are fleeing Los Angeles County," Carr said. "Is this what we're going to spend our money on?"

Englander, who said he also does not support the project, said that even if it were approved, "It would be tied up in litigation for so many years."

Antonovich has not taken an official position on the project. Barger also did not take one, but said there are traffic mitigation measures that should be taken while the debate plays out, including increased rail hauling of goods, traffic synchronization and reversible traffic lanes.

"This issue has been debated for 55 years," Barger said. "Meanwhile the communities below the 710, which are low-income, are suffering as a result of the inability to make a decision."

In response to a question on how the climate change impacts of the Aliso Canyon Gas leak should be mitigated, the candidates widely criticized Southern California Gas Co. and the state regulatory system.

They largely left the question of greenhouse gas emissions unaddressed, although Najarian suggested the company should be required to offset the methane emissions, including potentially offering rebates on low-use natural gas appliances to customers.

But Park got the applause line when he shouted, "Shut it all down!" and pulled out a sign bearing the same slogan. A number of audience members brandished similar signs.

Two other candidates on the ballot, Billy Malone and Raj Pal Kahlon, both Democrats, did not appear at the debate.

Another, Martin Enriques, missed the deadline to appear on the ballot but has filed as a write-in candidate.

Twitter: @sewella

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