Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill this week that will require state highway administrators to enter into an agreement with South Pasadena if a surface freeway is to be built through the city.
State and Los Angeles County transportation officials are already in the early stages of developing an environmental study for the long planned, and highly controversial, extension of the Long Beach (710) Freeway between Alhambra and Pasadena.
In legislation passed in 1982, South Pasadena lost the right enjoyed by most cities to negotiate with the California Department of Transportation over construction of a freeway, officials said. The bill signed by Brown on Monday, Assembly Bill 751, restored that right to the city.
The bill requires Caltrans to secure a street closure agreement with the city if a freeway is built.
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Gil Cedillo (D-Los Angeles) said Tuesday that proponents pushed for its passage with the understanding that South Pasadena would be open to viable alternatives — such as an underground tunnel — to bridge the 710 Freeway gap.
“It’s not just a South Pasadena issue or an Alhambra issue, it’s one that requires the leadership of people who can see beyond local concerns,” Cedillo said.
Without the bill’s passage, freeway construction could move forward without the permission of South Pasadena if the project is within the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and an impasse over any route adopted in the future exists for 10 or more years.
Now Caltrans must secure a street closure agreement with the affected municipality, according to Cedillo’s office.
For more than 60 years, South Pasadena has opposed the extension of the freeway, arguing it would bring congestion and health hazards to the town of 25,000 residents.
In 2010, the City Council passed a resolution vowing to oppose any 710 Freeway extension plan. But this summer the city adopted a new stance, vowing to keep an open mind to alternatives outside a surface route.
Cedillo said South Pasadena’s previous stance kept it from working with the surrounding communities.
“The 710 corridor is too important for the region and too much of a health hazard for all those who live along the corridor not to solve the problem,” Cedillo said.
South Pasadena Mayor Mike Ten lauded the passage of AB 751, but some freeway fighters say it does nothing to protect the city.
Ernest Arnold, a candidate in November's South Pasadena City Council election, said he was pleased the bill restores some power to the city.
But, he said, “my only concern is what assurances the City Council members have made to Gil Cedillo and others, because the idea that we would accept a freeway — however built — is ludicrous.”
Ten said the long standoff over the freeway extension serves no purpose. A no-to-everything stance, he said, is “a perfect example of extending the fight, always having that Holy Grail and wanting to swing for the grand slam …which means everything stays the same or gets worse.”
Officials and residents should be willing to look at the solutions that come out of the environmental review process, he said, adding that the concept of a tunnel route is promising.
“South Pasadena has to play it safe and look out for what’s best for the city,” he said. “Now that we’ve gotten our rights back, we have to be thoughtful and educated and use them only when needed.”
Metro officials said the passing of the bill does not stall the process and is a step forward in dealing with the 710 corridor.
“We feel that AB 751 does not prejudice this process and we look forward to working with all the stakeholders in this corridor,” Metro said in a statement.