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Caltrans should get out of the landlord business

Transportation planners were involved in a multiple-car pileup last week and it remains to be seen if they will be able to repair the damage.

The biggest blow came Thursday, with an audit proving Caltrans' abysmal management of 499 homes in the so-called 710 gap. The California State Auditor found gross financial mismanagement stretching into the tens of millions of dollars at homes in Los Angeles, South Pasadena and Pasadena, apparently caused by mind-numbing negligence or fraud — or a combination thereof.

Earlier in the week, Pasadenans and city officials joined a raucous army of Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency critics from South Pasadena, La Cañada Flintridge and elsewhere, excoriating MTA's new proposals for a freeway through west Pasadena and environs.

The new-route problem may have an easy fix. If MTA drops those proposals in the coming months, then the notion of a heretofore unimagined freeway will just have been a bad dream and we can return to our previously scheduled clash: unions, businesses and the Port of L.A. versus San Gabriel Valley locals over an extension of the 710 to the Foothill (210) Freeway in Pasadena.

However, it will be harder to solve the problems highlighted in the audit. The money Caltrans failed to collect in rent, or that it overpaid for repairs, is gone, and criminal pursuit of those involved won't bring it back. A quick sale of the Caltrans homes — a solution sought by local officials — would further bollix up plans for traffic improvements in the area and will be opposed by the powers that want the 710 extended.

Yet state officials cannot let this problem fester any longer. Lawmakers should move quickly to get the properties into the hands of a receiver, get Caltrans out of the landlord game, and set up an orderly process for sale of the homes.

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